HOLLIDAYSBURG - James Dysart would be proud of today's modern Hollidaysburg Area YMCA.
"He would be proud that we have gone beyond his expectations of what could happen there. It is so much more developed than what he would have thought it would be," said Pat Gildea, secretary of the board of directors in the 1970s and member of the Y's anniversary committee.
Dysart, a Hollidaysburg native who became a noted financier and philanthropist, is considered the founder of the YMCA, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Isaac Wood (left), 13, of Hollidaysburg lays up a shot on C.J. DeMarsico, 14, of Altoona during a game of basketball at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA on Thursday.
The Young Men's Christian Association movement began in England in the 1840s as a response to the industrial revolution.
After Dysart returned to Hollidaysburg after a successful business career in Pittsburgh and New York, he gathered laymen and pastors and said "we needed a YMCA," according to Tom Kopriva, who has served as executive director since 1991.
"He challenged the community. He owned the Hemphill House at Walnut and Penn streets. He offered the community a challenge. If the community came up with five years of operating revenue, he would give them the home," Kopriva said. "In six days, over $26,000 was raised."
On March 14, 1912, Judge Thomas J. Baldridge granted the charter of incorporation for the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA.
In 1922, a fire damaged the building and again Dysart came to its aid, pledging to build an addition and remodel the old building if the upkeep would be guaranteed by the community.
This $80,000 project created a swimming pool, gymnasium and resident rooms.
In the early 1970s the board of directors was faced with a dilemma - renovate the aging building or consider building a new facility.
"Carolyn Routch and the Hollidaysburg [Area] Women's Club funded a feasibility study. The conclusion was not to put more money into the old building and build at Dysart Park," Kopriva said.
In 1913, Dysart had acquired two tracts of land known as Dysart Park totaling nearly 8 acres, which he put in trust for use of the YMCA.
"I had mixed emotions about a new building. To renovate would have cost about $900,000 and there was no parking there," Gildea said.
"It worked out beautifully. If we had to buy land, it would have been difficult."
The new building, which included community rooms, offices, a gymnasium and locker rooms, was dedicated Feb. 12, 1978.
A second phase of that project, which included a pool, weight room and activities room, was completed in 1983.
Another significant event in the Y's history occurred in 1996. That's when the YMCA got into the child care business and transformed the old Frankstown Elementary School into the YMCA's Children's Center. Today the center provides care for nearly 200 children.
After the turn of the 21st century, the Y's building on Hewitt Street again became inadequate.
"We did a feasibility study in 2003 and put a fundraising campaign together in 2004. It took four years but by 2008 we opened an expansion of 32,000 square feet onto the previous 24,000 square feet," Kopriva said. "The lobby went from 80 to 800 square feet."
The completion of that $7.5 million project led to a jump in membership, which today numbers nearly 4,000.
Kopriva said members and others who participate in the Y's programs come from 30 different zip codes.
"That was one of the motivations and justifications to expand in 2008. We had become more of a regional YMCA," he said.
Kopriva calls the YMCA an economic engine for the community.
"Our payroll is $1.4 million and all that money is turned over in our local economy. We remove a great deal of burden from our local governments. The community depends on us to provide a lot of programs and services," Kopriva said. "We also serve as an entry-level job for a lot of kids."
The YMCA is able to provide waived or discounted fees to about 600 people, with a value of $180,000 a year. Kopriva estimates the YMCA provides between $250,000 and $300,000 worth of services to the community a year through financial assistance and access to the facility.
Credit for the success of the YMCA goes to its board of directors and past leaders - people such as Dysart, Routch, Roy Rumbaugh, Walt Campbell and Don Wissinger.
"It is the leadership - our board of directors and others who hold a great place in their heart for the Y," Kopriva said. "We haven't stayed pat and have seen the needs. In the 1970s and early 2000s they had the vision to expand and move. You can have leadership, but if you don't have vision you won't continue to have success. One hundred years is a great achievement a lot of people can take credit for."
Community support also has been a key to survival.
"It is really about the community responding to the Y. If the community was not supportive, the Y wouldn't be there. James Dysart said he would step up; people responded back then and that is still happening today," said Dennis Zink, board president.
The Hollidaysburg Area YMCA is relevant to the community, said Dan Harris, senior resource director of the YMCA of the USA.
"We are so proud of what they have been able to accomplish," Harris said. "It is the result of good people like Tom Kopriva and the board of directors. They make sure they understand the needs of the community and are able to change and adapt to those needs over the years."
The YMCA is continuing to try and meet those needs. Zink said the Y seeks healthy alternatives for people today.
"That is what the Y is all about, to keep the community healthy," Zink said.
The future includes additional expansion.
A second phase of the 2008 expansion project is now being discussed. Plans call for the addition of a 14,000-square-foot second floor, an elevated running track and renovation of the original 1978 space into a child development center.
"We are doing preliminary planning at the board level at this point. It would be a $4 million project," Kopriva said. "The original project was about $7.5 million; we raised $5.5 million. We would like to raise $6 million to pay for the $4 million addition and pay off the $2 million from the other project. It is at least a couple of years out."
Meanwhile, as the YMCA enters its second hundred years, it will continue to do what it has always done.
"I see the Y serving the same purpose as we have over the past 100 years. It is a positive environment and a great place for kids to develop confidence skills and self-esteem. It is a place for families to come together and do great things," Kopriva said. "We want to keep doing positive things for our community. I don't see any reason to change that."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.