Planting Seeds of the Fort Wayne Y Movement (1858-1912)
The first YMCA in Fort Wayne was organized in 1858. The meetings were held in the Dietrick's Mercantile Institute located at the corner of Main and Calhoun Streets. Isaac Jenkinson was the first president of the YMCA in Fort Wayne serving from 1858-1860. The programs consisted of weekly religious, literary and social meetings.
The Railroad Association YMCA, located on the corner of Calhoun and Holman Streets, opened its doors on July 1, 1884. The Railroad YMCA provided sleeping quarters, hot baths and Sabbath services to railroaders. Membership dues were 25 cents per month, and entitled the member to all privileges of the association with one friend. The building included a large reading room, an amusement room supplied with chess and checkers, and two large parlors that were used for receptions and lectures. There were also complete bath facilities, as well as a surgical room for first aid. After adopting a new Articles of Incorporation and Constitution on September 13, 1889, the YMCA changed its name to the Fort Wayne Young Men’s Christian Association, and expanded to include Sunday song services, library and reading rooms, a gymnasium and a bowling alley. The building was closed in 1897.
Establishing Roots in a Growing Community (1913-1955)
In 1913, Fort Wayne hosted the 44th Annual State Convention of all Indiana YMCA associations. After this convention, an inspired group of prominent businessmen initiated a $300,000 building program and charged forward to raise funds. This was the first general fund raising campaign ever initiated in Fort Wayne.
Five years later, on May 12, 1918, the cornerstone to the Central YMCA was laid in a ceremony at the corner of Barr and Washington Streets. The Dedication Service was held on December 17, 1919 and the Railroad YMCA moved into the Central Branch YMCA – becoming the first building devoted to the YMCA’s work and mission exclusively. S.B. Bechtol was elected as the first president of the Fort Wayne association and served until 1922.
In 1920, association secretary Louis Schwan took a group of boys to Lake Wawasee for a camping program. As such, the Fort Wayne YMCA Boys Camp was founded. The group would return to Lake Wawasee in 1921 and 1922. In 1923 the camp was moved to Hemlock Lake near Redding, Michigan. The next year, on November 25, 1924, the Fort Wayne YMCA purchased 14 acres on Blackman Lake to establish an all-boys camp called Camp Potawotami. The camp opened to campers the summer of 1925. There were 8 cabins, each one with a capacity of 8 bunks. Arrowhead Lodge was built in 1931 and to this day houses the camp's kitchen and dining area.
In 1929, as the association celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Central Branch YMCA’s dedication, the East Side YMCA opened its doors at the corner of Eliza and McCullock Streets. With two branches in a community continuing to expand, the Kiwanis Westside YMCA was dedicated on November 26, 1934 through the cooperation of the Kiwanis Club and the Central YMCA. Located on Culbertson Street, it initially served area boys; in 1942 its programs were expanded to serve families, women and girls as well.
Strengthening Foundations, Cultivating Lives (1956-Present)
The Old Fort YMCA was established in 1956 with its headquarters on Bowser Avenue in the Renaissance Pointe neighborhood. A year later, the Renaissance Pointe YMCA Offices moved to East Creighton Avenue. The Renaissance Pointe YMCA was dissolved into the Central Branch and operated there until the 1974 dedication of the rebuilt Old Fort YMCA location on Reed Street. The Old Fort YMCA would remain on Reed Street until 2010, when it combined with Southeast Fort Wayne YMCA to move into the newly-built Renaissance Pointe YMCA.
In 1965, the Southeast Family YMCA opened as a YMCA/YWCA combined branch on Werling Drive. That same year, 17 acres of land were donated by Mr. & Mrs. Lisle Hodell that was later named Hodell Acres – which today serves as home of the Y’s Camp Kekionga summer day camp. The Southeast Family YMCA would continue to serve families in the southeast Fort Wayne neighborhoods until closing its doors in 2010 to combine with the Old Fort YMCA in the dedication of the Renaissance Pointe YMCA.
In 1993, the Whitley County Family YMCA was chartered as a branch of the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne in Columbia City. In 2005, the facilities were renovated to include a new fitness center, dance and aerobics studio and youth recreation center.
The Status Offender Court Alternatives Program (SOCAP) was developed by the Youth Service Bureau in 1994, and three years later, the School Age Child Care Services began its first school year, serving over 700 children a day in Before and After School Programs, in 1996.
The Jorgensen Family YMCA opened in September of 1998. Originally located on Homestead Road, the branch moved to its current location on Aboite Center Road, serving youth, adults and families in the southwest Fort Wayne area.
Soon after, in 2001, the Parkview Family YMCA opened on Dupont Road on land donated by Chris and Lynn Salomon. The branch soon needed to expand to accommodate the boom in population in the city’s north side, renovating in 2004 in order to accommodate its growing membership.
In 2009, the Wells County YMCA opened its doors in Bluffton, IN. An $8 million capital campaign was kicked off in 2010, and is ongoing to raise funds to build a permanent facility on West Dustman Road.
The Renaissance Pointe YMCA was dedicated in November of 2010, bringing together the Old Fort and Southeast Family YMCA branches into a new state-of-the-art facility located on Bowser Avenue.
The YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne continues to expand and evolve towards the betterment of people at all stages of their lives through its breadth of programs, from swimming lessons to youth intervention, mentoring and family programming to elderly support. Each year of our history has been marked by undeniable accomplishments in face of the challenges of changing times, but more than anything, what marks our history is our commitment to helping people. The YMCA is at the heart and soul of growing up in the greater Fort Wayne area, and will be so for years to come.