TERRE HAUTE —
A hundred and 18 years is a long time. Few things live that long, aside from giant tortoises and lobsters.
As of today, Terre Haute’s last connection to a legacy that began in 1892 is no longer alive.
Riverbank Family & Fitness closed Wednesday. Actually, that facility on the banks of the Wabash River had only worn that name since October. Most folks still knew the place by its previous name, the Terre Haute Family Y — a merger of the local YWCA and YMCA. The Terre Haute Young Men’s Christian Association organized in 1892, using rented quarters. A decade later, the Young Women’s Christian Association organized and opened at 664 Ohio St.
And for the next 118 years, through two World Wars, the Great Depression, the city’s General Strike, the JFK assassination and a variety of mayors and governors, Terre Haute had a Y (or the spinoff of a Y).
“It’s the most miserable day of my adult life,” said Tom Jones, president of the Riverbank board and the guy who bore the difficult task on Tuesday of explaining the closing.
A decade of financial ups and downs toughened in the latter half of the 2000s. The YWCA and YMCA combined resources in 2006 as a matter of economic survival. So, the YMCA’s old building at Sixth and Walnut streets closed, and the two organizations moved in together at the YWCA’s newer riverside location.
The recession hit in 2007. Outstanding debts lingered. A trust fund, set up exclusively for facility improvements, paid for excellent upgrades to the building this year. As that work was completed, the facility’s board decided to disaffiliate from the Y; the blended agency had dropped its YMCA connection years before, and its service to both genders no longer fit the YWCA’s mission statement, new executive director Greg Ruark explained in October.
Finally, an extensive membership drive boosted the numbers, but not by enough to meet payroll and pay the utilities, Jones said.
“We weren’t able to make it work,” he said. “This wasn’t an impulsive decision. It was a gut-wrenching decision.”
Today, what remains is a newly renovated facility with a full-sized gym, pool and fitness amenities — and no occupant. The future will include some method of resolving debts, including those owed to folks who paid for memberships. And, for now, possession of the building will, apparently, revert to the City of Terre Haute, which owns the land.
But does the future, near or distant, also include a reincarnated Terre Haute Y? Let’s hope so.
The lack of a YMCA or YWCA seems like a significant void on the résumé of a city the size of Terre Haute. There are 2,687 YMCA branches serving 10,000 communities in America, said Mamie Moore, director of public relations at YMCA national headquarters in Chicago. The YWCA serves 2 million women through 300 local associations in the United States, according to its national website.
Terre Haute is the 475th-largest city, by population, in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Numerically, it would seem that City No. 475 should possess one of those 2,687 YMCAs, if not one of those 300 YWCAs.
Life isn’t fair or neatly ordered, though. “There’s a lot more competition” for Ys, Jones said, “and the other reality is the economy.”
The Great Recession struck some places harder than others. Through the economic downturn, unemployment was worse in Indiana than in the rest of the nation, and worse in Terre Haute than in the rest of the state.
The Ys also compete for members with privately owned fitness centers, even though a Y is more of a community center. (Most, like Terre Haute, also offer pools, popular especially with seniors, unlike most fitness outlets.)
On a national scale, “Overall, we’re a strong organization,” Moore said of the YMCA. “In communities, with the economy as it is, we do know some Ys are having difficulties.” Meanwhile, two YWCAs — also more than a century old — have closed in Lewiston, Maine, and in Gloversville, N.Y., this year.
YMCAs, like other nonprofit agencies nationwide, “went into a cost-containment mode during the recession,” said Eric Ellsworth, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, which includes 13 branches in Marion County and six surrounding counties.
“YMCAs in central Indiana are what I would consider to be flat in terms of membership and up in terms of program use,” Ellsworth said.
In a nutshell, a core of loyal patrons is using their Y even more in tough times. That situation can strain budgets.
Still, Ellsworth has heard other YMCAs around the country are beginning to bounce back from the recession. In Indiana, a new YMCA just opened in Lebanon, and another will open in Avon next year, expanding the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis’ lineup. “So we’re anticipating good growth in membership in 2011, because of the opening of those two branches,” Ellsworth said.
Terre Haute, even amid the current frustration and sadness, should draw hope from the openings in Lebanon and Avon. Neither community had a Y before. By contrast, Terre Haute already has a century-plus Y legacy, and a sharp building waiting to be used. “It’s a beautiful facility. It’s an energy-efficient facility,” Jones said. “It just needs a different business model.”
Along those lines, Ellsworth said the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis is willing to assist a Terre Haute effort to create a “fresh, new YMCA presence for the Terre Haute area.
“My hope and my prayer,” Ellsworth said, “is that Terre Haute will have a resurgence in their Y effort and that the YMCA will be back in that community soon.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
A hundred and 18 years is a long time. Few things live that long, aside from giant tortoises and lobsters.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
MARK BENNETT: First BaconFest sure to cure your salty fried meat cravings
Bacon taught me a life lesson.
I wrapped strips of it around chicken livers and secured the cold, gooey bundles with toothpicks to earn money.
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: City sparkles during premiere of ‘The Drunk’
William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner cast their hometown in a starring role in their debut effort as filmmakers.
MARK BENNETT: ‘Notes on a River’ exhibition brings Wabash scenes to gallery
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
You’ll need a broom, a pickup truck, trash bins, shop hooks and aspirin.
Filming a “Sanford and Son” remake? Preparing for the apocalypse?
MARK BENNETT: Illinois officials content their state has its business advantages, too
Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification
Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.
“That is illogical,” he’d say.
MARK BENNETT: Young at heart
Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
Debs film to debut at Indiana Theatre
Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
MARK BENNETT: Album turns memories into musical Christmas message for Terre Haute’s Dave Frey, band
In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: First BaconFest sure to cure your salty fried meat cravings