Fund History

The YMCA Retirement Fund was incorporated in 1921 by a special act of the legislature of the State of New York. The Fund’s actuary estimated that $3,700,000 would be needed to provide for the accrued liability of Y professionals already employed and likely to participate. A fund-raising goal of $4 million was set.

Y employees were challenged to raise $100,000. They raised $335,000. Dr. John R. Mott, then the general secretary of the International Committee of the Y, secured pledges of $2 million. Included in these pledges was $750,000 (a conditional “matching gift”) from the Laura Spellman-Rockefeller Foundation, acquired with the help of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. He added another $250,000, for a total Rockefeller gift of $1 million. Over the next two and a half years, contributions of $2 million were raised from individual Ys and other donors to meet the conditions of the Rockefeller contributions.

Raymond P. Kaighn became the Fund’s first secretary in 1922. On October 29, 1929, the United States Stock Market crashed, with a total securities devaluation of more than $26 billion. However, the YMCA Retirement Fund did not lose a single dollar through a default on any of its investments. The Retirement Fund actually showed a slight increase in the number of participants by 1931. The Fund’s board modified its bylaws to permit participants to make additional personal payments to increase their annuity, and a retirement plan for non-secretarial employees, the Savings and Security Plan, was initiated.

Raymond Kaighn retired from the management of the Fund as its chief executive officer in 1944. He was succeeded by Earl W. Brandenburg, who had been a member of the board while serving as general secretary of the YMCA of St. Louis and St. Louis County. During his 21 years, at times when the earnings of the Fund’s investments exceeded actuarial requirements, “experience dividends” of an extra month’s payment were made to all retirees with a similar credit to those still in active service.

Forrest E. Wharry was employed by the Fund in 1952. He would become executive secretary of the Retirement Fund in 1962. During his tenure, a comprehensive analysis by the Fund’s actuary showed the benefits provided by the YMCA Retirement Fund exceeded those of the pension plans of most not-for-profit organizations. A full-time investment director was employed as a part of the Retirement Fund’s staff.

Forrest Wharry retired and Harold C. Smith, who had first joined the full-time staff in 1958, became the Fund’s chief executive officer in 1983. During Mr. Smith’s 17-year tenure as CEO, assets grew from $521 million to $3.6 billion and the number of participants grew from 18,891 to 76,449. The Fund merged the Savings and Security Plan into the Retirement Plan in 1989.

Harold Smith retired as the chief executive officer in 2000. He was succeeded by John M. Preis, during whose tenure the Fund continued to grow despite a severe market downturn from 2000 to 2002 and the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Additionally, in 2004, Mr. Preis led an effort to secure federal legislation, U.S. Public Law 108-476, which was passed by unanimous consent in both houses of Congress, specifically designating the plans of the YMCA Retirement Fund as church plans.

The focal points of Mr. Preis’ tenure were the recruitment of an effective and professional board of trustees and a comprehensive upgrade of the Fund’s technology. In addition, the Fund has benefited from the creation of a professional customer service staff and highly effective communications, specifically through the Fund’s website along with other electronic media. The Fund’s senior leadership was restructured to establish a stronger link between the Fund and the YMCA Movement through the creation of a Y Relations department. John Preis retired as the chief executive officer in 2019.

Scott Dolfi joined the Fund in June 2019 as the sixth President & CEO. Scott brought notable investment and pension expertise to the Fund, having previously worked for Guardian Life Insurance Company of America as Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Dolfi also spent 18 years working with General Electric, eight of which he served as the CEO of GE Life, a pension and annuity company.

Mr. Dolfi’s time at the Fund was transformational. Despite navigating a global pandemic for much of his tenure and the economic uncertainty that accompanied it, he succeeded in building and supporting an exceptional staff team who, along with the Board of Trustees, have worked tirelessly to ready the Fund for its second century of service to the YMCA Movement. Mr. Dolfi retired in June 2022 and Michael B. Cefole, who also served as the current Chief Financial Officer at the Fund, stepped into the role of Interim CEO.

In December 2022, after a rigorous search process, the Board appointed Mr. Cefole as the Fund’s seventh President & CEO. He joined the Fund as its Chief Financial Officer in 2020, bringing extensive experience in annuities and retirement plans, as well as a unique combination of finance, actuarial, plan design, and regulatory experience. As CFO, he advanced the financial operations of the organization, while also developing strategies that ensure the long-term stability of the Fund. Prior to joining the Fund, Mr. Cefole was President of Everest Advisory Partners, a firm providing consulting services to the retirement industry. He also worked for Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, where he was the President of the company’s retirement businesses and was the CFO of their Group Benefits business. In addition, Mr. Cefole worked for the Hartford Financial Services Group for over 20 years where he held a variety of business and financial leadership roles.

Under Mr. Cefole’s leadership, the Fund is boldly advancing into its second century of service. Most notably, the Fund expanded the 403(b) Savings Plan in January 2024 with the addition of a Roth Account, providing Y staff with more flexibility to save in a way that works best for their unique retirement goals.