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YMCA of South Palm Beach County readies for 50th anniversary in 2022

By Dale King

The Boca Raton-based YMCA of South Palm Beach County has big plans for 2022. The Y announced last month that to honor its 50th anniversary, celebrations are planned every month next year – and a major gala will be held in December 2022.

Supporters, officials, one-time leaders and volunteers who’ve devoted considerable time and treasure to the Y over the decades gathered in the memorabilia-filled foyer of the Wick Theater Sept. 28 to kick off the joyful festival honoring the nonprofit agency’s five decades of serving Boca Raton and area residents.

Former YMCA president and CEO Richard Pollock and current YMCA president and CEO Jason Hagensick invited a lobby full of guests to attend the pre-party party. Several hundred folks who’ve contributed to the YMCA’s efforts since it opened in 1972 attended.

The local Y serves as a community anchor in Palm Beach County by enriching lives and strengthening residents’ cooperative spirit through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y leaders told supporters gathered at the Wick.

The organization is made up of The Peter Blum Family YMCA of Boca Raton, The DeVos-Blum Family YMCA of Boynton Beach, THE LAB: YMCA Leadership Academy at Town Center Mall and the YMCA@901 NCCI.

Tracy Sussman, director of marketing at the Y, said that in preparation for the evening to celebrate the YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s history, “invitees were encouraged to bring old YMCA memorabilia, photos and stories to share at the reception.”  The theater lobby was festooned with newspaper clippings and photos, posters honoring noteworthy events at the Y and other bits of nostalgia.

Pollack, who served as president and CEO of the Y from 1996 to 2016, recalled how community leaders back in the 1960s “came together and raised $30,000 to start our YMCA.  Like many of us, these visionaries had YMCA experiences in other parts of the country and knew the impact a Y can have on a community.”

He noted that the entity known as the YMCA actually began in London more than 180 years ago.

In Boca, remembered Pollack, “community leaders stepped in to serve our Y beginning with William French, our first official CVO in 1972 – followed by the likes of O.P. Anderson, David Chapman, Peter Blum, Richard Simmons and Robert MacLaren.”

John Mulhall talked about the Y’s beginnings. “Paul Schnabel was then the manager of Boca Del Mar, which was owned by the Texaco Corporation. Paul and David Ashe went to New York to ask the Texaco Board for 10 acres of land to be donated from Boca Del Mar for a Y in Boca Raton.”

“It was approved,” said Mulhall.  Work on a Y at that site began in 1970. Boca businessman Peter Blum “then stepped in and led the capital campaign that raised more than $500,000 for construction and, in 1972, we were officially incorporated.”

“Yes,” he added, “it was Peter that made it happen.”

While the building was under construction, “we occupied two other spaces – the retail space downtown and then the Arvida Sales Office that is now the fire station on Glades Road.”

The Y in Boca officially opened its doors in 1975 “with handball, squash, racquetball courts, weight training room, an outdoor pool, football/soccer fields, baseball diamonds and outdoor basketball/volleyball area.”

Other speakers talked of additional fundraisers, including an S&H Green Stamp Drive at Publix to raise funding for a YMCA bus.

“From 1982 to 1991,” said Hagensick, “our CVOs included Clem Winke, Bernard Kulavic, William Schipani, Douglas Wolfe and J. Randy Justice.” 

In 1986, Boca philanthropists Eugene and Christine Lynn stepped in to help fund the aquatics center enclosure. Seven years later, the Countess de Hoernle Youth Learning Center was dedicated and in 1996, the William R. and Judith Schipani Family Fitness Center was remodeled.

Subsequent speakers talked of the final decade of the 1900s – 1992 to 2001 – when, among other things, the Y expanded and also opened a branch in Boynton Beach. The Weaver family in 1998 provided 11 acres to build the Y in Boynton.

Speakers also talked of opening the YMCA@901 with a preschool and corporate wellness center. It was considered “a model of partnership” with NCCI, in which Bill Donnell is the firm’s CEO. Bill’s wife, Mary, was present at the reception and was acknowledged by the crowd attending the Wick event.

Early in the new century, the Y added a Prayer Breakfast to its community schedule which has evolved into an Inspiration Breakfast. The morning meal and insightful talk moved from place to place, among them, the Y, the Boca Resort and the headquarters of Office Depot. Among speakers at the event were Rich DeVos, Wally “Famous” Amos, Pam and Bob Tebow, Bobby Bowden, Regis Philbin – with special guest David Cassidy – and Joe Theismann.

Hagensick, who has been president/CEO of the Y since 2016, recalled how he got the job. “It was the winter of 2015; I was in Chicago. The temperature was 10 degrees. I met Dick Pollack, who was leading a CEO search [for the Y].”

“I called my wife,” he said, “and asked her what she knew about Boca Raton. She said, ‘Is it near the water?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ She said if it’s near the water, I’m there.”

That led to an interview – and he got the job, he said.

“We are one of 790 YMCAs in existence today, and I’d challenge you to find another volunteer-led Y as good as ours.”

The session concluded with Terry Fedele, the 50th Anniversary Event chair (with her husband, Jerry) discussing the upcoming festive year. “Activities will be held all year round. Programs will be held every month.”

An anniversary gala will be held Dec. 3, 2022, at the Boca Resort. “We have a planning committee and more than 12 months to work on it,” said Terry. She noted with no small sense of pride that $100,000 has already been raised to help fund the event.

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