Tell Us About Your YMCA Career

Wow, I’ve been with the Y for 45 years. And that only counts my years as a professional staffer.

I was a Y-kid. My family did not own a car. So activities outside the neighborhood were limited to places along the bus route. I grew up as one of seven sisters (no brothers), and we did most everything together: church, school and the Covington (Kentucky) YMCA. I started in the Y’s Swim & Gym program, became a resident camper and joined Leaders Club because I wanted to be a camp counselor.

Before I went to the Y, I was just a kid in the crowd. But at the Y, they made me feel unique, valued and special; someone to be treasured. And that’s my back-story to Y work: I have always wanted to be part of providing that same special feeling to kids.

My first job was washing dishes at YMCA Camp Ernst. The head cook was a wonderful man. I earned $5/week, but it was a really great beginning for me. I went on to become a camp counselor at the Greater Louisville Y’s Camp Piomingo, and that’s where I got the bug from the Y’s women & girls director to make the Y my career.

After earning my degree in education at the University of Kentucky, I taught school for six months, but it wasn’t a great fit for me. So the day after Labor Day, I started as a program director at the St. Matthews Y branch in Louisville. My starting salary was $6,000/year, and I was in Louisville for five and a half years, working my way up to senior program director.

Then, at age 29, I got the opportunity to be a branch director for the YMCA of Eastern Union County in Elizabeth, New Jersey (now called The Gateway Family YMCA). I figured I would be there for five years or so. On July 1, 1980, I was promoted to CEO, never moved, found family and friends, and loved the challenges of working in an urban environment. Every day was a new adventure!

How Was The Transition to Retirement?

My husband died after a brief illness five months before my retirement in 2008. Those last few months of work were very difficult for me. I was pretty lost. I had a lot of catching up to do. I needed to work, which I did (like a bandit!). I closed out a capital campaign and did everything I could to finish strong and tidy things up before my June 30 retirement date.

The first month of retirement I took a big leap and joined my nieces and nephew for a first-ever backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park. I’ve returned every year since. It tests my mettle!

To be honest, I did not retire with the intention of not working. And that’s exactly the way it has turned out. Six months after I retired, I went to work for the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance first as a grants coordinator and now as a program specialist. I am also a Y-USA, new CEO coach which keeps me connected to the heartbeat of the Y. And I serve on a bank board, which provides me with the resources to be a bit of a philanthropist.

Tell Us About the Process of Saving for Retirement

I didn’t have any spare money to save when I worked in Louisville. But later on in my 40’s I opened a 403(b) Smart Account at the Fund. And of course, I also put in the 5% of my salary that I was required to save (while the Y put in 7%, for a total of 12%).

I have financial freedom now. I’m doing better in retirement than when I was working. My annuity from the Fund is more than the combined take-home pay that both my husband and I earned. In fact, because I am still a Y employee, I haven’t had to draw on my 403(b) money yet!

If You Could Give One Piece Of Advice To Current YMCA Staff About saving and planning for retirement, what would it be?

The YMCA Retirement Fund is a gift and a blessing. Be sure to save extra whenever you can. Your money is safe and secure, and the compound interest is almost magical.