Denver YMCA History | Denver YMCA

Denver YMCA History

YMCA of Metropolitan Denver History (1875 – 2018)

A History of Accomplishments Over 140 Years

1875 - 1925

1875            The Denver YMCA forms on December 30 when 13 men and three women gather at Occidental Hall in Denver, the meeting site for the Colorado Constitutional Convention. Henry Tuggy is elected the first Chairman of the Board.

1876            Membership totals 197 young men and the operational budget is just over $1,000.

1884            A Ladies Auxiliary is formally organized to support the organization. 

1885            The first gymnasium opens at 412 Larimer Street at a cost of $600. 

1891            The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company equips a YMCA branch operation in West Denver. Rooms are leased at 8th Avenue and South10th Street and programs launch to improve the social, physical, mental and spiritual conditioning of railroad employees.

1896            James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, introduces the game to Denver while on the physical education staff of the Denver YMCA. The first games are played in YMCA headquarters in the Kittredge Building.

1898-1902   Financial challenges are plentiful and necessitate a number of moves to various locations throughout the city. After the turn of the century, finances stabilize.

1899            Annual membership reaches an all-time high. Men pay $10 and boys pay $6 per year.

1900            The Literacy Society of the YMCA launches discussions on issues surrounding civil rights.  

1901-1925     Colorado Governor William E. Sweet is elected president of the Denver YMCA and serves in this capacity for 25 years. He lives in and manages his gubernatorial campaigns from the Denver YMCA.

1903-1905     The Denver YMCA conducts a capital campaign to build its own facility. A total of $223,400 is raised and a permanent home is founded at the corner of 16th Avenue and Lincoln Street.

1906            On May 30, United States Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks lays the cornerstone for the new Denver YMCA building.

1907            The YMCA establishes Camp Chief Ouray, a resident youth camp, near Granby. The camp is believed to be the first youth camp in Colorado.

1908            The YMCA organizes the Glenarm YMCA to serve the African-American population.

1913            Alfred Butters, a member of the Board of Directors, gives the YMCA $2,000 to start an endowment program.

1914-1917     Over 101,500 World War I servicemen receive free accommodations and recreation and religious programs at the Y as they travel across the country.

1919            The Denver YMCA Board of Directors makes a major decision to approve dancing in YMCA facilities.

1923            The Denver Institute of Technology contracts with the YMCA to teach courses including automobile ownership, salesmanship, sales practice, psychology of business, memory training and public speaking.

1924            The Denver YMCA takes the first steps toward becoming a metropolitan association when the Glenarm Branch building at 2800 Glenarm Place is dedicated.

1925            Membership reaches 2,570. 

1926 – 1975

1926            Popular for many years under names such as “kittenball” and “sissyball,” the sport of softball gets its name at the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver. Homer Hoisington notes the need for standardized rules, and Walter Hakanson moves for the name “softball.” A declaration of principles emphasizing inclusiveness and good sportsmanship is adopted and the sport spreads nationwide.   

1929            The first youth “Leaders Club” is formed and an annual dinner culminates a successful year.

Early 1930s    The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver leads twilight softball leagues throughout the city. These leagues are offered more than a decade before the Denver Parks and Recreation Department is formed. 

1933            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver team represents Colorado in the first national softball tournament held by the newly formed Amateur Softball Association of America.

1936            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver receives its first federal property tax exemption from the United States Treasury Department. Y programming includes band, bridge lessons, rifle shooting and social dancing. Leadership groups for teens known as Hi-Y Clubs operate in 15 area high schools.

1938            The 20th Street YMCA is organized. 

1941            The Westside YMCA is organized at 769 S. Santa Fe Drive.

1941-1945     During World War II, over two million G.I.s are served by the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver. 

1946            The South YMCA, located almost “out in the country” at Colorado Boulevard and Yale Avenue joins the existing branches.

1946-1949     The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver supports the Kunming YMCA in China prior to the Communist takeover.

1949            The Sportland Recreation Center is purchased and converted to a YMCA to serve northeast Denver. Land for the Southeast YMCA is also purchased. This facility is  later named the Gerald L. Schlessman YMCA.       

