On a beautiful summer day in 2006, the community and YMCA family gathered for the grand re-opening of the Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA. Sue Duncan was there for the ribbon cutting and the fun and festivities joining in the games with the kids. Being part of every aspect of the YMCA was intricately Sue Duncan.
Women have been part of the YMCA long before being officially welcomed as members. Much has changed, but what has not is the influence women have had in honoring the vision and expanding the reach of the YMCA. This Women’s History Month, we are celebrating a champion and force in fundraising for the mission of the YMCA and catalyst for the expansion into Arvada. Anyone who knew her, knew Sue Duncan was these things and so much more.
As the daughter of Gerald and Florence Schlessman, Sue’s love of the Y and of helping others came early and naturally. Her trailblazing started when she was an active child involved in athletic contests long before it was considered acceptable for girls and women to participate. She, her husband James (Jim) and their family were part of the Southwest Y for many years. For nearly 40 years, she served in various leadership roles for the YMCA of Metro Denver including on the board of directors, executive committee, secretary and vice chair. Through her leadership, the YMCA expanded its reach to youths in communities throughout the metro area. For her many contributions, she was named Volunteer of the Year (1977 and 1998) and inducted into the YMCA’s Hall of Fame (1983).
It was her belief in the core values of the YMCA that made her a prolific fundraiser for the organization when she served on the financial and capital campaign committees. Through her visionary leadership, she advocated for the Y, garnering support and cultivating relationships that led to legacy donors supporting the Y even today. Through the Schlessman Family Foundation, she made a major commitment to the Arvada YMCA project by pledging a lead gift of $1 million in 1995. The Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA was named in her honor and opened to the community in 1999.
“Sue was a true philanthropist. Her passion for providing a caring environment for youth has enabled the Y to be there for our community, and it would look very different were it not for her involvement,” said Mike Jackson, director of charitable planning and leadership development and, in the early 2000s, executive director of the Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA.
Nearly every Y across the metro area benefitted from Sue and the foundation’s philanthropy. Sue was invested in the YMCA and wanted to know the impact being made. She asked great questions, ensuring the YMCA was delivering on its promise of providing essential services to the community.
“Sue embraced the YMCA. She always had time to talk and seek out staff to say a friendly hello,” said Debbie Ford, who has served in many roles in her nearly 40 years with the YMCA of Metro Denver and currently the staff lead for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Global Innovation. “She supported capital donations, programs, as well as the international movement of the YMCA, but she would also drop you a personal note or letter of congratulations or support.”
At her passing in 2019, Sue Duncan made the single largest gift in the YMCA of Metro Denver’s history through her estate. Sue’s generous spirit has ensured her legacy will be felt long into the future.