PAVING THE WAY FOR A MODERN YMCA 1942–1962
BY THE TIME the United States entered World War II, Orlando had fully recovered from the 1920s bust and the ensuing Depression. A healthy citrus industry continued to dominate the local economy. In the early 1940s a new federal building and post office lent an atmosphere of progress to the city. Installation of the Army and Pine Castle airfields ignited enormous activity and introduced many newcomers to the area. The two bases sparked both construction and commerce, as military wages were spent locally. As well, thousands of enlisted men and officers converged on Orlando in April 1941 for a huge Army parade.
The old post office became a youth and recreation center to serve members of the armed forces. Leading that effort was S. Kendrick Guernsey, the Orange County YMCA stalwart, who served as Florida’s president of the United Services Organization (USO), which was modeled on the YMCA’s historic war work. Besides heading the state USO, Guernsey was instrumental in helping to house Army officers. Yet even though the military presence and local war efforts boosted the economy, Orlando remained a relatively tranquil southern town in the early 1940s.
Following the YMCA’s humiliating failure to build in the ’20s, Association activities in Orange County had proceeded quietly through volunteer efforts and in schools, with Judge Donald Cheney acting as unpaid executive during the Depression and John F. Schumann serving for many years as president. These men kept YMCA programs going to help young men follow an upright path when so many were struggling. As Judge Cheney later observed, there was no money to do it any other way. Now, as times improved, he and several other long-time YMCA directors decided it was time to bring a local Association back into bloom. In 1942 William O’Neal and Newton Yowell, in particular, vowed to reactivate and expand the Association in Orange County.
The astute leaders O’Neal and Yowell-who sold his department store, one of the state’s largest, to Ivey’s during the war- could undoubtedly foresee Orlando’s prospects for growth and prosperity in peacetime. Air conditioning was more commonplace now, making worksites, stores, and homes more comfortable year-round. Its strength in citrus production and marketing gave Orange County one of the nation’s most profitable industries, and the area continued to draw tourists. Many airmen based in Orlando liked it there and vowed to return after the war. They would inject new life into the old town and trigger a Baby Boom that created a world of needs in development and construction.
The leaders turned to a national YMCA consultant, Ross H. Clarke, for advice in reorganizing their Association. First, he urged them to seek younger directors. “Only by using young men now will there be leaders tomorrow,” he wrote in a 1942 memo. Clarke argued that “Young men learn how to do YMCA work by doing. Committees should be made up of younger men [under 40] who are endowed with authority and made responsible for the definite success of projects. It is characteristic of our young men that they respond ably when they learn that they are being counted upon. They should not be fathered in the least. They should be allotted definite tasks to do.”
Taking the title of directors’ emeritus, O’Neal and Yowell enlisted a fellow First Presbyterian member and elder, Millard Russell Smith of the Southern Bell Company, to follow John Schumann as YMCA president in 1944, and urged Smith to secure “new and younger blood” for the board. Eldon Gore noted in his history that “Smith was more than successful” in recruiting 12 new directors, mostly men under age 40.
Among those young men were Dr. Frank S. Kottmeier, a dentist and member of First Presbyterian, who headed the Gra-Y Committee for younger boys’ work, and E. LeRoy Brewton, a printer and minister’s son, who oversaw camping activities. Charles Limpus, a courthouse employee, took charge of the YMCA education program. City Attorney Campbell Thornal headed the Association’s youth activities committee and coordinated volunteers for the YMCA camping program.
With these actions, O’Neal, Schumann, Smith, and Yowell launched the modern era of the YMCA in Central Florida. With Smith as president, leading a core group of younger volunteers, the rejuvenated Association would strive to make a “real live and active Y for Orlando and Orange County,” Gore noted in his history. Their first step was to hire a younger, seasoned YMCA man to lead it.
STEP ONE: THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB
SMITH’S FIRST MOVE in creating that “live and active Y “was to hire John C. (Jack) Barber, then 42, as its general secretary. A lifelong YMCA professional, Barber first worked at the Silver Bay (NY) YMCA as a lifeguard during college. His first full-time job was at the Jerusalem Association, from 1925-28 in British-controlled Palestine. He then spent a decade at the Bronx (NY) Union YMCA before heading upstate to Buffalo to lead its Association for seven years. In March 1945, Barber joined the YMCA in Orlando.
Jack Barber had the YMCA in his genes. His father, Benjamin R. Barber, became a YMCA secretary after participating in the Association’s evangelical student movement. Benjamin married a fellow Northwestern University student, Miriam Clark, and the couple sailed immediately to India, where Benjamin worked for the YMCA International Committee from 1899-1913.
Jack Barber’s future father-in-law followed a similar path. Having been active in the student YMCA, George I. Babcock worked as an attorney in Omaha before switching to full-time Christian work. Moving to Mexico City, he established its first Association. Following their time as foreign secretaries, Barber and Babcock returned to work with the YMCA International Committee in New York City and were neighbors in suburban Montclair, NJ. There Jack Barber met, and eventually married, Elizabeth Babcock, the girl next door.
In interviews for this history, Jack and Elizabeth Barber’s children-Betty Lou McClure and John Barber-recalled that when they moved to Orlando, their family initially lived with the senior Barbers. After he returned from India, Benjamin spent the rest of his career, and his life, as right-hand man to John R. Mott, a world-renowned YMCA figure (Orlando’s Man of Peace, right). Mott had settled in Orlando in 1937 and Benjamin Barber followed in 1940, to continue the YMCA international work. Given Mott’s close association with his father, Jack Barber was no doubt inspired by both men.
For about a year, Jack Barber was the Orange County Association’s sole employee. His children remember their dad working seven days a week, even returning to the office at night and after Sunday dinners. They often waited for him there, outside. Barber was dedicated to YMCA work, a wonderful listener, and accessible to anyone with problems to discuss. Yet he found time for fun as well; endowed with a “devilish, keen sense of humor,” Barber enjoyed pulling off practical jokes, his children recalled.
The YMCA continued to be a family affair for the Barbers. Benjamin Barber served on the Orange County board for a time, in the 1940s, and Jack’s teenagers, Betty Lou and John, devoted many volunteer hours to the Association. John helped out at camp and later worked an old switchboard and cleaned rooms. Betty Lou taught swimming.
STEP TWO: BUY A BUILDING
JACK BARBER’S MANDATE was to rebuild this YMCA, and he quickly set about locating appropriate headquarters. He found a parcel with three buildings, bordered by Robinson, Magnolia, and Rosalind avenues. The property included the Osceola Hotel and a sanitarium built by Dr. C. D. Christ, a pioneer physician and surgeon in Orlando. The doctor’s three-story building, with a heated swimming pool, sun roof, and 44 bedrooms, had failed to thrive standing alone and became part of the hotel.
“The property is considered by local business men one of the city’s choice downtown sites and admirably suited to the Y’s needs,” observed the April 2, 1945 Orlando Sentinel. The price for the site was $100,000. Barber and Board President Smith staged a fund-raising campaign in April, which brought in only $50,000. Because the Orange County leaders wanted no debt hanging over their heads, they purchased only the north half of the property, gaining the hotel building but foregoing the sanitarium.
The Osceola Hotel at 311 (North) Magnolia Avenue would become the revitalized YMC.Ns activity center, and its first residence. Providing rooms for rent was an essential revenue producer for many Associations across the country, and the Orlando leaders planned to do the same. As Florida attracted newcomers with its warm climate and growth prospects, the dormitory rooms could give the YMCA a needed financial asset. Room rentals at $7 to $12 weekly allowed the Association to build a dependable income stream. By 1949, Gore wrote, the YMCA property had been “paid for in cash and the organization now is clear of all indebtedness and going strong.”
YMCA dorm residents found both affordable housing and a caring atmosphere. Staff members offered counseling on personal problems, helped men to locate work and contact lost families, and aided “scores of young people to find their place in life and fill it well.” Jack Barber’s children recalled their father bringing home one would-be resident for a few days, a runaway mountain boy who had never used a bathtub. Such nurturing acts were typical of Barber’s personality and dedication.
At last the Orange County Association had the permanent home that had eluded it for six long decades-no mean feat within just a few months of Barber’s arrival.
