Over 65 years ago I was introduced to an organization that now exists here in Marshall, Minnesota: The YMCA. How lucky we are to have it as part of our community.
My first experience with a YMCA was when I was in grade school. The YMCA building was in the downtown area of Dayton, Ohio, whose population at the time was something over 240,000. (Side note: Dayton's current population is now only about 140,000, which illustrates the loss of many manufacturing jobs there. Fortunately, the loss was not instantaneous and the Greater Dayton area still has a population of almost 850,000.) The Y building bore little resemblance to what we think of as a YMCA these days. The building was 11 stories high with most of the upper levels pretty much like a hotel where very inexpensive rooms were available for short and for longer stays.
Because the YMCA was about five or so miles away, we used the public bus system, a ride each way costing five cents. Of course it did not pick us up at our front door nor drop us in front of the Y - there was a little walking at each end of the trip.
The buses were not gasoline nor diesel buses, but were electric trolleybuses, thus what we would say today provide "green" transportation being less polluting. Trolleybuses in the U.S. are now comparatively rare. Only five U.S. cities have trolleybuses. In addition to Dayton, the other four cities are: Philadelphia and Boston in the east and Seattle and San Francisco on the west coast.
Dayton has had electric transit since 1888, the longest of any other city. The switch from electric trolley cars that ran on tracks to trolleybuses that receive the electricity from overhead wires was begun in 1933, though the trolley cars were not totally phased out until the 1940s.
Each trolley bus has its own electric motors receiving their power from the antenna-like poles that spring-loaded held the antenna against the parallel strung wires above the street. A glitch can occur when those antennae get separated from the strung wires. That then requires the driver to get out to reattach the antennae to the wires. One of the (probably dangerous) Halloween pranks of some youth (who shall remain nameless) was to take a bit of rope and throw it across the strung wires causing the antenna to separate from the wires.
So as at a fairly young age, I attended the YMCA to take swimming lessons. How times have changed from how swimming lessons are given now at our YMCA from my swimming lessons. The pool at the Dayton Y was accessed through a locker room that was restricted to just boys and men. Those of us taking swimming lessons were monitored to ensure we had showered; only then were we allowed to enter the pool area in the nude! The purpose was to cut down on contaminating the water. I suppose this was not much different than some skinny-dipping in isolated ponds in the area that I also experienced at a little later age. I am not sure when Y's phased out the no-bathing-suits-allowed policy, but when I attended college about 10 years later, we swam at a YMCA in Newark, Ohio, that still had the no-bathing-suits-allowed policy.
When I was 9 and 10, I had a really great experience at two-week long YMCA summer camps. It was primitive - sort of one step above a tent, but open-air structures with a floor and a roof, but open without windows. I still have some of the fossils that I collected while a camper there. The activities ranged from swimming and river canoeing to doing crafts and an overnight now and then in a tent a ways away from the main camp. The dining hall with a hundred or so boys was great fun as we did lots of round singing and other games sometimes before and sometimes after dinner.
The Dayton Y had a good-sized auditorium and several large meeting rooms in addition to small meeting rooms. There was an inexpensive cafeteria as well. During my high school years I remember attending mock United Nations Forums there with students from the other five or six high schools in the area as part of the Junior Council on World Affairs organization to which I belonged.
After college and teaching for one year in Utica, Ohio, I returned to teach in Dayton and our mathematics teachers meetings in the evening were held at that same YMCA. By that time there were also some suburban Ys where I often went to play in bridge tournaments.
So the Y has been important to me and remains important. I have been surprised by a couple of folks who thought the Y was government supported: It is not! It is a charitable organization and must raise funds to help those who might not be able to afford the fees without financial help. Everyone pays something (or has it paid via insurance), but some reduction in the fee can be a help for some. The fees are necessary to maintain the building, keep equipment up to date, and for programming.
In this column I related some of my past 65 years of experiences with YMCAs. I retired from the Marshall Area Y Board last week after nine years of service, but the Y is something I will continue to support. It's a good thing!
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!