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.
But let us skip along to later in 1911, November 13th to be exact, when our young organization rendered a most far-reaching decision. After arduous debate, it was decided to allow ladies and girls to use the YMCA one and one-half hours per week. Seventy-five cents each would be the charge.
But suffrage marches on, and one year later, ladies are given the privilege of further use of the local YMCA.
So the Naperville YMCA was established and its course charted. Early on, it basked in the glory of being the smallest community YMCA in the nation. But it gained stature with years, and this institution gradually assumed a role of community involvement filling a void not otherwise provided for. In large measure, the Naperville YMCA has proved itself adaptable and flexible suiting both the times and the needs of its community. It has always been thoroughly grounded in the YMCA ideal, the notion that growth entails body, mind and spirit. It is perhaps true that emphasis moved from one to another of these throughout the years, but overall the total person has been served since its inception.
Like everyone else, our Y had a difficult time during the depression when memberships declined. The most serious and far-reaching effect of these years was the beginning of a forced policy of living off the YMCA facilities. Necessary maintenance was stalled and put off; expansion was unthinkable; it was not even possible to put aside a depreciation fund.
This was followed by the war years when everyone… the Y included, concentrated on national salvation. Our Y’s contribution to the war effort was to make its facilities available to the American Red Cross. After the war, a new and confused age began.
Suddenly, Naperville ceased being a small isolated community and began to grow. Commuters began to make Naperville their home. Growing pains developed in every area of the community, and thoughtful people recognized these rumblings.
In 1948, the Naperville YMCA took action to update its facility to better suite the new Naperville. Funds were raised to complete badly needed renovation of the existing facilities. The hoped-for goal of expansion was put off indefinitely.
In 1960, our community had grown to some 12,000 people and our community service had shown astonishing growth. The perplexing problems of matching demand, of creating community awareness and participation remained high. Between 1960 and 1965, the Naperville YMCA took the first steps towards keeping the Y relevant in an ever expanding community. The Y’s programs were expanded; membership started to increase. Finally, in June of 1970, the first meeting was held with community leaders to help the YMCA Board set long-range goals and objectives. Out of that meeting, attended by over 100 of Naperville’s citizens, came the goals of expansion of facilities plus the issues of quality programming and YMCA financing. In 1971, the Y Fund raised nearly one-half million dollars. And in 1972, ground was broken on a $786,000 addition. This included new locker rooms, racquetball facilities and a large swimming pool. The facility opened in 1973 and was followed by rapid growth in membership and usage. In 1975, planning was begun for a second addition to meet the high demands. This addition, to complete the work of the first expansion project, was completed and opened to the community in1978.
This expanded facility led Naperville’s YMCA into the 1980’s. Membership doubled and created the need for additional staffing and programs. As the community exploded with growth, the YMCA did likewise.
To assure the Y’s future progress, a development office was created to oversee fund raising campaigns. A “focus paper” was developed to guide the Board of Director’s and YMCA staff in a planned course for growth.
New program ventures included the development of Naperville’s first Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, in conjunction with a local physician and Edward Hospital. Initial funding was supplied by the Naperville Noon Lions Club. This program grew to include Good Samaritan Hospital as well, and was eventually absorbed by those hospitals.
An emerging need in our community, created by a growing work force, was the supervision and safety of children after school. The Y-PM Program was developed in cooperation with the Naperville United Way. This program, now called Safe ‘n Sound, continues to be the only agency-operated after school program providing a creative, fun alternative to either traditional child care settings or being home alone.
The mid 80’s saw a period of increased collaboration with the Naperville Park District, which included pooling of resources and sharing philosophies. This provided the community with the Pathfinders Day Camp and the Preschool Kiddie Kamp. The YMCA, Park District, and School District 203 extended the collaborative effort to establish a Summer Gymnastics Skill Camp.
Youth Sports became a focal point in the 80’s with the establishment of Flag Football, T-Ball, and the Youth Basketball Program, currently the largest YMCA Basketball Program in the State of Illinois.
Growth and expanded programming for youth continued to increase stress on the YMCA’s downtown facility. The 80’s found our YMCA utilizing nearly 40 school, church, and business sites for programs in the community each year.
The Board of Directors, cognizant of this growth and stress, commissioned a study in 1984 to test the community’s support for the YMCA’s mission and programs and the feasibility of new and expanded facilities. This led to a land search and eventual purchase of 6.2 acres just west of Book Road on 95th Street. Within one year, that land was fully paid for as the Y’s Men’s Club, Jaycees, and local citizens shared the Y’s vision for a branch of the YMCA.
A Campaign Executive Committee of 31 local leaders, led by Honorary Chairman Milton E. Stauffer and directed by Co-Chairpersons Tom Miers and Char Gregory, began a capital campaign in 1988 to raise $3.5 million to renovate the downtown facility and establish a new branch of our YMCA in southwest Naperville. The campaign focused on a 1991-92 opening of the Y’s second program center.
A significant breakthrough for the Capital Campaign came with the notification in early 1989 of a commitment for a deferred gift of one million dollars from Kenneth and June Kroehler in honor of his father, Peter E. Kroehler, a YMCA founder.
It was a bright Sunday afternoon, April 30, 1989 when friends of the Kroehlers and former Kroehler Furniture employees joined with YMCA leaders to officially dedicate the Y’s Washington Street facility as the Peter E. Kroehler Program Center.
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.
At the same time the YMCA’s childcare community-based program expanded, serving before and after school care needs in most District 203 and 204 schools. The Child Development Center became the third leg of The Naperville Area YMCA. The Saddlewood Center was phased out in mid 1995 as an activity center, but its programming in preschool and before and after school child care expanded.
In 1997, Nancy Konrad, CDC Executive Director, and Ruth Cross, Mill St. School Principal completed a formal business/education partnership agreement for District 203.
By 1999, the Child Development Center had grown to serve 31 schools in District 203 and 204.
The Naperville Area YMCA continues 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.