STEP THREE: BUILD MEMBERSHIP
JACK BARBER’S NEXT goal was to build a membership. Again, his success was remarkable: From 375 members in the winter of 1945, Barber tripled the rolls in his first year, to 1,245. Membership was primarily in existing Hi-Y programs in schools in Orlando, Ocoee, Apopka, and Winter Park-five of them for girls and three for boys. When classes began the next fall, Barber introduced the Hi y for boys in all Orange County high schools.
Through the school-based programs, Barber was advancing a core emphasis of the national Association-work for youth in small groups. The four “fronts” or “platforms” of this work, as spelled out by the national Association in 1944, were now wide spread in the YMCA movement. They included four boy’s clubs Gra-Y, in grade (elementary) schools; Junior Hi-Y; Hi-Y; and Y-Indian Guides, the father-son program. All-girl and co-ed versions of these clubs were gaining in popularity as well.
Barber also placed a strong emphasis on camping for youth. In his first two years, the Orange County YMCA used a camp north of DeLand for four-week resident camping and the Association reported “doing an excellent job of providing vacation recreational facilities for hundreds of youngsters in the county.”
Barber made a key hire in 1946, recruiting Leonard (Lenny) M. Asquith as pro gram director for youth. Asquith, a 1938 graduate of the YMCA’s own Springfield College in his native Massachusetts, had worked as a physical director for Associations in Binghamton, NY, and Baltimore. Then he was drafted for army service in World War II. Asquith fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which changed his life dramatically. Injured and buried for a time under four feet of snow in the Ardennes, where temperatures plunged to 10 below zero, Lenny required major surgery. His left leg was amputated above the knee, and the other leg required 15 skin grafts where shrapnel penetrated bone. After more than a year in rehabilitation, Asquith left the service with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Forced to abandon his career as a YMCA physical director, Asquith turned to YMCA youth work. In Orange County he took charge of and built up all programs for children and teens. He also strengthened his YMCA ties when he met Dottie Boyer at First Presbyterian Church. Dottie’s family had been quite active in the YMCA: Her dad, Chauncey Atkinson Boyer, an attorney and champion weight lifter, served as an Orange County Y director in the 1940s and 1950s. As a Rollins College student, Chauncey (then known as Clarence) was a YMCA member in 1908 and on the Y athletic committee. Dottie’s brother John was a Hi-Y member in the 1930s. Lenny and Dottie were married in 1948.
“SEPARATE, BUT EQUAL”
THE YMCA WAS initiated in the United States by and for white men, but gradually that changed. Initially the races had separate facilities, and that tradition endured in some places well into the 20th Century. The National YMCA Year Book for 1938, for example, listed Hi-Y Clubs separately, under “White” and “Colored” City Associations. As the primarily white YMCAs began to admit African Americans and the military became integrated after World War II, that distinction began to disappear. By 1956, the National YMCA Year Book no longer separated its statistics by race.
In Orlando, the first YMCA programs for African-American youth were Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Clubs, which began in the autumn of 1942 at the all -black, segregated Jones High School. Rudolph Valentino Gripper, a history and government teacher at Jones, was their “splendid” sponsor, according to “Orlando YMCA Notes,” a 1942 memo from YMCA consultant Ross Clarke. “The [idea for the] program was brought to us by the student government,” said Ernestine Embry in an interview. Embry, a 1938 Jones graduate who returned as a physical education teacher, observed that “We were separate, but equal.”
Lenny Asquith quietly coordinated the Hi-Y programs at both black and white high schools in Orlando. Anne Mitchell Felder, a retired Jones faculty member interviewed for this book, recalled him as “a familiar figure on the campus.” She confirmed that the Orange County YMCA provided financial support for the Jones Hi -Y and Tri-Hi-Y programs. It is possible that those funds came from the regional or national YMCA, which was working to involve African Americans in its programs in southern states. Existing Orange County Association reports make no mention of this activity, although a few newspaper items make the connection clear.
Gripper, the longtime Hi-Y sponsor at Jones, was both a faculty member and a civic leader. In the 1950s he helped secure a beach and recreational park on Lake Mann where African-American children, then barred from public pools, could swim. Gripper was “quite an icon,” recalled Ezzie Thomas, a Jones Hi-Y member and student body president in 1949, when interviewed for this history. “All of us looked up to him as a spiritual leader who taught us etiquette and life skills. We learned a lot from him.” Another Jones teacher, Dorothy Butts, sponsored the school ‘s Tri-Hi-Y program.
After the war, the state was eager to have Christian activities like Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y in schools, Embry recalled, adding that at Jones they focused on “knowing who you are, and a supreme being.” Club members performed community service and enjoyed picnics, parties, and essay and oratorical contests that culminated in an annual ball and awards banquet [photo, p. 56]. Essay topics were about “whatever was happening at that time, such as the draft,” said Embry.
All members looked forward to the Hi-Y banquets at the end of the school year, Thomas said-as did the faculty. Embry occasionally attended the prom-like formal affair at the Carter Street Park American Legion Home, the only recreational center then open to black citizens, when she was the class sponsor of a contest winner. With so many aspects of life “separate and unequal” at this time, it is a testimony to the Orange County YMCA leaders that their genuine interest in young people led them to provide and guide the Hi-Y programs for both black and white youth.
RELIGION AND OUTREACH
ATTENDANCE IN ORGANIZED YMCA groups throughout Orange County topped 20,000 by 1947. More than 500 boys were campers that summer, and nearly 6,000 participated in camping programs during the school year. Barber procured an old school bus and painted it green. Despite some memorable breakdowns, this trusty vehicle ferried youngsters to summer day camp and Gra-Y boys to field trips and beach outings. Barber’s son John often drove the bus.
Religious activities remained an important aspect of the YMCA program in Orlando. Jack Barber was a staunch, strict Methodist who would not allow his own children to go to movies on Sundays. “We played games,” the Barber children recalled. “He believed in the ‘C’ in YMCA.” In 1950, the Association sponsored a Religious Heritage demonstration at Orlando High School. More than 3,000 attended, with Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y members acting as guides. Hi-Y youth also offered Bible readings at school assemblies and PTA meetings, and conducted new student orientations.
One of the Hi-Y’s aims was for every member to get a fellow student to join the church of the individual’s choice. And there was plenty of choice-by 1950 greater Orlando counted more than 100 churches. The Orange County Association also used the air waves for Christian outreach. Lenny Asquith delivered the YMCA’s weekly devotional hour, broadcast live on radio station WDBO in the 1950s (Henry S. Jacobs of the station was a YMCA director). Dottie Asquith recalled having to wait for him to finish a program in 1954 so that he could drive her to the hospital, where she delivered their daughter.
Despite its strong Christian emphasis, there was no proselytizing of people of other faiths. “It was truly an interfaith program organization,” John Barber said. Jewish youth participated in the school-based programs; one of them, Rodney Block, was John’s best friend. John and Rodney washed dishes together at the YMCA res ident camp, and Rodney reported to the board on day camp and Gra-Y activities in 1950. In its openness to those of other faiths, the Orange County Association reflected a national trend. By the mid-century mark, members of U.S. YMCAs were 61 percent Protestant, 28 percent Catholic, and 6 percent Jewish.
SHAPING A YMCA CAMP
LENNY ASQYITH AND Jack Barber worked well together. Both men believed strongly in the importance of camping, and thought the YMCA should have a suitable overnight, or “sleep-away,” camp. The Association had begun using a site on Lake Phillips, owned by the Boy Scouts, for its day and resident camps; boys and girls alternated weeks there. Barber decided to name it Camp Wewa, after a YMCA camp on Buffalo’s Lake Erie where he had once worked, and to make Asquith its director. The 14-cabin Camp Wewa soon became one of summer’s favored sites for Orlando youth.
At this property south of Plymouth, in Apopka, sleep-away campers could enjoy a weeklong escape from sometimes rough living conditions. During the first week of camp in 1947, young Charles David Owens fell ill with spinal meningitis, apparently contracted by playing in a construction site with an open sewer near his home. Charles’ entire cabin-eight boys, ages nine and 10, and a counselor-had to be quarantined. A local physician, Dr. Charles Collins, was summoned to deliver preventive medication to all the boys.
Dr. Collins’ presence greatly reassured the parents, Dottie Asquith recalled, since the doctor had delivered every single one of the campers. Lenny Asquith got the boys to swallow their pills by devising a contest-the first to see hair sprouting on his chest would be the winner. Sadly, Charles died of the disease, and the camp’s outdoor chapel was dedicated to his memory.
