Readers share their memories of the YMCA

Where should my memory list begin?

  • I was hired to teach a fitness class "for women only" around 1976.  My 6 students ran on a tiny track, etched in white paint, behind the building.  The track measured 15 laps to the mile, or thereabouts.  We women were too timid to run on the streets.  (As for me, I decided to tackle the roads, duck the produce thrown from passing cars, dismiss the lewd remarks, and went on to be the first woman member of the cross-country team at MJC).
  • Upon returning to the YMCA several years later, I started a career that lasted for more than 10 years.
  • The women who trained for the Bonne Belle 10 km in Golden Gate Park for several successive years.  For many, this endeavor was a first step in learning that they could be strong, determined, and accomplished ... independent of the men in their lives.  We would car pool to San Francisco and the tears started to flow at the finish line.
  • Neva Forney became my friend, and later my mother-in-law.
  • Learn to Swim Week served hundreds of beginning swimmers each year in weeklong sessions of swim safety lessons.
  • Big Blue, the old YMCA bus, had to be double clutched.  We drove that 66 passenger behemoth all over the county to shepard children to a wide variety of classes and programsThe really dumb jokes that our members would tell in the 6:00 AM fitness class.  EEGADS, were they corny.
  • John Sullivan, City Council member and active YMCA supporter, died in a sightseeing flight over the Grand Canyon.
  • Sadly, four of the 6:00 AM pranksters died in a single incident car crash on the way to check out the wildflowers in the Sierra Foothills at La Grange.
  • My first sight of my husband:  John Forney, Davis High School Alum, and  Berkeley Firefighter.  We've been married more than 20 years and together for 25.
  • Classes taught by Dr. Forney and my now sister-in-law, Lynn Tripp, on Wellness.  I really believed that these programs enhanced hundreds of lives.
  • The St. Patrick's Day Runs, at one time the largest and oldest run in the county.
  • The Christmas Tree Runs.
  • Youth Sports and the children who discovered t-ball, indoor soccer, basketball and more in a low-key supportive environment. 
  • My brother-in-law, Greg, met his wife when he was the coordinator of the youth basketball program in the YMCA gym.
  • My daughter, Rachael (Rocki), became the youngest recipient of the KCRA Spirit of California Youth Award for Service because the the uncountable hours of volunteer time she gave to the younger students as a gymnastics teacher, swim class assistant, and "buddy".
  • Rachael (Rocki) met her husband at the YMCA, too, and is now married to Dr. Jondy Cohen.
  • Chandra, Sue, and Bob Levy.  Do I need to say more?
  • The day that I was on a lifeguard duty when a VERY pregnant naked woman "sprinted" out of the locker room in pursuit of an errant runaway toddler.
  • The freedom that our disabled clients had in the therapy pool that they could experience nowhere else.
  • Joe, WWI vet, and quite a character.
  • The lonely people who found friendship and camaraderie at the Y when it was seemingly unobtainable.
  • Picking up children upon their return from Camp Jack Hazard when  they had gone a week without bathing.  The grime could not hide their exhausted smiles.
  • The swim teacher who pulled off his sweats at poolside in preparation for jumping in the water to teach preschoolers.  To all of our horror, but most of all his, he didn't have on his swim trunks.
  • Neva Forney, teaching yoga for 38 years, loving and being loved by hundreds.
  • I'd keep writing, but it is two hours past my bedtime and this has left be feeling abysmally sad. MAUREEN (ROBELLO) FORNEY

    San Leandro

    It would have been in the early 70’s and we were living in the country near Hickman. The Y started a program that sent school buses to the outlying areas to bring kids into Modesto for Saturdays at the Y. When my second grade son returned on the bus the day of the program he had another boy with him. “Mom, they made John get on the wrong bus and he doesn’t know how to get home so I brought him home with me.” I never did know the story of how he actually ended up on the bus to the wrong town but I called the YMCA and they had all gone home for the day.

