YMCA: 115 years

Programs emphasize pursuing quality of life

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Debbie Hockenberry leads a preschool class at the Marietta Family YMCA on Tuesday. In addition to drop-in care, the program enrolls about 75 children in its after-school sessions.

The YMCA has always been about more than physical fitness, and after 115 years in Marietta the organization remains focused on its goals of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Its unimposing 1950s-era building at Seventh Street and Glendale encloses a surprising wealth of resources, connected by mazes of hallways and stairs. Facilities include a large pool flooded with natural light, exercise session rooms, a basement chamber full of modern fitness machines, an indoor basketball court and classrooms for its daycare and preschool services.

For Suzy Zumwalde, CEO for the past seven years, the Marietta Family YMCA’s distinction from other facilities is clear.

“We’re here to improve the quality of life for the community and for our members,” she said, sitting in her small office off the main lobby of the building. “People come here to be healthy, but they also come here for their friends, for social interaction. They come here to enjoy themselves.”

Elsewhere in the building, a group of people follow an instructor’s pace in a room of stationary bicycles. A racket coming from a room on the corner of the building means the “pound” class, a popular new fitness discipline that involves striking sticks together while moving to music, is underway.

Downstairs in a room filled with rows of exercise machinery, Kathy George sets a moderate pace on a treadmill. She joined the YMCA in June and works out three days a week.

“I took advantage of a membership special,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to join for a long time. I like the exercise.”

On the basketball court, four people play doubles pickleball — a game similar to tennis, using paddles and a whiffleball — and in nearby rooms, YMCA staff oversee a group of toddlers in the daycare and older children in the preschool.

People of all ages come to the Y.

“There are people who grew up with us, and now they’re bring their grandkids here,” Zumwalde said.

The Marietta Y has about 1,000 membership “units,” which Zumwalde said represents about 2,500 members. The Y employs 55 staff, most of them part-time, including fitness instructors, daycare and preschool supervisors and aides, and receives the help of dozens of volunteers in organizing events throughout the year.

Its 115th anniversary celebration held Saturday drew more than 100 people for hot dogs, custard and other treats, along with inflatables, tours of the building and an open house, Zumwalde said. She said another event could take place before the end of the year.

The origins of the Marietta Family YMCA go back to 1903, when the Cisler family donated a plot of land on Second Street near where the Washington County Courthouse is now. The Ohio State University President W.O. Thompson spoke at the cornerstone dedication of the building in 1902. The project was made possible by a month-long fundraising campaign that gathered $30,000.

“The YMCA is not a competitor of the church or the school, nor a substitute for them, but it seeks to do what they cannot,” Thompson said, according to a Marietta Times story from Nov. 14, 1902. “It does not take a stand in partisan politics nor in ecclesiastical discussion. It stands for intelligence, for best citizenship.”

The Marietta membership had outgrown the building by the late 1940s — by the end of World War II, nearly two-thirds of the YMCAs in the country were accepting women as members —and a gift from George Light of Marietta made it possible to build a new one on Seventh Street, opening in 1953.

In the 1960s the Y added a six-lane pool, a diving tank and a locker room.

The YMCA goes several steps beyond fitness gyms that offer daycare as a child-minding service for customers while they are exercising. The YMCA daycare and preschool are full-time operations open to anyone in the community.

“We’ve been doing full-time daycare and preschool for over 40 years,” Zumwalde said. “It’s a safe place for kids to be cared for and to learn.”

More than 75 children are in the facility’s after school program, where they get snacks, help with homework and experience in social skills, she said.

Rick Smith moved to Marietta 14 months ago from San Antonio, Texas, to take a post as sports management professor with Marietta College. Joining the YMCA was one of the first things he did, and now he’s president of the board.

“As a child in Florida I was on the YMCA basketball league, in Texas I coached basketball for the YMCA, and when I came here, as part of my own interest and to get involved in the community, I joined the YMCA,” he said.

The Marietta YMCA is something apart from the others he’s experienced, Smith said.

“I think it’s unique. There aren’t many Ys that provide educational opportunities and the kind of social interaction that is important for young people, adults and seniors. It has child care, really a full-service facility, and the full community supports it,” he said.

“Since I’ve moved here, most of the people I talk to say they have been impacted in some way by the YMCA — they learned to swim there, their kids learned to swim there, they worked there, were a lifeguard there,” he said. “It has a significant impact, touches a lot of people, it’s not just bricks and mortar. People grew up as a part of that Y.”

As for the brick and mortar part of the Y, it needs help. The building is seven decades old, the roof needs replacing, and Zumwalde said one wish for her organization would be a new or thoroughly rehabbed building to carry it into the future.

She said a new building in a new location “is definitely under consideration because this facility is not going to meet our future needs.” The board has been working on the idea and the national YMCA might help in an advisory role.

“We have to think of the needs of the YMCA to serve the community 30 years down the road,” she said.

“But it’s not the building that makes us great,” she said. “It’s the staff, the volunteers, the members, it’s our dedication to continue serving the community, and that’s more than just a facility.”

At a glance

Marietta Family YMCA:

¯ Membership costs start at $28.65.

¯ Corporate memberships are available.

¯ Donations to the general fund or for specific projects can be made.

¯ Contact Suzy Zumwalde at 740-373-2250.