Courier Staff Writer
The Ottumwa YMCA celebrated 125 years in the city on Wednesday and declared the center an International Peace Site.
“As a Y executive, there are times during your career that are really exciting to go through,” said Tom Sisler, executive director of the Y. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen all the time.”
Harold “Corky” Stevens, Kirby McDowell and Katherine Ross unveiled a peace pole at a dedication ceremony at the Y Wednesday afternoon.
There are four sides to the pole. One side is blank, something “to grow into,” Sisler said. Two sides say “May peace prevail on Earth” — one in English and one in Spanish. The final side says “May peace be in our homes and in our communities.”
“We are now registered as a peace site,” Sisler said. “We are one of more than 200,000 peace poles around the world saying just that we believe in peace. There’s no hidden agenda.”
Sisler said he hopes it becomes a “living peace pole,” a gathering place for people throughout the community to reflect.
“Isn’t this a great time when we can bring more peace into our lives?” he said. “I hope it brings some peace to Ottumwa in whatever way it’s needed. That means different things to different people.”
One “awesome” thing about the Y, Sisler said, is that wherever it’s located, it has a common mission, though each Y tailors their mission to the needs of the community.
“We are one of the railroad Ys,” Sisler said. “When people were moving west, Ys were set up on the railroads for an affordable, safe place for young men, at that time, to stay.”
On July 18, 1887, a group of men gathered in T. D. Foster’s home to begin forming the Ottumwa Y, and exactly one month later, the Ottumwa Y was chartered.
Three years later, the first Y was built at West Second and South Washington Streets. In 1902, they added a gymnasium, swimming pool and dormitories.
After a fire, the building was rebuilt in 1921 and didn’t move until 1970, when a new building was constructed at its current location, 611 Hancock St. In 1991, the Y added a new gymnasium and early childhood development center.
In 2003, the Y constructed a 2,700-square-foot fitness studio, bringing the building to its current footprint of 35,100 square feet.
“The Y is different things to different people,” said Jeff Logan, YMCA board president.
Stevens, known to everyone as “Corky,” said he grew up in the Y “years and years and years ago.”
“In the basement they had cages with the workout clothes,” Stevens said. “I worked down there for my membership, which at the time was $7.50 a year.”
He was part of the Hi-Y Club as a young man — “you had to be invited to join,” he said — which was a support group for the Y and got to plan Homecoming events.
After leaving Ottumwa to serve in the Marine Corps and go to college, he returned in 1966 to teach history and coach at Ottumwa High School.
“After I retired in 1989, I joined the Y,” he said.
He became part of the Y’s Mens Club, which helped do fundraising for the Y, especially during a time when the Y “was in dire straits,” he said.
“We weren’t sure whether it would be able to stay open or not,” he said. “But the directors now, Tom and Kathy [Sisler], have done a terrific job.”
There are now more than 22 million Y members in more than 150 countries, Sisler said. The Ottumwa Y is dedicated to youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, and this dedication gives his staff a chance to “re-dedicate themselves” to those goals.