1950            Membership reaches 12,119 and daily attendance reaches 3,000. Support is extended to the Laoag YMCA in the Philippines with a gift of $35,000 for a building project.   Shortly thereafter, the Denver YMCA celebrates its 75th anniversary.

1954            YMCA Youth In Government, a teen leadership program using the legislative process as a model, begins. High school students from across the state participate at the state capital.

1955            The Littleton YMCA is formed in a farmhouse at 2233 W. Shepperd in Littleton. Youth programs begin in Jefferson County. 

1956            The Littleton YMCA is constructed and opened.  

1957            The Denver YMCA joins the newly founded Mile High United Fund, Inc.

1961            The Jefferson County YMCA is organized.

1962            The Aurora Family YMCA is organized in 1962 by a group concerned about community growth in east Denver. Organizers believe that programs are needed for the youth of their community. Forty people meet and, with an initial fundraising drive that collects $2,000, the Aurora YMCA is organized.

1964            A well-equipped gymnasium addition is dedicated at the Schlessman Family YMCA. An indoor-outdoor pool opens at the Littleton YMCA. Association operating expense is $911,132 with seven branches.

1966            A long range study involving 150 leading citizens is completed to determine direction for future YMCA services in the metropolitan area. 

1969            An inner-city department is organized to serve disadvantaged and alienated youth. This cooperative project with the federal government is known as the “Youth Coalition” Branch YMCA.

Early 1970s    Local Ys pioneer child care programs before the term “latchkey kid” is widely used.

1971            The Adams County YMCA begins full operation in the Thornton and Northglenn area. The most popular programs are parent-child programs called Indian Guides and Indian Princesses, and summer day camp.

1972            A capital campaign yields $2,346,555. Investments are used to build Adams County and Aurora YMCAs and renovate and remodel existing structures.

1973            Along with other Colorado YMCAs, the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver helps host the national Y Indian Guide Long House Convention with over 1,000 participants.

1974            The constituency of the YMCA reaches 61,316 members and program participants with annual attendance of 1,428,654.

1975            The centennial anniversary of the Denver YMCA is celebrated.

1976 – 2000

1976            The Glenarm and Sportland Branches merge to become the East Denver Branch. Community activists begin organizing youth activities in Adams County and seek to come under the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver umbrella. A new cardiovascular health program is initiated.

1977            The Chatfield YMCA begins serving the southwest metro area in a shopping center storefront operation.

1980            The Northwest Extension YMCA is started as a community outreach of the Jefferson County YMCA.   

1982-1983     A metro-wide capital campaign is conducted. Funds raised are used to complete renovation projects at a number of branches. 

1983            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver inducts 16 dedicated volunteers into the Hall of Fame.

1984            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver hosts the Los Angeles Olympic Torch Run.

1985            International partnerships are established with the Chihuahua, Mexico YMCA and the Sioux YMCA in South Dakota.

1986            The Northwest Extension is granted branch status.

1987            The Board of Directors approves expenditures for the first management information system, changes the Y’s mission statement to include “Christian values” and approves the AWAY program, a national endeavor allowing members to participate at other Y facilities while away from home.

1988            Computers are installed at all branches and the first transportation fleet of 15 vans is purchased for child care programs.

1991            A Long-Range Planning Committee establishes the top 10 priorities for the next 10 years. Earth Service Corp, an environmental teen leadership program, is initiated.

1992            A bankrupt health club on Broadway and Dry Creek in Littleton is acquired to become the Highline Family YMCA and provide programs and services for Highlands Ranch and south Littleton. YMCAs nationwide also hold the first national Healthy Kids Day to encourage healthy development of youth.

1993            The Chatfield YMCA takes occupancy of the newly purchased Ridge Athletic Club and becomes the Chatfield-Columbine Family YMCA.

1994            The former Capitol Federal Savings and Loan building (adjacent to the existing Schlessman Family YMCA) is purchased and renovated to provide a senior wellness/social center and a licensed child care center for infants through school-aged children.

1994            A Character Development thrust is initiated nationally in response to declining morality and lack of values education. The YMCA movement formally defines character as the demonstration of four core values: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

1995            The Board of Directors purchases Beaver Ranch from Beaver Ranch Children’s Camp Inc. near Conifer, Colorado, and assumes ownership of the 440-acre property on Foxton Road and Highway 285. The name is changed to the Mountain Community YMCA, and residential camping programming called YMCA Camp Newton begins in 1996. 