In 1950, Barber led a second bold purchase for the Association, of Camp Wewa. The Boy Scout Council decided to sell its 25-year-old camp to buy a larger site in Altoona. Judge Donald Cheney, still active as a YMCA director and involved with the Scouts as well, facilitated the transfer. The YMCA gained $2,500 from the sale of its old campground on Lake Aldrich, also known as Hickory Nut Lake. (The “Old YMCA Road” leading to that site persisted long after the YMCA left.) After some intensive, hurried fund raising in the spring to raise another $15,000 in cash, the Orange County YMCA bought the 60-acre Scout property, paying $14,760. The largest gifts included $3,000 from an anonymous donor who was a newcomer to the area, and several contingency gifts totaling $3,500, including one from Dr. P. Phillips & Sons, the citrus producer.
Even so, the purchase left a $3,000 deficit on the YMCA’s balance sheet, since it required $5,400 in maintenance, repairs, and equipment, including a new well for drinking water, latrines, and shower buildings. In Barber’s 1950 annual report, he noted with pride that the YMCA had operated on a “pay-as-you-go basis” during his six-year tenure, but that the acquisition of Wewa required a significant departure from that practice. Despite its aversion to debt, the Association was committed to extending its programs to youth, and the camp offered great potential. With the 1950 summer camp season fast approaching, the Jaycees and Kiwanis clubs supplied 30 men for work teams; they joined YMCA directors and other volunteers in getting the camp quickly into shape. A local boat builder donated three boats and two canoes for use on the camp’s three lakes.
The Orange County YMCA also provided a unique summer camping experience for older youth, escorting teens annually to a regional YMCA camp in Blue Ridge, NC. Dottie Asquith recalled that one summer, a cavalcade of cars was taking Tri-Hi-Y girls there when the vehicle ahead of the Asquiths had an accident and the daughter of a driver suffered a fractured leg. Lenny provided his cane as a splint for support.
MUCH AS THE YMCA was youth-focused, adults could now find an array of programs at the Orange County YMCA. They included non-credit courses in art, folk dancing, shorthand, economics, religion and foreign languages. The classes carried modest fees and were open to all. “Dad was always working to get more adult pro grams,” said Barber’s children.
By 1950, the YMCA residence was housing more than 1,100 men annually, from 38 states and all parts of the globe-China, India, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, and European and South American countries. That year Miguel Jimenez, a Cuban immigrant, and 14 other dormitory residents asked the YMCA to help them learn English. The Association responded by supplying a meeting place and a teacher, and Casa Iberia at Rollins College provided a second instructor.
An “Over 18 Club,” formed jointly in 1947 by the YMCA and Young Women’s Community Club (YWCC), gave young adults a setting for social and recreational activities like hayrides and wiener roasts. A Tuesday sports night and business meeting, an annual Marriage and Home Making Forum, and popular Friday night dances at the Angebilt Hotel in downtown Orlando, often on the roof, attracted annual attendance of more than 800. The YMCA and YWCC supervised these dances, where no alcohol was permitted.
In 1956, the YMCA organized another singles organization, which it called Young Adult Club Spouseless (YACS). YACS hosted dances every Thursday at the Garden Center on Rollins Avenue or at the Orlando Garden Club. At first, men predominated and only two women joined, although that would soon change. Members who married were then qualified to join the Young Adults Married Society (YAMS).
Barber also brought the “Y’s Men” program to Orange County, for junior executives and professional men. Patterned on Rotary, Y’s Men began as a luncheon club in Toledo, OH, in 1920; by 1940 more than 200 Y’s Men clubs were active nationally, supporting every conceivable type of YMCA project. Y’s Men International counted 16,000 members worldwide.
Y’s Men in Orlando became “front-line volunteers” for the Association. Besides assisting in the YMCXs annual membership drives, the Club raised its own funds for boys’ work, through its popular Christmas tree sale, it also provided significant support for camping, Little League baseball, and young adult programs. Y’s Men met twice monthly for Monday suppers and informative pro grams, such as a public forum series in 1950 featuring noteworthy individuals who spoke about “current phases of our national and economic life.”
Members weighed the character of other men before inviting them to join. A membership invitation from John Carow to Glen Young captured the essence of Y’s Men, in observing that Young’s nomination meant that a member “thinks your character above reproach and believes you to be interested in youth, our world, and your community.” Carow also described the organization’s lighter, more social side: “The members of the club get a big kick out of working together and also have a good clean social time,” he wrote.
Socially, the Y’s Men frequently held picnics at Camp Wewa or progressive dinners with their wives. At a time when husbands typically worked outside the home and wives generally did not, women’s roles in the YMCA were largely supportive of their husbands. A separate club for spouses of Y’s Men, called “Y’s Menettes,” held its own business meetings, luncheons, covered dish suppers, and formal installation ceremonies. Member dues in 1951 were $2 per year, and meetings always began with a prayer.
The Y’s Menettes also met monthly with the Women’s Auxiliary, wives of the YMCA Board of Directors, and together they tackled “projects requiring a woman’s touch,” according to the 1954 Association annual report. In line with the social mores of that time, those projects included interior decoration, drapery and linen care, and adorning the Association lawn with plants and shrubs. Dottie Asquith, a Y’s Menettes member, recalled that they even remade a piano. The Club also sponsored twice-yearly garage sales on Church and Parramore Streets, to raise funds for the Association.
Although women and girls still had separate programs at the YMCA, the national Association had opened the doors in 1933 to wider female participation. Women and girls could now be full members of the YMCA and could work as program secretaries, although whether they did was left up to local Associations. By 1945, 62 percent of YMCAs nationwide were admitting women as members. Orlando, lacking a tradition of sex-segregated facilities, embraced female participation quite naturally.
The Orange County YMCA Board added women directors in the 1950s. They were listed, in the fashion of that era, under husbands’ names: Mrs. Nat Berman, Mrs. Harry C. Hughes and Mrs. Richard H. Lawrence. However, their voices did not yet equal the men’s; they were typically invited to assume only the role of secretary, not higher offices like president or vice president.
By involving adults more fully in the YMCA, and offering training to 75 lay leaders each year, Barber built a solid corps of volunteers who helped the Association with its work while enjoying one another’s company. By 1948, 44 volunteers had performed 5,323 personal services-valued at $1,750 in work hours-for people seeking counseling, housing, contact with a church, and other needs.
Volunteer help was surely needed. The family emphasis was gaining momentum at the YMCA in Orlando, as the post-war population added more young couples with children to new housing developments and suburbs. Orange County’s population had jumped from just 87,000 in 1945 to 114,000 five years later. Early in 1948, YMCA President Raymond W Greene noted with pride, and the idealism of a longtime Association man, how valuable a resource it had become for families in Central Florida: “Parents are without worries for their youngsters, knowing they will have only the cleanest, most wholesome amusement provided under the best of supervision thus relieving moral, as well as physical hazards which are so prevalent in unsupervised group activities.”
The YMCA introduced a new weekend family camping program at Wewa in 1954, featuring square dancing, fishing, water skiing, ping-pong, horseshoes, and softball. With women and families accounting for much of the Orange County Association’s membership growth, its base grew stronger. By mid-century, Gore observed: “It looks as if the Orange County YMCA is at last on a permanent and prosperous foundation.”
THE YMCA’s BACKERS again included well-respected men, Orange County business and civic leaders, as well as pastors, school principals, and county commissioners. Linton Eugene Allen, president and chairman of the First National Bank (later SunTrust), was one of Orlando’s most important citizens. After a successful banking career in New York and Chicago, the Georgia native had retired early in Orlando, where his parents lived, but was soon tapped to organize a new bank in Sanford. Even so, Allen spent a great deal of time in Orlando courting Helen Ives, whose grandfather Sidney Ives was a founding father of the early Orlando YMCA. Linton and Helen married in 1928.
Allen ‘s civic activities were numerous and varied. In 1942, he chaired the state’s “Every Citizen” drive; after serving in World War II, he became a YMCA director and later would be instrumental in a major fund drive. Both the YMCA and the First Presbyterian Church were natural affiliations for this “true Christian gentleman.” As the 75- year Rotary history described its distinguished member, “He knew how to challenge young men and women to reach for higher goals.”
Frank Muldrow Hubbard, a South Carolina native whose family construction company was the largest in the Southeast, was “adopted” by his next-door neighbor Linton Allen when Hubbard’s father passed away at age 59. Hubbard, a member of Allen’s bank board for five decades, was also active in the YMCA. He and his best friend, Harry C. Hughes of the giant Hughes Supply Company, became Association directors in the 1950s and 1960s.
