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May 14, 2014

YMCA celebrates 125 years of service in metro

EDMOND — Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said he has many personal experiences with the local YMCA where he played youth league baseball from ages 6-14. Before the games, they would recite the YMCA pledge, which he still remembers:

“Win or lose, I pledge before God to play the game as well as a I know how; to obey the rules, to be a good sport at all times, and to improve myself in spirit, mind and body.”

Cornett said a lot of those values are still instilled in many Oklahoma City leaders today.

The recollections from a video clip are part of the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City’s anniversary celebration, highlighted with “Cornerstone, The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, 125 Years,” a limited edition commemorative hard-back book written by local journalists.

For 125 years, the Y’s mission has been: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”

Greater Oklahoma City YMCA President and CEO Mike Grady said the Y’s cause is strengthening the community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Grady said the organization works with its neighbors to make sure everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has a chance to learn, grow and thrive.

“It’s kind of a microcosm of how the community has developed, Grady said.

YMCA locations include two locations in Edmond, which include the 103,000-square-foot facility that opened earlier this year in Mitch Park, Guthrie, the Lincoln Park Senior Center in Oklahoma City, a military welcome center at Will Rogers World Airport and a downtown Oklahoma City child development center.

Mike Roark, executive director of the Mitch Park and Rankin Street YMCAs, said many Edmond leaders have been a part of the Y in one way or another. Today, individuals begin coming to the Edmond locations as infants and programs are available for senior citizens.

“I think we have a rich

heritage,” Roark said.

Roark said evidence of the Y’s involvement in the community includes the University of Central Oklahoma’s Y-Chapel of Song. In 1941, during a meeting of the campus Young Women’s Christian Association, a motion was made to dedicate $1,500 to start construction of a small chapel on the Central State College campus. In 1949, it was built “to provide a much-needed place for meetings of small religious groups.”

During the early to mid-60s the first Edmond Y was organized and construction began, Roark said. Three months after the opening of the Mitch Park YMCA, which offers an Olympic-size swimming pool that has been used for high school competitions, a leisure pool and state of the art exercise machines, new memberships had surpassed the 10,000 level.

It came to be due to 12 years of planning and a YMCA, City of Edmond and Edmond Public Schools partnership.

THE YMCA STORY

In 1844, George Williams, a 22-year-old farmer-turned-department store worker, was troubled by the turmoil and despair he witnessed in industrialized London, according to the history on the U.S. YMCA’s website. For the young men who migrated from rural areas to the city to find jobs, Williams believed, the sprawling city was a bleak landscape of tenement housing and dangerous influences.

Williams joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association, a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking sanctuary from the hazards of life on the streets. Its openness to members crossed the rigid lines separating English and social classes.

In 1851, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Sullivan, working as a marine missionary, noticed a similar need to create a safe haven for sailors and merchants. Inspired by successes of the Y in England, he led the establishment of the first U.S. Y at the Old South Church in Boston.   

On May 14, 1889, weeks after the famous land run opened the Unassigned Lands to settlers who founded Oklahoma City, Edmond and Guthrie, the Oklahoma City chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association was established.

Metro YMCA milestones include:

• Reaching 100 members by the end of 1889;

• Foundation work on a four-story building at the northeast corner of Harvey and Grand began by the summer of 1903;

• A YMCA day observed by all churches began in 1916;

• During the Great Depression, the YMCA increased services to the community and employees took a 30 percent pay cut;

• The first YMCA neighborhood club was established at St. Mark’s Church in 1937;

• The YMCA’s National Council officially ended segregation as a policy in 1946;

• By 1960, the YMCA had established permanent branch buildings in various sections of Oklahoma City, Bethany and Warr Acres;

• During the 1980s, many Baby Boomers turned 40 and turned their attention to keeping fit, creating a growing demand for fitness services. After the Penn Square Bank failure, the Y worked hard to meet emerging community needs. In 1986, the Y allowed women to stay in dormitory rooms for the first time. In 1987, a daycare center was created; and

• On April 19, 1995, a shock wave generated by a bomb detonated in downtown Oklahoma City near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building tore through the Y’s Central Branch; its west side, which housed a Y child development center, took the brunt of it.

In 2013, the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City served 160,410 men, women and children including 51,228 youth and teens regardless of age, income or background, spokeswoman Brenda Bennett said. The Y provided $3.6 million in financial assistance to the community and $310,000 worth of space at little or no charge to outside clubs, nonprofits and community service organizations. And 4,993 volunteers provided 67,912 hours of service.

To learn more about the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City including location information, classes, programs, employment and volunteer opportunities and how to make a donation, visit www.ymcaokc.org.

marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108

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