YMCA stands the test of time

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Naugatuck Y to mark 120th anniversary with gala

Teenagers dance at the Naugatuck YMCA in this photo from the 1960s in Naugatuck. The Naugatuck Y is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. -COURTESY OF THE NAUGATUCK YMCA
Teenagers dance at the Naugatuck YMCA in this photo from the 1960s in Naugatuck. The Naugatuck Y is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. -COURTESY OF THE NAUGATUCK YMCA

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck YMCA Director Susan Talbot was sitting in her office last month when she opened an old book to its first page, revealing the minutes of the organization’s very first meeting in 1895.

“Noted: That a committee of three be appointed by the chairs to ascertain where temporary quarters can be obtained for the [association],” the minutes for Dec. 27, 1895 read.

Talbot flipped through the book’s pages, which were filled with hand-written minutes from the organization’s Board of Director’s meetings from 1895 until 1914.

“The handwriting was amazing,” Talbot said.

The book is one of many that documents the history of the organization from its very beginning as the Young Men’s Christian Association.

“Some gentlemen in town decided that given what was going on in the environment, not just in town but nationwide in the late 1800s, they needed a Christian-based moral place for young men to go to pray, to be together, to do something healthy for themselves. So, they founded the [Naugatuck] YMCA,” Talbot said.

The founding Board of Directors included Harris Whittemore, Arthur H. Dayton, Charles Berger and Samuel Hopkins, who created the original by-laws of Naugatuck’s chapter of the YMCA.

“They wanted a community center for young men at the time. Then that evolved with the needs of the community, just like it did for Ys across the country,” Talbot said.

The Naugatuck YMCA is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. The Y is marking this landmark anniversary with a 120th Anniversary Gala in June.

The organization has evolved over the last 120 years, from the programs it offers to allowing women to become full members in the 1970s.

In 1920s, women were first allowed to come to the YMCA just one day a week for recreation. Before women were accepted as members, they were also allowed to come to the YMCA for dances and event.

“They were allowed to be support staff, but not necessarily allowed to enjoy being a member of the organization,” Talbot said.

Throughout the history of the YMCA, the organization has done its best to meet the needs of the community it serves by becoming more inclusive and offering more programs, such as daycare and preschool.

“We are so excited about all the new programs we have going on. It’s kind of in honor of our history and that legacy of service that we continue pushing forward to make sure we are meeting the needs of the community still,” Talbot said.

The programs offered by the Y are what have kept Naugatuck residents and husband and wife Oscar and Heather Ransome coming back for over 40 years.

“We’ve had a lot of good times here,” Heather Ransome said. “We can’t do without the Y.”

Heather Ransome, 77, said she comes to the YMCA three times a week to go swimming.

“Why do I come? To get the old legs going and all the muscles. I think it’s the best thing. I even got some of my doctors going. I said, ‘I don’t need to take a pill. You just go and work out at the Y and get in the water,’” Heather Ransome said.

Oscar Ransome, 71, said he first joined the YMCA to exercise. The convenient location on Church Street and the quality of programs continues to draw him back after all these years, he said.

Talbot said it is not uncommon to see people coming for so many years and eventually start bringing their families.

Joe Triano, longtime former boxing instructor at the Naugatuck YMCA, instructs children in a match in this photo from the 1970s. -COURTESY OF THE NAUGATUCK YMCA
Joe Triano, longtime former boxing instructor at the Naugatuck YMCA, instructs children in a match in this photo from the 1970s. -COURTESY OF THE NAUGATUCK YMCA

“If you go and talk to members of our Little Pal program or the Golden Gloves Boxing, there’s literally generation upon generation upon generation of people who have been involved here since they were small children. Now they have grandchildren who are in the program,” Talbot said.

Talbot said the key to staying relevant in the community is listening to people.

“We listen not only to the community members, but to other social services,” Talbot said.

The organization collaborates with the Board of Education, the Naugatuck Regional Action Council, Naugatuck Youth Services, and Naugatuck Discovery in order to reach younger members.

In addition, the organization did a comprehensive survey of its members, asking what they found most valuable at the YMCA and what value the organization had in the community.

“What we found is we are perceived extremely valuable, which is great for us. But, we also found out where we have room for improvement. That gives us a direction on how to do our development, programming and services,” Talbot said.

Programs like the autism support group and the Alzheimer and dementia caregivers support group grew out of the survey, Talbot said.

Though some new programs have started over the years, there are plenty that have stood the test of time along side the Y’s commitment to the community.

“It’s really a testament to what this Y has meant to the community that we have programs that are still running 60 years later,” Talbot said.

The Naugatuck YMCA’s 120th Anniversary Gala is June 18 at 6:30 p.m. at The Inn at Villa Bianca in Seymour. Tickets are $75 a person. For more information or to RSVP, call Cathie Mauritz at (203) 729-9622.