Otis D. Lundquist, a YMCA board member since 1945 and president nine years later, was an insurance agent and officer in the Orlando Junior Chamber of Commerce from 1943-1947. Ervin Jackson Jr., representing lvey’s of Orlando, served on the Association board, as did Howard Palmer of the Palmer Electric Company, which did extensive work at Cape Canaveral and, later, for defense companies. Palmer also chaired the Camp Wewa Committee but resigned in 1958, upset because the Association board was considering alternative campsites which he took to mean the end of Wewa.
Raymond W Greene, a prominent realtor in Winter Park, served the YMCA as president in 1948 and later chaired its expansion committee (Rollins’ YMCA Man, next page).
Greene had high hopes for the Association. He told the Orlando Evening Star that he wanted to make the YMCA’s property on Magnolia a better home away from home by constructing a swimming pool and building a combination gymnasium/auditorium there.
The Star conveyed Greene’s motivation: “The home town of the greatest YMCA leader in all the world, Dr. John R. Mott, should have one of the most active and best equipped institutions in the country.” Greene vowed to dedicate his administration to that cause, although it would not be realized for years to come.
George L. Stuart, “one of Orlando’s most prominent and progressive young business men,” according to the Star, became Association president in 1949 after four years on the board. Stuart established his office supply business in 1934, enlarged it by buying into the Orlando Typewriter Exchange in 1943, and later became its sole owner. His store was next door to the YMCA on Magnolia; Jack Barber’s son worked there during school vacations. Stuart was a member of First Baptist Church. The Star called him “a most energetic young man” who “knows the Y from years of experience.” His interest in the YMCA was stimulated as a youth in Georgia, and in 1925 he had served as assistant membership secretary of the Jacksonville Association.
PLANNING TO EXPAND
THE COMMUNITY’s CONFIDENCE in Stuart was crucial for the Orange County YMCA. By 1950, more than 62,000 people had participated in its activities-and the rapid expansion caused the Association to outgrow its quarters. The increasingly rundown Osceola Hotel, suitable for modest beginnings, had become inadequate for the now thriving organization. Lloyd F. Gahr, owner of Lloyd’s Home Furnishings and chair of the Association steering committee, told the Sentinel that the YMCA was “bursting at the seams” at 311 Magnolia.
The Orange County Association was proud of its progress but also sensitive to its shortcomings. It had grown steadily in programs, facilities, and public awareness. Operating costs, less than $8,000 in 1945, had risen to nearly $31,000 in five years, even before Camp Wewa was purchased. The Camp had required equipment and grounds improvements, an athletic court, and a new bus, pushing the Association’s 1950 operating expenses to$55,000. The 1950 annual report noted that the camp acquisition had left a deficit of about $1,800, which the debt-shy YMCA intended to erase “as soon as possible.”
The YMCA served nearly 1,100 boys and girls in 1950, through Hi-Y and Tri Hi-Y programs in 19 county high schools; 300 Gra-Y boys enjoyed “wholesome recreation” during the week and all day on Saturdays, the report noted, adding that the organization intended to extend its reach to more county schools and communities. Judge Donald Cheney, a YMCA board member and assistant to President Hamilton Holt at Rollins College from 1946-1949, had helped Asquith in recruiting Rollins students to supervise the nine school-based Gra-Y programs. In turn, those studying sociology, psychology, teacher training, or physical education gained a “laboratory or training ground” as well as a community service opportunity.
With no fanfare, the Association had been considering a move out of its cramped quarters. While taking on new obligations made some of them nervous, the directors collectively swallowed their fears and forged ahead. They soon spotted an eminently suitable, spacious property for sale at the eastern end of Lake Eola the three-story Lake View Hotel at 227 North Eola Drive, built in 1922, which later housed a clinic and a college of music.
In 1954, the YMCA bought the 30-bedroom hotel, and also acquired the 11-unit Hibiscus Motel behind it, plus adjoining vacant lots on Summerlin Street. Together, the block-long properties had double the acreage of the existing YMCA building. The price was $147,000, with a down payment of $58,700 financed in part by selling the Magnolia property for $48,000 to George Stuart, for his growing office furniture business.
An expanded YMCA residence promised to enhance revenues. Like Y rooms elsewhere, up to one-third of those in Orlando were filled by servicemen-some at no charge. The old Osceola Hotel, with only 46 beds, 10 baths and one shower, turned away up to a dozen men each night. The new property had 88 beds in 41 bedrooms, 34 showers or baths, and two dining rooms, one of them air-conditioned. It also came with a large kitchen, a game room, a reading nook, a room for classes and meetings, three staff offices, and a devotional corner. Its broad side porch would provide a welcome gathering place.
The Eola Hotel’s proximity to downtown was a plus, and the YMCA board committed to raise $100,000 to complete the purchase. Roughly one-third of this sum would come from existing pledges to the building-fund drive, another third by a mortgage to be paid from residence revenues. The remainder, about $28,000, would be raised in 1956. Lloyd Gahr boldly declared, “We’re going to see it through whether it takes two weeks or two years.”
The Evening Star congratulated President Lundquist and his “excellent board of directors” on their purchase and referred to the YMCA’s long struggle following the fiasco of the 1920s: “Little by little the local Y is approaching the facilities a city the size and importance of Orlando should have.” The newspaper also acknowledged the Association’s leadership: “The spiritual and youth-training end is in capable hands; if the people of Orlando do as much for the physical end as the management is doing for the spiritual and training activities, Orlando indeed will have a superb Y home.”
The Orange County YMCAs operation was now quite diversified. Its largest revenue contributors in 1954 were the residence ($13,400), member dues ($8,600), and gifts ($13,000). The Orlando Community Chest, the YMCAs “parent agency,” allocated $9,000. Youth programs brought in less than $3,000. As the YMCAs standard bearer, they were not expected to generate substantial revenue. In serving youth, the YMCA was fulfilling its mission and realizing character as its dividend.
With Orlando growing into a full-fledged metropolitan area, and the Association now on firm financial footing, Lundquist and his board prepared for the move and, with new-found confidence, began developing a 10-year plan for the Orange County YMCA.
EXTENDING ITS ACTIVITIES
YMCA SPORTS WERE popular with both adults and youth. By 1954, 190 men participated in an eight-team winter volleyball league, and 150 grade school and junior high boys played in two basketball leagues, all using an outdoor field. The Association hoped to add a fenced, lighted athletic field and picnic areas on its vacant lot and, later, a gym and swimming pool, but those plans were never carried out.
The YMCA camp program was a growing attraction in Orange County by 1954. More than 300 youth participated in day camping at sites in Orlando and Winter Park, and another 285 boys and 75 girls enjoyed overnight camping at Wewa. Some 2,000 swimmers took proficiency tests that summer, and six campers won the YMCAs coveted “shark award.”
Barber was determined that all young people who wanted to participate in the YMCA would be able to do so. “Each year we serve a group of less fortunate boys and girls in our camp and day camp programs,” he observed in the 1954 annual report. Children of average-income families could usually take part in summer camping, since the YMCA charged minimal fees. A scholarship program was available for the less privileged, thanks to volunteer fund -raising efforts. Some 130 needy youngsters were given scholarships for two weeks at Camp Wewa that year.
Nationally, the post-war YMCA maintained strong connections to other countries, and its International Committee and field secretaries encouraged individual Associations like Orange County to participate. The Association was “a fellowship of people who believe in the common good of man and the need for mutual assistance on a worldwide basis of Christian brotherhood,” according to the YMCA southern states representative.
Barber made sure the Orange County Association did its part, through giving to YMCA World Service. In the 19 54 annual report he noted that the local Association had pledged and paid $4,000 to rebuild war-torn YMCAs in Asia and Europe: “This giving for others is the expression of Christian love and members and supporters of the YMCA in those who need our help so greatly at this time.” That year, 750 boys and girls in Orange County Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Clubs raised $600 to build a dining hall for a refugee school in Jericho, near the Jordan River, in part with a girls’ touch football game as a fundraiser. In this segregated era, however, the Clubs at Jones and Hungerford High Schools-the latter in Eatonville, one of the nation’s first African-American communities-raised funds separately.
