Dixon Y.M.C.A.




The community of Dixon is in posession of a YMCA facility that presently ranks high among other in Illinois. However, since its inception in Dixon in 1872, the "Y" has faced many leans yers, including 30 years that the organization was inactive. The first public mention of the Young Men's Christian Association operation in Dixon was a newspaper notice on Nov. 20, 1872, calling for "all those interested in forming a Young Men's Christian Association to meet Nov. 25 in the office of Jason C. Ayres." This was just 28 years after teh YMCA concept was formulated in England.

The 23 men who attended that meeting were the organization's first members. At that time Dixon's population was just over 4,000. In January of the following year, the YMCA's first fundraising drive in Dixon was planned. The objective of the effort was to generate enough monty to obtain a meeting place.

The drive was successful and a reading room was etablished on a second floor location above a local jeweler. The room was furnished with ample reading material. In 1890 Philip Brevis was hired as the "Y's" first full-time employee. When the YMCA first organized in Dixon, the primary activities of teh organization revolved around religious activities. The reading material mainly concerned the scriptures, and the group frequently sponsored a noted religious leadere to address Dixonites.

By the turn of the century, the organization ranked fifth in the state with 300 members and was considereing the construction of a new building. A Jan. 20, 1904 Telegraph article said, "The great need of the Dixon YMCA is a building of their own, large enough for not only present but also future needs. The idea was tossed around by city officials but efforts for a separate YMCA building did not get underway until March 1905. At that time, the Rev. William A. (Billy) Sunday came to Dixon. Among the 36 occassions he spoke during his stay, was a revival for the YMCA's benefit. A free-will offering after Sunday's presentation brought $8,403 and launched a community attempt for a permanent home for the YMCA.

The goal of ensuing fund-raising drives was realized as a lot, at the corner of Galena Avenue and Third Street, next to the Nachusa House, was purchased for $3,300. Upon that site ws erected a $35,000 YMCA building. It was dedicated on June 24, 1907, and several state officials came for the proceedings. Following the dedicatory services an open house was held to let citizens inspect the new building, which contained a reading room, game room, parlor, education room, gymnasium, hall, public office and private office on the first floor; a dormitory with 20 rooms and a kitchen on the second floor; and a basement which had a 30,000 gallon swimming pool, two bowling alleys and six showers.

The new location was a populular recreation spot for Dixonites, until the depression. At that tiem the YMCA was forced to discontinue operations and the building was sold. Henry Hey, elected YMCA president in 1926, refused to let the entire organization slip away from Dixon. After it closed in 1930, and for 30 years thereafter, Hey continued to send annual reports and fees to the state, in order for the Y to maintain its status as a non-profit organization in Dixon. In doing this Mr.Hey kept the Dixon YMCA alive. During the period that the YMCA in Dixon was inactive, the national organization underwent major changes. In 1937 the YMCA decided to allow membership to Jewish and other minority groups. Also at that time the organization shifted its emphasis from a direct religious approach through Christian readings and services to an indirect approach. Under that change, the YMCA began to stress the physical activities it had to offer. The new idea was that building a strong body with a "Christian attitude" was the most important capacity of the YMCA.

The Dixon organization awoke from its dormancy in 1960 when Jack Shadrach joined the Y as a full time employee. Y offices and activity rooms were established at 105 W. First St. above Boynton-Richards. Gyms at elementary schools were also used for some activities in the 1960's. Once the YMCA organization became fully re-established, possibilities of constructing a second permanent home were discussed. In 1966 plans for a new building were made. In 1967, a major fund-raising drive took place. In a short period of time $575,000 was procured, well over the $450,000 goal of the drive. At the end of that effort, YMCA officers reviewed the plans and expanded facilities. Another fun-raising drive was undertaken in 1968 which brought another $253,000 into Y coffers. The planned building was under construction by 1969 and opened for use in March, 1971.

Included in the new YMCA facilities ewre a 100,000 gallon pool, gymnasium, nursery school, club room, physical fitness center, and youth drop-in center. In 1971 the YMCA boasted 1,300 members, participating in 75 activities. In 1975 the figures had ballooned to 4,315 members partaking in 801 activities. The Dixon Family YMCA's success in terms of community participation is unsurpassed in any other Northern Illinois city... The Dixon Y has placed an emphasis on working with problems of local youth. A book, recently published by a government study group singled out the Dixon Family Y as "an example of effectiveness in dealing with youth." Although the YMCA organization in Dixon has struggled through times when survival was uncertain, it now has regained its position as one of the state's leading facilities.

The Dixon Evening Telegraph February 26, 1976

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