1996            The Board of Directors initiates a major capital campaign to build a new YMCA in Arvada to replace the Northwest Family YMCA. The goal is $7.95 million.

1997            YMCAs nationwide formally adopt one logo and the theme “We build strong kids, strong families and strong communities.”  

1999            The capital campaign for the Northwest Family YMCA successfully concludes and the new Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA opens on June 7. A repositioning plan is announced to prepare the association for the 21st century. The Schlessman Family YMCA and Aurora YMCA are consolidated into one operation.

2000            New by-laws are adopted. The Littleton YMCA is sold and members are welcomed into the Highline YMCA. Members of the Chatfield YMCA are welcomed to the Southwest YMCA. The Adams County YMCA begins operations as a “YMCA Without Walls.” Sales of the Mountain Community, Aurora and Central YMCAs are initiated.

2000 – now

2006            A grand re-opening of the remodeled Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA takes place. The Downtown YMCA celebrates its 100-year anniversary. New member and fund development strategies are established to ensure fiscal stability in 2007 and beyond. Eight new members are recruited to the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver Board of Trustees.

2007            A new strategic plan, “Imagine 2012,” is adopted by the Board of Trustees in May. The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver joins Y-USA’s Activate America program, beginning a path of new health and wellness programs.

2008            A new emphasis on Community Development leads to partnerships with municipalities and school districts. Management opportunities with homeowner associations and municipalities, such as Glendale, become a viable enterprise to service the Denver metro area.

2009            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver is chosen to lead numerous initiatives, including the Northwest Denver Community Collaborative, YMCA Latino/Hispanic Collaborative, ACHIEVE, Health Smart Behavior, Y Achievers, and mentoring at the Family Crisis Center and the Division of Youth Corrections.

2010            Y-USA establishes new cause-driven direction to strengthen the foundation of community: Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility. The YMCA Board of Trustees initiates a Capital Campaign Advance program for multiple projects with fundraising to begin in 2011. The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver reaches the milestone of 135 years. 

2011            The YMCA Community Programs Branch is reestablished inside Manual High School in Northeast Denver. The unique branch provides fitness and nutrition classes, swim lessons, basic needs assistance, sports, mentoring, day camp, teen programs, youth engagement and gang intervention programs.           

2012            Capital campaign fundraising continues for the renovation and expansion of the Schlessman Family YMCA and the reestablishment of a YMCA presence in Aurora. Employment at the YMCA reaches 1,150, the largest number of employed personnel in YMCA of Metropolitan Denver history. Over $897,000 in financial assistance is awarded to members and program participants. 

2013            Y Neighbors at the Community Programs branch reach mores more than 500 families, helping them access resources from a network of over 60 partners. The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver collaborates with Littleton Public Schools to identify at-risk families and provide free YMCA memberships so they can spend quality time together at the Y.

2014            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver celebrates its 140th anniversary. The Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program gains national recognition, and the focus on increasing student achievement in underserved communities continues through the new learning initiative Power Scholars Academy™.

2015            The Make Waves program launches to provide swim lessons, lifeguard training, and water safety instruction in communities with few aquatics resources. With support of the capital campaign, more than 15,000 square feet are added to the Schlessman Family YMCA. New programs help community members fight disease through arthritis classes, CancerFit and Parkinson’s Disease classes.

2016            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver becomes the number one child services provider in the city, engaging 22,664 youth in sports, child care and swim lessons. More than 1,406 teens take part in Y programs for leadership, achievement and volunteering, including Y Achievers, Kids in Transition Empowerment, Youth in Government and mentoring.

2017            Y-USA recognizes the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver as a Diversity, Inclusion and Global Innovation YMCA – one of 64 YMCAs nationwide to have the designation. The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver expands outreach to children and families, providing quality child care at 83 sites across the metro area.

2018            The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver partners with the International Rescue Committee in Denver to connect refugee families with scholarship and youth programs at the YMCA. Power Scholars Academy expands to three locations. Denver YMCA president and CEO Jim Hiner retires after a 40-year career with the YMCA.