A LEADER DEPARTS
WITH THE NEW YMCA property on Lake Eola in hand and his children grown, Jack Barber was ready for another stint in international work. He had successfully reactivated the Orange County Association, which now claimed 2,500 members. In 1954, the year his father passed away, Barber went overseas to Cairo to work as the YMCA’. s international representative, where he raised funds for five Egyptian Associations.
His nine-year tenure in Orange County drew accolades from the Evening Star. “One of the best pieces of luck for the local Y was the finding of Secretary Jack Barber. Fully trained in Y work, with a passion for helping youth and a good business head on his shoulders, he soon put new life into the organization and with the help of prominent businessmen on his Board of Directors, the Y has steadily climbed to new heights.” After five years in Egypt, Barber would return to start a YMCA in Coral Gables, where he eventually retired.
In 1955, the Orange County Association hired Sheldon Robertson as general secretary, from a small YMCA in New York State. He and Lenny Asquith had been classmates at Springfield College where “we got along famously,” Robertson recalled in an interview.
Robertson’s tenure in Orlando lasted just a year. “There was a misunderstanding when I went,” he explained. ‘There was a capital campaign on the horizon and I was eager for that-but [the leaders] felt I was too aggressive. So I resigned and left with a pleasant relationship.” Robertson went on to head the Trenton (NJ) YMCA, where he retired in 1976.
His exit paved the way for the “energetic and affable” Oscar W Brock, as the June 5, 1956 Sentinel described the next general secretary. Brock, a confident Georgia native with 27 years’ experience in YMCA work, had been physical program director in Atlanta and then general secretary of the Pensacola Association. During a decade there, he oversaw creation of a physical education plant and built membership from 160 to 2,000.
Brock knew Orlando from working there in 1944 as a supervisor of the YMCA’s USO Clubs in Florida and South Georgia. Now, he bought a home at 2828 South Summerlin Street and assured the Sentinel he was “not leaving this time.” Moreover, Brock seemed to be the man of the hour.
THE DESIRE FOR a new YMCA building was gathering speed, a challenge the new leader was eager to meet head on. His first priority, Brock told the Sentinel, was to “get going on the new, million-dollar building … the sooner the better.” The YMCA had already outgrown its “antiquated hotel,” a “second-rate building” even when it was acquired, he said, adding that the dorms were “second class. This town needs a new building to attract those who can’t afford country clubs.” The new secretary envisioned a facility with a gym, indoor swimming pool, lockers, Turkish baths, residence quarters, meeting and club rooms, and even bowling alleys.
By the late 1950s, the YMCA’s decentralized programs, in local schools, churches, playgrounds, gyms, and elsewhere, were robust enough to indicate that the community might support a bold building effort. Enrollment in day and residence camping had increased eleven-fold over the decade. Gra-Y, Hi-Y, and Tri-Hi-Y programs were going strong, and 15 Y-Indian Guide “tribes” of fathers and sons were currently meeting in members’ homes (Y-Indian Guides, right). Paid memberships in the Orange County YMCA nearly tripled from 19 50- 59, and total attendance in organized groups rose to 225,000 in those years, a ten-fold increase.
Oscar Brock also initiated a popular Industrial Management Club, designed to offer training and programs to help middle managers advance in their careers. He had run a similar program in Pensacola, and in Orlando “he made it sing and dance,” his successor recalled. Many who attended the twice-monthly meetings came from two large area companies, Minute Maid Company and Martin, Orlando ‘s newest business.
By all accounts, the Association was doing a superb job. All it was missing-and missing quite desperately – was a “real” YMCA building and the expanded activities it would allow. Without swimming pools, gyms, showers, and requisite equipment, the Orange County YMCA could never offer traditional, core Y programs like physical fitness.
A CHANGING TOWN
IN THE MID-1950s, major change was coming to Orange County. Tourism was luring more than 50,000 people to the area each year. The county was still home to 3,000 farms, and agriculture and related industries continued to be the major force in the local economy. Minute Maid had purchased Dr. Philip Phillips ‘ orange groves for $5 million in 1954 and established a significant operation in Orlando. A company called Tupperware Home Parties was growing after opening in Osceola County in 19 51. But Central Florida’s dominant citrus and agricultural base was about to be challenged by the aerospace and missile technology firms that were spawned by Cape Canaveral.
Canaveral was now firmly established as the nation ‘s missile testing center and space age hub – and the closest big city, 50 miles to the west, was Orlando. There, considerable development was underway along the broad expanse of the new Interstate-4 Highway. Air-conditioned malls were cropping up along new roads, enticing shoppers further away from downtown.
In 1956, Glenn L. Martin’s aerospace company arrived, looking to build a 7,000-acre missile plant near Canaveral. Linton Allen entertained Martin executives at First National Bank. Allen and his attorney, William (Billy) Dial, weighed Martin’s needs for roads and utilities and saw that the company got what it wanted – a 10- square-mile domain south of the city, strategically located near I-4.
The 500,000-square-foot plant that Martin opened in 1957 topped anything else in the state at that time and triggered enormous growth in satellite businesses in the city’s southwest sector. As author Joy Wallace Dickinson observed, “The transformation of the Cape and the arrival soon after of the Martin Company to Orlando had an impact on the city equal to the land boom of the 1920s.” A new influx of educated workers brought more wealth to Orange County. By 1959, some 72,000 people were employed locally, a growth of nearly 120 percent in a decade. Land sales surged as well. Even the YMCNs 3 7-year-old property saw its replacement value grow to $350,000 from $250,000.
For the Association to attract this growing population to its programs and services, it had to have an attractive, air-conditioned facility with all the amenities people expected in a YMCA. The board of directors was eager to forge ahead, but was understandably cautious. The debacle of the 1920s was still top of mind, but the leaders realized that excess caution could backfire.
The board decided to take a methodical approach, engaging two national YMCA consultants, Ned Kemp from the Southern Area Council and architect Sam Nock from the national YMCA’s Building and Furnishings Department, to help study and assess local trends and issues that could influence their decision.
WHOLE HOG OR WHAT PART?
BOARD PRESIDENT WALTER PHARR led intensive meetings from May 4-6, 1959 with fellow directors, including Walter G. (Bucky) Allen, Jr., Gen. William E. Kepner, Walter E. Smith and John Sterchi, along with the two YMCA consultants. The resulting report, “Will the YMCA Be Ready for the Soaring Sixties?” amounted to a warning that challenged the Association’s cautious mindset. It put the issue in bold type: “SHOULD THE ASSOCIATION LAG AT THIS POINT, THIS RAPIDLY GROWING AND EXCITING COMMUNITY WILL PASS IT BY. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
The report predicted that the “Soaring Sixties” would be “a period of great population growth and business expansion, accompanied by growing pains and new problems.” Kemp cited “tremendous potential and need” in the area, and emphasized how critical it was for the YMCA to keep pace. An ample building of at least 90,000 square feet was essential to replace the existing structure of 50,000 square feet. In short, the report advised the Association to sell its existing buildings, equipment and land and build anew, and appealed to local pride by citing smaller southern cities, such as Albany, GA and Tuscaloosa, AL, which had recently erected YMCAs for $350,000 to$ 1.5 million.
The national consultants recommended a capital campaign to raise the necessary funds, which they predicted the area’s rapidly expanding local economy would support. They advised Association leaders to select a site between the downtown and middle- and upper-middle-class residential areas, reserving half the acreage for a supermarket-style parking lot located in front of the building.
The report was ambivalent about including a residence in the facility, even though room rentals currently constituted the Orange County YMCA’s major revenue source. The hotel rooms brought in more than $21,000 annually, and the motel rooms another $13,000. Nationwide, however, few Associations were constructing residences at the time. The YMCA’s role was evolving away from its 19th Century position as a surrogate parent, when its dormitories had served young rural men by providing temporary living quarters.
The consultants suggested tabling a decision on adding rooms. A 120-bed dormitory-the number necessary to realize revenues- would bring the building’s cost to $ 1.5 million, excluding land. Instead, they advised setting up an endowment to offset lost rental income.
Younger volunteers like Frank Hubbard favored this approach, since they considered the YMCA dormitory a “flophouse.” If the Orange County Association did add a residence, the national consultants cautioned, it should be based on an influx of young men and the interest of local companies in housing young male employees. While Orlando’s ranks of business and professional men had ballooned after the war, this largely white-collar group-including many veterans who qualified for low-interest loans-was primarily interested in home ownership.
