Keeping the Fox Cities Fit for 125 years

By Sean P. Johnson

The YMCA of the Fox Cities has come a long way in 125 years.

Yet the mission has not changed all that much — helping people live a better life.

Perhaps known today for its fitness and humanities offerings more than its humble beginnings over a corner grocery in 1888 where men gathered for bible study. It’s still about providing constructive activities that can help people improve their lives, says Sue Pawlowski, YMCA of the Fox Cities community relations director.

“We still have bible study,” Pawlowski says. “Today, one of our main goals is making sure that everyone has positive activities they can engage in.”

That has meant changing and adding activities that both keep to the times and help the organization fulfill its mission.

It’s also meant tremendous growth. The organization started in Appleton over what was then the Pardees Grocery store at 112 E. College Ave., in 1888. Now, there are five locations – Appleton, Neenah-Menasha, Heart of the Valley in Kimberly, Fox West in Greenville and Apple Creek, on Appleton’s north side.

There were 158 members after that first year. Today, the YMCA of the Fox Cities counts more than 40,000 memberships and has an operations budget of $20 million. It is the largest daycare provider in the area.

From swimming lessons to basketball, and fine arts to martial arts, the Y has constantly adapted its programs to meet the needs of the Fox Valley. In addition to fitness and sports, the Y is often the place many are first exposed to music, art or dance classes.

As the population has aged, both social and fitness programs for seniors have become more prevalent.

“As we look back at the changes, it’s really been about the community,” Pawlowski says. “It’s never just been about gym and swim.”

YMCA of the Fox Cities highlights:

  • Founded in 1888
  • Current Appleton location opened in 1915
  • Neenah-Menasha YWCA incorporated in 1935
  • Camp Nan A Bo Sho purchased in the 1960s
  • Neenah-Menasha and Appleton first affiliate in 1977
  • Full day and partial day daycare first offered in 1982
  • Appleton and Neenah-Menasha officially merge as one organization in 2000
  • Heart of the Valley YMCA opens its doors in 2002.
  • Fox West YMCA opens its doors in 2002
  • Apple Creek YMCA Program Center opens in 2012
  • YMCA of the Fox Cities celebrates 125 years in 2013
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