In the beginning… It has been a long cold winter for the small community of Naperville. The year is 1909, it is Valentine’s Day and we are gathered in a tabernacle erected for the evangelistic team of Hart and McGann. The tabernacle is filled tonight and will be for 28 successive nights as those famed revivalists pour out the word of the Lord and seek repentance. Many of us are here out of curiosity, yet during the next four weeks, 355 residents will be converted. In recent times, the spiritual life of Naperville has been at a low ebb, and we are watching a genuine awakening for the town. Reverend C. G. Unangst, Pastor of Grace Evangelical Church and President of the Ministerial Association has spearheaded the effort. Up to now, there have been few places in Naperville for young men to spend their evenings; favorite haunts have been the many local saloons. Wishing to take advantage of the new wave of local spiritual enthusiasm, Reverend Unangst traveled to Chicago to confer with area YMCA officials and discuss a Naperville YMCA. “Naperville is too small for a Y”, he is told, “… experience has shown they just won’t work in a community of that size.” But they final agree to send a man out to talk and the YMCA idea takes hold. A Citizen’s Committee promptly forms including many of Naperville’s best known names: forthright men like Peter Kroehler, A.H. Beidelman, W.W. Spiegler, F.A. Kendall, J. Badel, Willard Scott, August Muench, B. Slick, Reverends Rice, Prebles and Otjun. It is now the end of March, 1909, and these men are assembled to consider their task. Men of vision? Hard-headed German businessmen? Perhaps a dash of each… they can count and they recognized the facts before them. “If we can sell 300 memberships at $5.00 each. I move we organize a Y and begin building at once.” Peter Kroehler makes this motion and the whole town supports it. By the end of April, trustees have been elected for a new YMCA - E.J.T. Moyer is the first President. Beginning on a hot June 22, 1909, the first YMCA Fund Drive is officially opened. It lasts for 15 days, raising a total of $26,260. The community is involved. Dinners are served each evening at the Congregational Church prior to the men going out seeking contributions. We are told that when the daily quota is reached the church bells will peal signaling an end to that day’s fund raising effort. Our community has less than 2,000 residents at this time. From this point, the development of the YMCA proceeds at a dazzling pace. On Memorial Day 1910, the cornerstone is laid and on March 26, 1911, the formal dedication of a three story brick building takes place. That building is still standing and being used on a daily basis today. In just 1 year, a building has been built, an organization established, and a tradition begun. What is this tradition? It was then and is today, largely people… people and a service, a service to youth and community which becomes an extension of service to self.
The “South Branch” becomes a reality 1989 was a year of many tasks for the YMCA Board of Directors, as they examined financial considerations, program facility needs, and future program directions and trends. 1990 was the year targeted for design and construction of the south branch. During this time, John Fry and his family presented the Y with an opportunity to purchase 6 acres of land, strategically located at the epicenter of Naperville’s “Sector G”. The intersection of Book Rd. and 95th St. was projected to change from a farming intersection to the “downtown” of south Naperville. The YMCA accepted this offer and purchased the property for $25,000 an acre. The YMCA Board acknowledged our future presence in south Naperville, and opened a satellite facility with exercise equipment, classes, and a preschool in the Saddlewood Shopping Center at 103rd and Rt. 59. During this time the Y strengthened its south Naperville presence with the purchase of the Tamarack Pool & Tennis Club. Following the successful completion of a $1.3 million campaign, the YMCA, in cooperation with the City of Naperville, received $3.5 million through Industrial Revenue Bonds issued by Firstar Bank. In 1992, Board President Kathy West refocused the Y’s planning to complete the long promised dream of a second facility. Ray Lenart secured the services of Jim Turner at the Etra Co. to do a market study of Naperville’s emerging south sector. The study showed a great need for a full YMCA facility. Following a second feasibility study by interim Executive Director David Bast and Jim Egbert from Minneapolis, it was decided to complete the project with a second campaign and full plans. We knew “if we built it, and it included a pool, they would come”. Roy Bynum came to Naperville as President and CEO of a growing YMCA. Ground was broken on September 13, 1994, with great excitement and fanfare. Construction for a new 40,000 sq. ft. facility followed and the Center opened in December, 1995. In one year, its membership grew to over 7, 000.
The YMCA in Naperville continued to grow and expand on its long heritage of service to the needs of the Area. An additional 6.5 acres of open land was purchased immediately to the West of the 95th St. Family Center. On March 26, 1999 a decision was made to add an 8700 sq.ft. expansion to the 95th St. Family Center. Formal approval was given by both Boards for a consolidation of The Naperville Area YMCA and the Aurora Family YMCA. On July 23, 1999 the Board approved the addition of a Field House to be built South of 83rd street and West of Route 59. The Board also agreed on a new name for the growing association: Heritage YMCA Group. In September, 2005 the 95th St. branch celebrated its 10th anniversary and was renamed the Fry Family YMCA to recognize and honor the Fry Family for all of their support of the YMCA for many years.
And today…The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago announces that effective January 1, 2011, the Heritage YMCA Group, a group of Ys in Aurora, Naperville, Oswego and the surrounding areas, has joined the Y of Metro Chicago network. As part of the integration, the Y of Metro Chicago will assume all the Heritage Group YMCA has to offer, including its healthy membership base of nearly 20,000 families and children. All Heritage Ys will remain open, retain local staff and boards, and keep their current names.
Heritage YMCA Group President and CEO Tom Beerntsen said, “The decision to combine operations was driven by one question, ‘how can we structure our operations to ensure that kids and families in our area will continue to enjoy YMCA programs for the next 100 years?’” Beerntsen went on to say, “Moving under the Metro Y umbrella will greatly strengthen the Heritage Group Ys financial foundation, programs and services. I strongly believe that by joining the Y of Metro Chicago, the Heritage Group Ys will gain operational efficiencies of scale, as well as leverage programming best practices from throughout the network that will only further enhance our local membership experience.”
This year we will be celebrating 100 years in Naperville. This landmark will be celebrated throughout the year with various events, including a Backyard Bash at the Kroehler Family YMCA on June 3rd and culminating in a “Celebrating 100 Years” Gala at the Naperville/Lisle Hilton on November 5th.