The report further predicted that Central Florida’s coming population increase would outstrip Miami’s. Ten new schools were to open in Orange County in the fall, and two high schools and three junior highs were under construction nearby, including the suburb of Maitland. The area just south of Orlando and Southwest Seminole County, already thriving, would rapidly add population. The study’s implications were clear: Expansion was essential if the Orange County YMCA were to meet escalating demands for service.
Board President Walter Pharr, a real estate professional, used the study to persuade his directors to abandon their long-held hesitations. His memo to the board was aptly titled “The Big Question Whole Hog or What Part?” It assumed the Association would move to a new building; the issue, as he summarized it, was whether the YMCA would modernize an existing property or create something entirely new from the ground up.
With professional offices gobbling up land downtown, Pharr urged the leadership to jump “whole hog” to locate land the Association could use to erect its first brand-new YMCA facility. Underscoring the vigorous, robust community Orlando had become, the memo stated its rationale strongly: “The Greater Orlando-Winter Park area is undoubtedly the largest area in the U.S. that has never had a real Y.M.C.A. building. Most cities this size have outgrown at least one building and are in their second or third.”
TOSSING HESITATION TO THE WINDS
IN AN INTERVIEW, Pharr recalled, “It was hard to find an ideal site.” The YMCA property committee considered several. One particularly well-situated location, 5.5 acres on Mills Avenue and Amelia Street, was up for sale. This acreage, part of the estate of Charles S. Wetmore, had the “presentation value” so strongly recommended by Sam Nock, the consulting architect, to give the Association prominence and visibility.
The parcel included a two-story frame house facing Mills and a citrus grove, unusual for land located downtown. The seller’s terms included retention of rights to the crop for the 1959- 60 season. If the YMCA didn’t close on the purchase by January 1, 1961, the grower would also retain sales rights for the 1960-1961 season, even if the closing preceded the harvest. The purchase price was $225,000.
The YMCA board voted on the prospect, and the result showed 18 directors for, seven against. President Pharr acted to convince the holdouts, who felt the time wasn’t right for fund raising. He first got the estate’s attorney to agree to put the decision off a month so he could reverse the “nay” votes. Pharr felt it was not a good policy to make a big decision if the vote were not unanimous: “It’s better if you can sway them,” he said.
The attorney warned Pharr that the YMCA could lose the Mills Avenue property if it moved slowly. “I knew I was taking a chance,” Pharr recalled, “but the odds were in our favor, and it was worth the risk.” Fortunately no other buyer came forward, and when the second vote was taken, the board was unanimous -evidence of Pharr’s persuasive powers. The directors agreed to move to contract on December 3, 1959. “We promised to raise $200,000 within 18 months, after paying $25,000 down,” Pharr said, adding proudly, “We didn’t have to resort to borrowing.”
Some directors had second thoughts, however. “The word went around that we had paid too much, taken on too much,” Pharr recalled, and the board briefly considered selling part of the site facing Shine Street. By zoning that property for offices and selling it off, the YMCA could have reduced its mortgage, but there was no market for it.
The directors soon realized how fortunate they were to have purchased the site. Indeed, Pharr recalled that “We wished we’d bought more land.” The property they obtained was of great value in enabling the Association to do something it had never before managed to achieve-build a facility from the ground up.
The city zoning commission raised some concerns about the YMCA’s plan to build in a residential district, and requested a more complete layout. But as outlying malls continued to drain the downtown district and venerable stores closed their doors, the commissioners may have realized that a YMCA near the ailing commercial center could be an asset. In 1960, the protests were overridden, and the plan was approved for a Y facility at the corner of Mill s and Amelia.
J. Hilbert Sapp, a developer and Pharr ‘s successor as YMCA president, acknowledged that Pharr had won over the hesitators. “Collectively, you have spoken!” Sapp wrote on January 1, 1961. “The Board of Directors is proceeding, on course, to raise $225,000 as the first step on the $1,500,000 plan to provide Orange County with an adequate program and building.”
ACTING ON ADVICE
CHARLES WHARTON, OF the Southern Area Council of YMCAs, advised the Association in 19 59 to start a $1.5 million, two-year capital funds drive in early 1961, and to sell its existing property. He favored a comprehensive building and thought the YMCA could include, at minimum, a 90-bed dormitory. However, he warned, “Be sure that you can keep them relatively full if you ever build them.” He estimated that a YMCA building in Orlando would cost $800,000 to $900,000 without the dormitory, and cautioned the directors against incurring debt when building: “Do without some of it rather than place a mortgage.”
On Wharton’s advice, the board hired Ketchum Inc., based in Charlotte, to shape its fund -raising strategy after land was secured. Ketchum was adept at raising money for YMCAs in the south, and compared Orange County’s program strength favorably to Associations in 12 other southeastern cities. This YMCA, he pointed out, ranked second in high school club programs and fourth in activities for other age groups. Even without adequate facilities, the Orlando-based Association was serving more than 30 communities.
The fund raiser’s first step was to conduct a community awareness survey, and the results were unimpressive. A former YMCA board member, Reverend John Franklin Anderson Jr., recalled in an interview in 2004 that “Ketchum pointed out, to our amazement and horror, that we didn’t have good enough public relations for a campaign; 8 7 percent of those surveyed weren’t interested. We needed three years to publicize and build the reputation of the Y,” added Dr. Anderson, a former minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. “The town didn’t know us.”
Also by 1961, the economy was slumping and the time was not favorable for a large fund-raising campaign. A national recession was underway, funding for the space program had been cut back, and Orange County took it hard. Following a 1961 merger with Marietta, the Martin Company laid off thousands in Orlando, and many families were forced to leave new homes and find work elsewhere.
Only the YMCA land -purchase drive, with its more modest goal, could proceed. Ketchum recommended good pre-campaign publicity to generate excitement in the community for the larger building effort. A cultivation program would focus on increasing the Association’s visibility and underscoring its reputation, in order to gain public acceptance of its value and the need for a full YMCA building. Ketchum would then take another survey and compare findings with the initial one before the larger campaign began.
The board stepped up to the task. “This was a bunch of able people with a lot of imagination,” Dr. Anderson remarked. All community campaigns required approval from the Orlando Community Chest, and the awareness initiative would help the YMCA drive to be seen as a major priority. The Association also required approval for the amount it sought and the timing of its appeal. Two YMCA board members, G. Thomas Willey, general manager of Martin Company Orlando, and John M. (Jack) Fox, founder of the Minute Maid Company, offered assistance from their firms’ public relations departments. These two men were “the keystone to the ultimate success of the plan,” Dick Clark of Ketchum wrote in a memo to Brock.
Another great help in the cultivation effort, recalled Dr. Anderson, was Martin Andersen, publisher of the Sentinel -Star. “We fed stories to the Sentinel,” the pastor noted. “They were very co-operative. In three years we turned that wagon around. The perception changed completely.”
The Association began its fund raising for the land purchase in March 1961. Despite a thorough canvassing of the city, however, pledges proved disappointing. When the YMCA’s public campaign ended in June, only $188,441 had been raised. Campaign Chairman Lloyd Gahr deemed it a desperate situation.
Gahr came up with a ploy to bring in more contributors. He designated 24 local businessmen the “Four Horsemen,” after the celebrated Notre Dame backfield, to “carry the ball” and come to the YMCA campaign’s rescue. A number of prominent men, including Donald Cheney, Dr. Anderson, Oscar Brock, Otis Lundquist, John Sterchi and Walter Pharr, agreed to tap several hundred additional prospects. The Evening Star ran an editorial on June 16 urging those who had not given to do so.
When the last-ditch drive finally came to a close, the YMCA had managed to raise $229,402 in paid funds to purchase its site. The largest single gift, $10,000, came from H. Stafford Strickler, an Association vice president who worked with the American Hospital Supply Company. The Association could now buy its land, and undertake the cultivation campaign that would bring the new building home.
CONFRONTING NEW CONCERNS
PHARR’s “WHOLE HOG” memo promoting a full-fledged YMCA had discreetly alluded to “new and complex problems” that posed new societal challenges. The Association’s Christian purpose, it asserted, could help meet those problems head on. “The Y.M.C.A. is not a church, but its program supplements that of the church,” the memo stated, noting that the Y was independent of any religious institution.
An editorial in the June 16, 1961 Evening Star more candidly conveyed the problems. “Fight Delinquency!’ was the headline of an article asking “good citizens” who were “concerned about the rising tide of juvenile delinquency” to contribute to the YMCA building effort.
