THE “Y” by Chuck Stowers

That’s what everyone called it, the McCook YMCA at 424 Norris. We answered the phone “YMCA”, of course, but to all of us, Staff, Directors, volunteers, members and town and area friends, it was simply the “Y”. It was not out of disrespect or just a nickname, but a term, I think, of affection.


Having worked there for about eleven years, part-time, full time and as a Certified YMCA Youth Director, it will always hold memories, as I’m sure it does for myriad’s of People.


Swim programs were very popular. Many in McCook learned to swim at the Y. Tadpole, Minnow, Fish, Flying, Fish Shark and Porpoise classes were always well attended – if not always easy.


Swim team was a special bonus and the trips we took were, in themselves, an adventure, to Grand Island, Hastings and Lincoln, where the team actually got to swim the same cramped quarters the University of Nebraska had meets. (This was pre-Devaney Sports Complex. The old NU pool was under the basketball coliseum floor.)


All of the swim programs were under the watchful eye and skillful thoroughness of Elva Backer who induced a pride in the accomplishments of her pupils and team members.


In the gym, we played kickball, basketball, dodge-ball, had calisthenics, volleyball and later built large swinging walls to form a large dorm for overnights as well as a gathering place for the Dances-the Jr. and Sr. High Bison Corrals. Many a McCook and area young person twisted, strolled, swung and hopped to records, D J’s and on frequent occasions live bands of local, area and even out of state groups.


Clubs were then very popular. Gra-Y and Tri-Gra-Y. Jr. and Sr. Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y provided meetings and meanings to many boys and girls in their various activities and sponsored events. The Junior and Senior Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Groups (boys and girls) had their own activities, of course, geared to their age group. They promoted and sponsored special events at school as well at the Y. The highlight for many was the youth and government program. The culmination of the program was two days in Lincoln each year where members from all over the state met in the actual Unicameral Chambers, elected officers of state, debated and passed (or defeated) bills and learned what self-government was all about.


Camp was a special summer experience. Day camp for the younger boys and girls and residence camp for the older youth was favorite activities for many. I have had many former campers tell me their most fun with the Y was at the camp. One episode stands out in my own mind. On the last night of one session, as Snoopy would say, “It was a dark and stormy night”. We were at Red Willow Reservoir (Hugh Butler Lake) and a nasty storm came up after we had sacked out. Lightening, thunder, strong winds, the whole Nebraska summer storm thing hit with a vengeance. We tried to stay in the tents but finally gave up after they all collapsed.


We ended up sitting inside the shelter house with the plywood sides down and all of us up on the tables trying to get dry and warm. After a wet and wild night, it was a beautiful day. We couldn’t get the cars out because of the muddy road, so a couple of leaders walked to a nearby farm house and called Bill Hahle’s Marina and the parents. Bill sent over a couple of pontoon boats and we went to the marina where we were picked up by the parents. I am sure many former youngsters remember that night. I know I do.


Some of the other memories that come to mind, reminding me of my time at the Y are as follows (in no particular order.) I am sure you all have your own memories.


Remembering the four general secretaries (executive directors) under whom I served – Charles (Chili) Armstrong, George Lundgren, Dale Schultz and Charles Finter. Each had a distinct and varied personality but each contributed something to the Y. George and Dale and their own families were like my own second families. Chili provided me a sleeping room when I started college.


–The Longest 48 Hours — the weekend I sponsored a Friday overnight , officiated basketball all day Saturday, then finished (literally finished) with another overnight on Saturday. Talk about the “lost weekend.”


–Family nights and family Sundays, when families, Mom, Dad and Kids (and Grandkids in some cases) “took over “the Y gym, swimming pool, and lobby for good old-fashioned fun and fellowship. How many families became and stayed stronger at the Y?


–A young Gene Budig, then a Gazette reporter, dropping into garner a news item or share a thought.


–A 1959 bus trip to Colorado Springs on the Old Yellow Bus Lines (out of Curtis, I think) We did all the stops-Garden of the Gods, Van Briggle Pottery Factory, Cave of the Winds, Seven Falls and spent the night at the old “Springs” YMCA in a large dormitory room.


–The Jr. Leaders overnights at the Y or at the lake, under the stars. Late night discussions would become weighty and even profound as often happens when young minds get serious.


–The Volunteers — God Bless Them — Where would the Y have been without them., drivers, club advisors, dance sponsors, team coaches, the eyes and ears of substitute parents and real parent with a caring attitude. Each and every kid owes them a debt of gratitude.


–The “Dungeon”, as one kid called it. It was the room where the beast lived. The Beast was my name for the furnace. It lived a life of its own. In that same room was the filter system located. You do not want to know the many things I called it.


–The bomb shelter era — When several buildings in McCook were designated “Fall Out” shelters. The Y’s furnace room and old coal room were so designated because of their massive thick walls. These rooms also served as our tornado emergency shelters. On a related note we knocked a section of wall out between two shower rooms to make one larger room. The contractor, believing the wall to be brick with plaster facing “which would take a few hours to go through” ended up taking the better part of 2 days because it was solid concrete. They built things to last back then.


–Another couple of things not well known about the old Y. When it opened, it was completely debt free and, at that time, McCook was the smallest city in the United States to have a full service YMCA.


–The Boards of Directors and Committees. Those men and women who took time from their own businesses and lives to provide the town with a great program.


–The kids who became teachers, business people, clergy, cops, artists, sports figures, farmers, blue collar workers, housewives, mayors, state governors, store owners, craftsmen, mechanics, doctors, lawyers and all those that make up the work force.


–I hope these thoughts and flashbacks trigger memories for you. Sitting down and writing about these things has been a lot of fun for me.