    The little boy lived near Oakdale but there was no answer at his home (all this was waaayy before cell phones). This was not too long after Tommy Lauver was kidnapped and all parents were more than a little paranoid then so I could imagine the absolute terror this little boy’s mother was going through when her son didn’t get off the bus at the stop where he was picked up that morning and I knew she wasn’t going to be able to reach anyone at the Y. I called his grandparents’ number and there was no answer there either. They were probably all out looking for the boy. My husband had our only car that day so I had no way to take this child home. Finally, I called Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Dept. and told them there would soon be a very upset mother calling because her son was missing, but he was ok, he was having hot chocolate and cookies and the mom could either come get him or I would bring him home as soon as my husband got home with the car. They sent someone to the bus stop to tell her where he was. Thirty minutes later mom came screeching up my driveway, sobbing. Shorty after that a sheriff arrived. We were all three irate at the Y. The boys were calmly playing a game and Johnny asked if he could stay until they finished.

    The next Monday I called the Y intending to read them the riot act. The receptionist sounded very young and had apparently been elected Miss Sparkle Bright because her reaction was a cheerful, bubby “I’m so glad everything worked out so well.” Click. I called back to make sure she understood the seriousness of what I was saying – that the Sheriff’s department had to be involved to get the child back to his family because of their carelessness – she bubbled “Awww, wasn’t that sweet of them.” Click. I talked with the little boy’s mother and she said she, and his grandmother, had similar experiences when they called. We would run into that family over the years at various scouting or school sports events and whenever we’d see each other, we´d gush “Aw, I’m so glad everything worked out so well. Click.” Or “Aw, isn’t that sweet of the Sheriff. Click.” We often wondered what kind of career Miss Sparkle Bright went on to.

    That program didn’t last longat least two little boys never got on the bus to the Y again.


    In June 1978, at 17 years old, I joined a fitness class (5:30-6:30 p.m.) at the YMCA and it changed my life. It was right before the aerobics craze took hold -- it was basic fitness.

    The first half hour was spent doing calisthenics -- push-ups, jumping jacks, sit ups. At 6 p.m., we would all head outside and do a 2 1/2 mile run. People driving on McHenry thought we were crazy -- it was usually close to 100 degrees outside! The last 10 minutes was a cool down.

    That first summer we had one and only one album we listened to every class -- Fleetwood Mac. We had such a dedicated group and almost all of us became life-long runners. We would run into each other at various running events throughout the years. There was a special bond we had -- we survived that class!

    Once the new gym was built and the class changed to aerobics, most of us left -- most of us wanted to run. I have been running for over 30 years now and I have done many races, marathons, triathlons, etc.

    That one class from the Y started it all and inspired me to keep fit and challenge myself. I would bet the majority of the people in that fitness class of 1978 are still running and working out regularly. I am very sad to hear the Y is closing. Modesto will miss it. JULIANNE COUGHLIN TAYLOR

    Clarksville, Mo.

    I'm sorry to see the YMCA closing. I guess we all saw it coming.

    I will miss the child-care department and the employees. My son (age 11) goes there on days he doesn't have school but I have work. He loves to go there. He also has been going to the summer day camp at the YMCA for the past four years. What a great program that was!

    We would use the day-care for winter and spring breaks as well. Both of my children learned to swim there. My son has taken soccer, basketball and karate at the YMCA. I even took a Yoga class while he was in karate class. I am going to miss the fun Back to School parties and parents night out.

    The employees have always been helpful and friendly. I hope that the day care can find a home at one of the schools (or another location) for summer day camp.

    Now I will cry instead of laugh when I hear the YMCA song at parties.


    When my daughter was 9 months old, we took the "swimfant" classes. I was so happy to share the time with her and have her get used to being in the water.

    During the course of the series of classes we got to know the other moms and children. Then one day in the locker room following classes we were comparing our little ones' "new teeth".

    Well the other moms were so proud of two or three new baby teeth in their boys and girls. I remained rather quiet, because my little girl had not yet brought in a single tooth.

    At home, later that evening, I quizzed my poor husband to no end! Here we were with the only little child at swimming classes without a tooth, and her daddy is a dentist and her mommy is a dental hygienist!


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