Campaign Chairman Gahr, in a letter to the editor, called the organization “one of America’s outstanding weapons in our struggle with juvenile delinquency and the restoration of basic moral values.” Dr. Anderson spoke to Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs during the fund drive about delinquency rising locally “at a frightful rate.” He cited sheriff’s statistics to show that Orlando’s youth crime rate was higher than other cities of similar size.
Nationwide, too, the YMCA was preoccupied with the growing numbers of unemployed teens. By 1950 an estimated 25 percent of young people were neither in school nor working. That hard-to reach population was a matter of considerable concern to the Association because its main contact with this age group was in school-based Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y programs. The YMCA had to become a destination for them.
The lack of branches in the Orange County YMCA was hindering that effort, and creating a widening chasm. The central office continued to coordinate extension activities, primarily in schools and camps, as the area’s population grew and development pushed further from Orlando. The area’s warm and sunny climate, beautiful clear lakes, semi-tropical vegetation and abundant trees were a powerful magnet for the Sunbelt-bound.
The U.S. population was expected to grow nearly 30 percent by 19 70, but Florida’s was predicted to jump 65 percent, to 2,333,000 – second only to California’s, the YMCA consultants had pointed out. They advised the Association to purchase sites soon for suitable branch locations while it could still get them at a good price. The population influx promised to drive land values higher.
The consultants also suggested that the Orange County YMCA plan to serve the increasing number of mothers working outside the home – by 1960, roughly one in five women with children under age 18. Parental supervision and guidance were declining and the numbers of children living with one parent-or neither- was growing. The national YMCA consultants rightly saw this change as a key issue for the youth-focused Association.
SERVING BLACK CITIZENS
AS THE NATIONAL civil rights movement gathered strength, the Orange County Association grew concerned about its minimal service to the African-American community. In 1959 Charles Wharton, of the Southern Area Council of YMCAs, advised the Association to create a facility just for black citizens. “Serious consideration should be given to this need which affects 17 percent of the population,” his report urged. He recommended that the Orange County YMCA should make it a priority to create a formal branch to serve “the Negro citizens of the community.”
Segregated facilities, from schools and churches to restaurants and public services, were typical at that time. African Americans in Orlando had only gained the right to vote in primary elections in 19 50, when they comprised 25 percent of the population. Doors opened slowly: It was not until 1954 that these citizens were allowed to use the public library and auditorium.
Hi -Y and Tri-Hi -Y Clubs continued uninterrupted at the segregated Jones High School in the 1940s and 1950s – often participating in similar activities, but separately. For example, Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Clubs at Jones and at Hungerford High School- a private academy turned public school in Eatonville – raised funds apart from other Orange County Clubs to help build a refugee school in Jericho.
Levetta Pickens, a 1961 Jones graduate and subsequently a teacher there, participated in Tri-Hi-Y from eighth grade on. In an interview, she recalled Club service projects such as visiting patients at the Dr. Phillips Nursing Home on Church Street, and Hi-Y dances, pep rallies, and Christian education. Club meetings always began and ended with prayer, and members would attend a church together once a month, she remembered. “The Clubs were very strong,” Pickens said. “There were at least 30 girls in Senior Tri-Hi-Y.”
Like their white counterparts, Jones students took part in their own state Hi -Y conventions. In March 1953, the Orange County YMCA sponsored the Florida Negro Hi-Y Tri-Hi-Y Conference at Hungerford High School in Eatonville. Youth came from 11 Florida cities. The Sentinel reported on the gathering, whose theme was “With Christ, We Keep the Triangle Equal.” Reverend Richard E. Blanchard of Orlando’s First Methodist Church gave the keynote address, with Orlando’s Rev. 0. R. Jackson, Jones Hi-Y Sponsor Rudolph Gripper and Jones faculty member Anne Mitchell Felder among the discussion and workshop leaders. Topics included making the Hi-Y purpose meaningful, prejudices, building a fine body, improving one’s mind, and developing one’s spirit.
Florida witnessed a historic event in 1961-the state ‘s first integrated high school conference, convened in Jacksonville by the YMCA State Youth Governors Program. The program, which encompassed all Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Clubs, from both black and white high schools, came together for the annual conference for the first time. The 1961 gathering took place at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where several hundred participants met in the barracks. Since the military had integrated in 19 50, the site posed no barriers to attendance.
Levetta Pickens also recalled attending an integrated Tri-Hi-Y convention in St. Augustine that year. Black and white members met together to discuss school and community activities, and how to get more participation in their Clubs. However, hotels in the city only accommodated whites, so the Jones contingent lodged with local families, she said.
Wharton’s advice to the Orange County YMCA on adding a branch in the African-American community would not be acted upon for many years. He had discouraged building new branches in the coming decade, recommending that a sole modern facility, comprehensive and centrally located, be the Association’s priority. Despite his advice, by the late 1960s the YMCA would count two branch buildings, including that long-sought comprehensive facility, and an emerging third branch.
A TIME OF CHANGE
LENNY ASQUITH, WHO had shaped the Association’s youth programs, left the YMCA in 1959 to work for Equitable Life Assurance Company. He retired from the insurance firm in the mid-1980s, remaining active as an elder of First Presbyterian Church and serving as a lay pastor for small local churches. He passed away in October 2004. John Jackson, one of his teenage camp assistants in the 1950s, summed up Asquith’s impact on those whose lives he touched: “He epitomized the Y and everything it stood for. He was in a class by himself.”
In 1962, Brock recruited William V (Bill) Phillips, a school chum of his sons and then the Pensacola YMC& youth director, to assume that key post in Orlando. When Phillips arrived, the Orange County Association moved to a metropolitan system of organization, dividing greater Orlando into four quadrants or service areas for its Four-Front programs and camping. It established four “non-equipment” branches to supervise and implement programs in each sector-Northwest, Southeast and Southwest Orlando, and Northeast (Winter Park). Phillips was given oversight of the Northwest Branch, in College Park. The Northeast director was Fred Kersey and Guy Weeks acted as Southeast director. Each branch executive also ran a summer camp program. Initially Weeks had day camp; Kersey, Camp Wewa; and Phillips, the new Caravan Camp.
In 1961, the Association introduced its Caravan Camp – a first for Florid a. These were month-long summer trips for up to 30 junior high school boys, who traveled by bus to the northeast, north west, or southwest U.S. Participants camped on beaches and in national park s, visited historic sites, and occasionally hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail. The motive behind the mobile camp was education al; when a camper entered high school, he would have good first-hand knowledge of the U.S.
The bus had a butane gas tank and stove top, but it lacked refrigeration, Phillips recalled in an interview. Charlie Wadsworth put a timely mention in his Sentinel “Hush Puppies” column that an old-fashioned icebox would be helpful. A lady in DeLand volunteered hers, Phillips said. It felt like it weighed 10,000 pounds, he recalled, but no matter; he and others gladly hauled it out of her basement and bought ice blocks to cool the perishables on the road.
The popular Camp Wewa was turning away more applicants each year for lack of space, causing the Association to consider acquiring another site. One possibility was an 80-acre campground in Ocala National Forest. This property, on Lake Dorr, was more spacious and isolated than Wewa, where busy approach roads in the growing residential and industrial area stirred safety concerns. Frank Hubbard took Phillips and fellow volunteers Dick McPherson and Mary Jo Davis in his motor home to check out the site. Its streams ran crystal-clear, and the board considered it a superb property. An adjacent 80 acres would also be available if $40,000 could be raised. Unfortunately, the deal and the dream eventually fell through.
At this time, Brock felt a need to move on; in 1962, he accepted an opportunity to join the National YMCJ\s development office. Having built a strong board of directors in Orange County, he left the Association positioned to undertake a capital campaign. On the brink of realizing a building, at last, the Orange County YMCA now had to initiate a search for a special kind of leader, someone who could spearhead its bold plan and see the Association through its biggest era of change to date. In light of its past struggles, the stakes were high; this plan must not fail.
Inserts and Footnotes
1939–45: United States YMCA serves nearly 6 million prisoners of war in more than 30 countries; conducts post-war relief work in Europe for refugees.
1940–41: U.S. Army-Air Base, Pine Castle Army Air Field established in Orlando. Orange County population 70,000; Orlando, 37,000.
1941: Huge Army parade in Orlando; U.S. enters World War II. New U.S. Post Office and Federal building dedicated; Orlando Junior College opens.
1942: Orange County YMCA reactivated.
