By Alex Naughton
With the new YMCA building under construction, it is an opportune time for the citizens of Ashland to learn the history of how it came to be. Before the YMCA was built, Ashland only had one area of general recreation and fitness: the City Park. The Ashland Optimist’s Club has also provided many opportunities for children to play sports, however, it does not have many programs for adults. While the park has and still does serve as a peaceful area for play and exercise and the Optimist’s Club continues to keep children active, a YMCA would provide a dedicated place for health and fitness. Dave Westhoff, Kim Ponder, and Lonna Trammell were all part of a committee looking into the possibility of making that happen. They spoke to Craig Lammers, the CEO of the Jefferson City area YMCA about how their operation worked and what went into it. With the information gathered, the committee asked the Ashland government to support a YMCA coming to Ashland. They worked with former mayor Gene Rhorer and the late George Campbell on the project. Rhorer and Campbell traveled to Brookfield and Chillicothe (chill-i-coth), Missouri with the committee to see how their YMCA facilities ran. They met the mayor of Chillicothe and discussed the economic status of the town before and after the formation of their YMCA. This was because, in addition to the health benefits of having a YMCA, they wanted to find out the financial benefits to the community. Given Ashland’s smaller size, the branch would be the go-to facility for the entire Southern Boone area. Upon their return, Rhorer and Cambell lobbied to the other members of the board in support of a YMCA, as well as to get public funding for it. Under normal circumstances, public funds do not go towards a private business, for-profit or not. However, this decision was seen as purchasing services for the community, and as such was accepted. The board approved 50,000 dollars in funding for the YMCA, coming in increments of 10,000 dollars a year over five years. Before the decision was made, the committee put together a community survey and event intended to gauge public interest in having a YMCA. The event had a relatively large turn out of over 300 people in attendance. The community support for the project also played a part in its success. The committee also looked into several locations for the YMCA to operate out of. Ultimately they decided on the downtown location. This choice was made because of the building’s proximity to the schools, as well as its centralized spot in the city. As the city has grown, that area has stayed in the relative center. The Southern Boone Area YMCA started small and has since grown into a flourishing fitness facility. In its early days, the facility held membership drives to garner support. Over time it created a partnership with MU Health Care and kept growing from there. New equipment, new programs, and job opportunities have all accompanied this growth. Even in the face of the current pandemic, the YMCA’s memberships have held and the facilities remain in use. With a brand new building on its way, there is no telling just how much the YMCA in Ashland will continue to grow. Given the new facilities size and the amount of land coming with it, there is a lot of potential for future programs and expansion. With MU Health Care’s contributions to the new facility, combined with community fundraising and a sum of 60,000 dollars from the city, there are a lot of resources at the YMCA’s disposal. The new YMCA is set to be completed in February of 2021, with the doors hopefully opening in March of the same year. The new building will include all of the equipment and programs from the old one, along with many new additions. This will include gyms, sports programs, pools, and more. While citizens of Ashland and the Southern Boone area await the new facility’s completion, they can remember the contributions of Rhorer, Campbell, Westhoff, Trammell, Ponder, and many other individuals who made it all possible.
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