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The Suburbanite
  • YMCA: Looking back ... and forward

  • The downtown YMCA has a long, colorful, innovative and interrupted history.

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  • The downtown YMCA has a long, colorful, innovative and interrupted history.
    The fifth and latest incarnation — called the Eric Snow YMCA — is due to open by the end of next year.  
    That will come after a campaign to raise $5 million. Four million has already been raised, including $1 million from Eric Snow, the former NBA player who honed his skills as a youth in the downtown Y.
    “I think the campaign is going great,” said Tim Shetzer, CEO of the YMCA of Central Stark County. “I think we’re at the 80 percent mark, so that’s a ‘B’. ”
    YMCA TIMELINE
    The Canton Y first was organized in 1866, 22 years after the organization was started in London.
    In 1868, then-Maj. William McKinley was elected as the YMCA chairman. Shetzer believes Canton may be the only Y to have someone who would become a U.S. president as chairman.
    In 1871, the organization created the first library in Canton. The Y shut down in 1880 due to financial problems. It reopened in 1886, and in 1890, moved to the first building it owned at Tuscarawas Street W and McKinley Avenue, which featured the first swimming pool in Stark County, according to Y records.
    It closed again in 1903 due to high debt, and reopened two years later with an improved financial situation and after extensive renovations.
    Then in 1916, that building was sold and the Y opened the building that still stands (but not for long), at the corner of McKinley and Second Street NW. It closed temporarily in 1918 because of an influenza epidemic, Shetzer said.
    After that, the building went through a number of additions, ending up at about 100,000 square feet. But operating expenses began exceeding revenue by about $200,000 a year and it closed in 2008. A number of programs have been able to continue in collaboration with schools and churches.
    Bill Cumler came to Canton from the Chicago Y in 1956. First he was director of the downtown Y, which was then called the Central Boys Branch, and in 1971 he became CEO of what was then called the YMCA-Canton Area.
    “In 1956 we had a very large youth program,” he said. Later, an adult program evolved, including fitness and running, and the Y organized the Amoco Marathon, sponsored by the man who owned local Amoco gas station franchises.
    The building had 105 sleeping rooms on five floors. “The dormitory was pretty full,” Cumler said. “For a lot of prominent people, that was their first stop in Canton.”
    William Umstattd, who was to become president and chairman of Timken Co., spent his first five years here at the Y, Cumler said.
    “The YMCA in Canton has been flexible enough to recognize the needs of the community.” Many programs started at the Y were later adopted and taken over by other organizations, he said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Cumler retired in 1990, but continued as a volunteer until recently.
    THE NEW Y
    The new YMCA won’t be as mammoth, and will be energy efficient at 26,000 square feet. It will include a gymnasium, a fitness area with cardio and weight-training equipment, and 20-yard long indoor pool.
    Shetzer said the new pool will be the only warm water recreational (non-competition) pool in the county.
    “That’s good for our youth,” he said.
    Another factor that will set the new Y apart is that it’s going to be centrally located in the city of Canton, he said.
    “There won’t be turf issues, because it’s in the center of the city.” It’s also within walking distance of the downtown business community, right next to Timken High School and, “We want to connect it with the art district,” Shetzer said.
    The closed building that was constructed in 1915 will disappear in early fall. “The game plan is to demolish the building right after Labor Day. We don’t want to be working during the Hall of Fame festival.”
    Demolition will probably take about 30 days, he said.
    Shetzer said the project will go up for bid during the winter and the start of construction is planned to begin as soon as the weather breaks in 2013, “and have the thing open by the end of the year.”
    But it’s really the people who will make the difference, Shetzer said.
    “At the end of the day, it’s all about the staff and volunteers we have. We’re blessed with really good staff and volunteers.”