1945: Orange County YMCA budget $7,650. Orange County population 87,000; Orlando 55,000.
1946: John R. Mott awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
1950: Camp Wewa purchased. Racquetball invented at Greenwich (CT) YMCA. Orange County population 774,000; Orlando 52,000. 1,663 YMCA members
1951: Tupperware Home Parties establishes headquarters in Osceola County.
1952: Orlando High School closes; Boone and Edgewater high schools open.
1954: YMCA budget $63,500.
1955: Western Way Shopping Center opens.
1956: Martin Company builds missile plant in former pastures and groves; Colonial Plaza Shopping Center opens where T. G. Lee pasture and dairy stood.
1958: $22,000 loan from Civitan Club of Orlando Foundation secures Camp Wewa.
1959: 4,555 YMCA members.
1960: Hurricane Donna hits Orlando. First National Bank opens new 12-story building. City approves plan for YMCA building on Mills. Orange County population 264,000, Orlando 88,000; 686,000 live within 50 miles.
1961: Hi-Y Convention is state’s first integrated high school gathering.
1962: Local school integration begins; lawsuit filed when it falters.
1962: First 4 YMCA branches established. Recession hits nation and Central Florida; worst hard freeze since 1895 destroys citrus crop; defense and space funding cut; Martin lays off thousands.
ORLANDO’S MAN OF PEACE
THE LAY EVANGELIST DR. John Raleigh Mott was 1 a giant figure in the worldwide YMCA, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient-and in his later years, a resident of Orlando. Mott first became involved with the YMCA at Cornell University, where he founded the Association’s dynamic student movement. He led the Intercollegiate YMCA for 27 years. Mott also founded the World’s Student Christian Federation and the World Council of Churches, which was modeled on the same passage of Scripture as the YMCA, John 17:21: “That they all may be one.” In 1911, Mott joined with other prominent national leaders, including Cleveland H. Dodge, Andrew Carnegie, and William Sloane, to form the YMCA Committee on Friendly Relations Among Foreign Students.
In 1915, Mott became general secretary of the YMCA International Committee. His lifelong credo was inclusion, and he was a catalyst for Associations in southern states that welcomed both black and white members. In 1914, he presided over the first US. Christian student coreference for African Americans; he also chaired the first congress of black and white Christians from north and south. “If we are Christians,” he said, “we must be able to live side by side as true friends, inequality, justice, and mutual respect.”
During World War I Mott led the YMCA’s relief work with prisoners of war in various countries, becoming general secretary of its National War Work Council in 1917. He rendered similar service during the Second World War, leading the World Alliance of YMCAs. In 1946, Mott was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the YMCA’s pioneering work with refugees and its relief work during both World Wars.
Mott’s introduction to Orlando may have come in 1932, when he opened the Florida YMCA Convention in March at the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. In 1937, this stately Methodist made the city his winter home, where a coterie of YMCA retirees had settled, and he soon relocated there year-round His home was at 528 Washington Street, near Lake Eola, and his office was in Winter Park. Mott, who logged nearly 2 million miles in his lifetime, surely welcomed Orlando as a base for his travels. The local Y youth director, Lenny Asquith, often chauffeured him to and from the airport.
Mott’s efforts in Florida remained largely focused on YMCA international work. As John Barber observed, ”He was a man of the world” Mott had little involvement with the Orange County Association, although he was among/our donors who enabled the YMCA to buy Camp Wewa in 1950. To celebrate the purchase, Mott hosted a small gathering the day before his 85th birthday, where Board President Henry Jacobs thanked him “for his friendly and intimate appreciation of the needs of this local YMCA.” Mott died at his home on January 31, 1955.
ROLLINS’ YMCA MAN: RAYMOND GREENE
RAYMOND WOOD GREENE, a Rhode Island farmer’s son, learned the value of the Association at age 12, when he began three years of YMCA night classes to learn steel textile engraving. He also took a night class there in physical education, which enabled him to work his way through school and college. When Greene enrolled at Rollins College in 1913, he took on more than just undergraduate studies. He also accepted the jobs of physical director and YMCA general secretary.
In 1916, Greene attended the U.S.-Canadian conference of YMCA secretaries and then the International YMCA Convention in Cleveland, OH. Some 3,000 International delegates heard speakers like Dr. John R. Mott, John D. Rockefeller, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his closing address, Mott spoke of the North American Associations’ responsibility in the war in Europe, where the YMCA was working among four million men in prison camps. That encounter may have inspired Greene to turn down a wartime Army commission so he could conduct YMCA work among men at a naval base.
Back at Rollins after the war, Greene heard Hamilton Holt, a visiting speaker on world peace. When the College decided to recruit Holt as its president, Greene was delegated to meet with him and extend the offer. Later president of the Rollins Alumni Association, an alumni trustee, and winner of the Hamilton Holt Medal, Greene is well remembered for organizing gym exhibitions at the College, and the interscholastic aquatic and baseball championships that attracted thousands to 1Vi’nter Park. In 196 7, he endowed the Raymond W Greene Chair of Health and Physical Education at his alma mater.
The 1923 Tomokan yearbook conveyed Rollins ‘ high regard for Greene: ‘”Ray’ is as much a part of Rollins as the buildings; he is a landmark and a granddaddy to the class. … at the close of his junior year the faculty found it necessary to remove him from the student body because the high scholastic standards he was setting worked a hardship on the rest of the college students … ‘Ray’ has done more for Roll ins than any other student. By his high school water meets, his baseball tournaments and tennis tournaments, ‘Ray’ has placed himself and Rollins in the limelight all over the peninsular state.”
During college, Greene acquired 66 acres of local farmland, his first step in a distinguished real estate career. He helped organize the Winter Park Realty Board and was an officer of the Florida Association of Realtors. He entered politics as a city commissioner from 1937-39, during which time he organized the Orange County Park and Recreation Association. He led drives for the USO and American Red Cross in World War II, and in 1944 helped raise funds for a permanent headquarters for the Orange County YMCA, which he later served as president. In 1952, Ray Greene became mayor of Winter Park, an office he held through 1958. He passed away in 1979.
Y-INDIAN GUIDE program got its start in 1926. Harold S. Keltner, a YMCA director in St. Louis and his friend Joe Friday, an Ojibwa Indian, were talking during a hunting trip. Friday explained that “The Indian father raises his son. He teaches [him} to hunt, track, and fish, walk softly and silently in the forest, know the meaning and purpose of life and all he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise his son.”
Keltner sensed an opportunity for the YMCA to strengthen the paternal role of teacher, counselor, and friend to his son. He and Friday worked to create the Y-Indian Guide program, soon adopted by the national YMCA. A mother-daughter version, Y-Indian Maidens, was introduced in 1951 to support young girls as they became women. Other variations were added later: Y-Indian Princesses, Father-daughter groups, and Y-Indian Braves for mothers and sons. For 75 years, these activities were part of YMCA family programs nationwide.
Eventually, Native Americans and others questioned the Associations “adoption” of Indian culture and found some of the teachings about their life inaccurate or stereotypical. The YMCAs commitment to being a caring, honest, respectful, and responsible organization, coupled with evolving cultural sensitivity and better understanding of Native-American history, led YMCAs nationwide to reevaluate and rename their parent-child programs. In the fall of 2003, the program was recast as YMCA Adventure Guides.
WALTER PHARR, A southern gentleman from Charlotte, trained as a night fighter pilot in Orlando in 1942. While there, he met Janet Secord and married her in 1943. Pharr returned in 1946 after commanding the 421st Night Fighter Squadron in New Guinea. His first Sunday in Orlando determined Pharr’s future career. At First Presbyterian Church, he met Manly McNutt, who was teaching Sunday school. Pharr shortly joined the McNutt-Heasley real estate firm, first selling houses, then commercial properties and land for development. He worked in real estate until 2001.
Pharr also met Lenny Asquith at the church, who urged him to work with the YMCA. Eventually its board president, Pharr negotiated the Mills Avenue land purchase and helped the Association sell its Lake Bola property for close to the $185,000 asking price.
As Rotary president in 1972-73, Pharr introduced the Volunteer Counselor Program for youth, which ran for 11 years, and oversaw the induction of its first black members, including YMCA volunteer Rufus Brooks. Pharr employed the same method as he had at the YMCA, waiting six months after members initially voted against integration, and then obtaining a unanimous decision on the second try. In recent years he has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, helping the organization locate housing sites locally.