YMCA head retiring after 24 years

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Naugatuck YMCA CEO William Kane is retiring after leading the organization for 24 years. –LUKE MARSHALL
Naugatuck YMCA CEO William Kane is retiring after leading the organization for 24 years. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The YMCA runs through the veins of William Kane.

As a child growing up in the borough, the Naugatuck YMCA was not an unfamiliar place for Kane.

“My family grew up in the Y. We all swam here. Junior leaders. Worked here over the summer. So the Y has always been in my blood,” said Kane, who has served as CEO of the Naugatuck YMCA for the past 24 years.

Kane, 64, will step down as the organization’s leader in September. Although his official retirement will come this fall, his last day at the YMCA will be July 19.

“We’ve come a long way since he started here. We were in debt and he got us out of debt,” said Michele McDougall, the YMCA’s office manager. “He’s a good boss and he’s going to be missed.”

When Kane took the reins of the Naugatuck YMCA in 1989, the organization was on unstable grounds financially.

“[In 1989] they we’re ready to close their doors. We had a huge debt problem. Almost $400,000 in debt and the Y was only making $200,000 a year,” Kane said.

Before he began Kane gave himself a deadline to rescue the YMCA from its financial woes.

“I told the board that if I could not turn it around in five years I was not the right guy for the job, they needed to get somebody else. In five years we turned it around,” Kane said.

Kane not only managed to turn the Naugatuck YMCA around, he made it into a profitable organization.

Kane said the YMCA went from having a budget of $200,000 to having a current budget of $1.3 million with minimal debt.

“In 1989 we had 350 members, now we’re up to about 4,000,” Kane said.

Kane attributes the growth of the YMCA to the wide variety of programs offered, renovations done and being known for its cleanliness.

“We’ve done two major renovations and we’re embarking on the third major renovation in the next three to six months. We’re known for being clean, friendly. We offer a multitude of programs for families, seniors, children and high school students. We’re the community center for Naugatuck, basically,” Kane said.

A long-range improvement project was developed by the YMCA in 2002. Between the years of 2007 and 2010 the YMCA spent approximately $2.4 million renovating and updating the building, including installing a new elevator.

In April, the YMCA received a $317,500 state grant to continue improvements including updates to the pool and gym areas.

Newer facilities though aren’t the only reason people continue coming back to YMCA in Kane’s opinion.

“I think people believe in what we do. We’re not smoke and mirrors. We’re very dedicated to our mission in town,” Kane said.

The road to becoming the borough’s community center was not always an easy one, however.

In 1994, the first year the YMCA was just about to break even, a fire forced the organization to close its doors for three months.  

Kane recalled there was a transformer on Church Street that kept blowing out. During one of those blowouts the transformer sent a power surge to the YMCA since it was at the end of the circuit, he said.

“The surge of power shorted out the heater in the sauna downstairs and caused the heater to short-circuit, which caused the fire. So then the fire alarm went off. People came in, hosed it down, and got it out,” Kane said.

The damage from that fire was not severe, and the YMCA expected to be open within a few days, Kane said. However, to complete the work that needed to be done the YMCA had to shut off its fire alarms.

Kane said the residual energy arched through the water that was in the basement and started another fire.

“But we had all the alarms turned off downstairs. So the [fire] went for an hour before we saw the smoke. The lights started blinking. By the time we got the fire department here the fire had engulfed the whole men’s locker room. The flames got into the ceiling, got through our duct work, all of our wiring. The water from the hoses wrecked the gym floor, wrecked our pool area. It was a $1.6 million fire,” Kane said.

The YMCA bounced back quicker than expected as Tom Sarracco of Sarracco Mechanical oversaw the work.

“We were back and running in three months, which people said was unheard of. They gave us eight to nine months, we did it in three months,” Kane said.

While Kane has led the charge for the YMCA for the past 24 years, he credited the organization’s success to its staff.

“I have a great staff. My staff is a very, very hard working staff and they’re very enthusiastic, and that’s what they do,” Kane said. “We’ve done a good job here. It’s not just me, it’s the board and staff. It’s a whole team effort.”

Youth and Family Director Karen Lineweber and McDougall echoed those statements.

“We have an incredible staff here and we really work hard on making our members part of our family. And this is what the Y has become; it’s one big family, including our members and our staff. You walk through here and everybody’s smiling and everybody knows your name,” said Lineweber, who has worked at the YMCA for 13 years.

McDougall, who has worked at the YMCA for 25 years, said the reason people continue to come to the YMCA is, in part, because of the friendly staff who works there and the way they treat the members.

Lineweber and McDougall said Kane fostered the feeling of family at the YMCA as CEO and are sad to see him go.

“When I came in for the interview it was a very quick interview. He must have seen something in me that I didn’t know existed because we talked for a few minutes and he hired me. Anytime I have any questions or concerns he’s always there for me and always leads me in the right direction,” Lineweber said. “He’s been my mentor. He taught me everything I need to know for the job. He’s always been an inspiration and we’re going to miss him.”

As Kane prepares to retire on Sept. 1, he leaves behind a career that touched three different YMCAs in two states.

Kane began his career as an aquatic director of the Stamford YMCA in 1973. Seven years later, he was working as the director of membership program services. By 1983 he became the associate executive of the Stamford YMCA. He moved to Toms River, N.J. to become CEO of the YMCA there in 1989. He returned to Connecticut the same year to become the CEO of the borough’s YMCA.

“My goal was to put 40 years in. Guess what? I did it,” Kane said.

With that goal behind him Kane is looking forward to retiring in Delaware, where he will live a couple miles from the ocean.

“I’m not going to work again, ever, but I will volunteer and do stuff like that. I’m not going to stay home. I’ll keep busy,” Kane said.

As he looked back over his time leading the Naugatuck YMCA, Kane said he is proud of the legacy he leaves.

“It’s a good place to go to. It feels good to hear people say that they love coming here,” Kane said.

Talbot to take reins of YMCA

Susan Talbot
Susan Talbot

NAUGATUCK — As one leader steps down, another steps up.

Susan Talbot, 46, of Bristol, has been hired as the next CEO of the Naugatuck YMCA. She will follow William Kane.

 “I’m extremely excited to get in that position and begin working with the community and board,” Talbot said.

Kane, 64, will step down as the organization’s leader in September. Although his official retirement will come this fall, his last day at the YMCA will be July 19.

Talbot is currently the director of finance at the Greater Waterbury YMCA, a position she has held for over 14 years.

Talbot, who previously lived in Naugatuck for six year, will begin at the Naugatuck YMCA on Sept. 1.

“I’m really excited to get back in the Naugatuck community,” Talbot said. “I’m really excited to join the team of the staff and board of trustees. It’s nice to come back to Naugatuck.”

Talbot said her main goal, once she begins as CEO, is continue building on the foundation built by Kane.

“I’d like to build on the legacy of service Bill Kane has given to the Naugatuck and Beacon Falls communities,” Talbot said.

As she prepares to take the reins, Talbot said she hopes to engage the members and the community.

“I look forward to many years of success with the YMCA and the community,” Talbot said.

Marcelo Martins, chairman of the YMCA Board of Directors, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.