Shams Mustafa | Special to Wooster Daily Record
ORRVILLE – It’s always been a place to lose pounds and inches, but also a place to gain support, friendships and great memories.
And this year, the Orrville YMCA celebrates 50 years of building healthy minds, bodies and spirits.
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Starting with the slogan “Look for our programs not our buildings,” the local Y began as a Wooster branch in 1972. The administration office downtown operated several programs using other facilities like churches, school gymnasium and the indoor Wooster pool.
By 1983, it became an independent association and moved to University of Akron-Wayne College, where the dream of expanding started.
Former Executive Director Bob Witmer said it was an enjoyable career to witness the organization grow.
“I’ve been the executive director for 28 years,” he said. “The longer I was there, the more exciting it was.”
When Witmer started in the role in 1985, he found a willing supporter in Tyrone Turning, the former dean of Wayne College. Their discussions with public officials and meetings with community leaders resulted in owning a five-acre branch facility that opened in 1992.
‘Dream come true’ — Orrville YMCA’s construction project started in 1994
The expansion allowed the programs to be available for a larger community, which motivated the board to spread its dream and add more facilities to serve the community.
After receiving funds and raising around $3.5 million, a new construction project started in 1994 to include an Olympic-size pool and a warm-water wading pool for children.
Witmer recalls the ribbon cutting ceremony in 1996 as one of his best memories.
“After purchasing the land from Wayne College, moving to the building project, and deciding on the rooms and functions, raising the funds and finally seeing it open,” he said. “Then having the ribbon cutting ceremony and having several of the most devoted board members cutting the ribbon and then diving into the pool following that, it was a dream come true.”
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Funding continued to provide the Y with more buildings and equipment to enhance and grow programs. Today, the Orrville YMCA provides a childcare program, swimming lessons for all ages, land and water fitness classes, martial arts, and continues to add on to match the interests of the community.
Changing an adapting through years of growth and challenges
Fitness instructor Jenni Reusser, 75, started one of the YMCA’s classes in 1979 and has continued as a Y instructor since.
“I’ve been able to change and adapt and I’ve enjoyed every bit of being a part of the YMCA,” Reusser said.
Reusser leads Hi/Lo, a senior ladies fitness class, which includes high- and low-level activity.
“Things evolved and changed, including the clothing we wear,” she said. “We don’t wear leotards anymore like we used to.”
With a pop song, Reusser starts her class at 8 a.m. with a 10-minute warmup, 10 minutes of upper body workout, then 25 minutes of a choreographed exercise that keeps participants active as the music gets faster.
“I’m very consciences about knees and joints; we don’t do things with any risk factors, it’s pretty gentle,” Reusser said.
Her keywords are strength, flexibility and endurance.
“My word for them is to be able,” she said. “As we age, we want to be able to bend over, walk backwards, reach up left and right.”
Reusser maintains a strong bond with her class. For her, it’s a place where people enhance their physical, emotional and social life.
“My ladies have been through a lot in their lives. Illnesses, family issues, losing loved ones. People surround each other and support each other through all of that. Everybody lifts each other up and encourages people to continue to come to the Y for that individual.
Orrville YMCA had to close in 2020 during the COVID pandemic
Although the Orrville YMCA had to close in 2020 during the COVID pandemic, it wasn’t an obstacle for Reusser and her class. In spring 2020, she held class outdoors in a nearby church parking lot where they enjoyed the sunshine, fresh air and sound of birds.
“I didn’t want to give anybody an excuse or lose them because we couldn’t be at the Y,” she said.
The Orrville YMCA association merged with the Wooster YMCA to become part of the Wayne County YMCA in early 2019. In the same year, Lindsey Baumgartner became the executive director of her hometown Orrville Y, after working as a sports director at Wooster YMCA in 2017.
“Every branch is unique to their location and what they can offer. The Orrville Y has its pool at its location,” Baumgartner said.
Having a pool enables the Y to offer a year-round swimming program. There are also seasonal programs, such as the month-long senior Lunch and Learn.
“It’s a free event for seniors in our community where they can come for a speaker talking about a variety of different topics, then they get a free lunch and then they get to play bingo or do an activity,” she said.
Orrville YMCA’s 50-year celebration starts with hanging of banner
The 50-year celebration started with hanging a banner on Feb. 1 in front of the Orrville YMCA building with staff and others on hand. Baumgartner said there are plans to spread the celebration throughout the year that will recognize the hard work of all supporters.
“We are breaking those down into groups looking at donors, board members, volunteers, members and former and current staff,”she said.
Events for the milestone year include:
- April — YMCA storybook walk for kids provided by the library (a date will be planned for the opening of the story).
- May 13 — Golf outing.
- June 4 — Former and current staff social.
- July 23 — Donor, volunteer, board member social.
- Aug. 13 — Strut Your Mutt community event.
- September — Member appreciation events throughout the month.
- October — Membership special.
- November — Fitness challenges throughout the month.
- December — Aquatics programming for members and the community.
Donations are accepted throughout the entire year. “We will have a goal of 50 donations of $50 toward the annual campaign, anyone can give at any time,” Baumgartner said.
As for the future, the Y plans to partner with organizations such as Orrville Area Boys and Girls Club and OHuddle as they all focus on serving three main areas in the community — youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,
“We are all trying to present what we would like to see happening in the community,” she said.
The environment at the Orrville YMCA made it a place where many former staff want to remain a part of it. After retiring in 2013, Witmer volunteers by trimming the bushes or mowing the yard.
He appreciates the effort and hours spent over five decades that helped grow the facility and serve the community.
“A shoutout to those who donated, those who volunteered, those who worked at the Y,” Witmer said.