Historically speaking

YMCA history cited

ISHPEMING — Monday’s train bore southward Messrs A.J. Yungbluth, John S. Mennie and W.H. Moulton, all prominently connected with the Cleveland-Cliffs company of Ishpeming, and to whom was delegated the task of looking over buildings of the YMCA organization at several points where the population is about the same size as Ishpeming’s.

It has been decided to have an organization of this character in Ishpeming. The Lake Superior Iron company has agreed to join with the Cleveland-Cliffs and it is hoped the Pittsburgh & Lake Angeline company, whose representative is out of the city at this time, will also be a party to the movement.” (Iron Ore, January 27, 1906)

The original idea was William Mather’s. “Mr. W.G. Mather and his fine mining organization has been doing a great work for Ishpeming for many years. He now wants a YMCA building in Ishpeming and a committee of prominent men in his employ have spent the week in outside cities learning some more of suitable buildings for this purpose than they previously knew. There will be baths, a gymnasium, bowling alleys, sleeping rooms, reading rooms and much to make a pleasant place for young men. This is a practical bettering of the conditions of young men.” (Op Ed, Iron Ore, January 27, 1906)

Several months later, a representative from the YMCA organization came to Ishpeming. “Mr. Ed Buell, state secretary of the Young Men’s Christian association for Michigan, was in the city this week looking over the place with the idea of determining what its chances for a successful organization were. He is convinced that we have abundant material for a most successful association.” (Iron Ore, March 17, 1906)

The location of the building was important. “There is talk of putting the building on Division street, although this point has not yet been taken up. Division as we have often remarked, is a great highway.

At any rate, the building is to be put up, and the coming summer will see its completion.

It would be well to have an out-of-door track, a baseball and football ground. East Division street could furnish this, and may be decided upon.” (Iron Ore, January 27, 1906)

“It looks very much as if Ishpeming will be successful in the securing of a YMCA building. The project has the right kind of start and with the impetus already gained we see no reason why there should be any such thing as failure.

The cigarette-smoking, idling young men are being sought out by the association and their better natures appealed to. These boys are shown better ways and made to learn the value of helping themselves and their companions.

Mr. Buell truly said that it was frequently difficult to secure young men for positions of responsibility. The market was woefully bare of them. He said the best boys in the YMCA were quickly discovered and taken in to business houses that were demanding the very best skill and integrity.” (Iron ore, March 24, 1906)

Despite the hope that a building would be erected during the summer of 1906, as always there were delays.

“Ishpeming’s Young Men’s Christian association building has progressed so far that we are to lay the cornerstone tomorrow. There have been many vexatious delays in the bringing of the building to this stage, but finally excellent progress is being made and we are to have the building completed by the coming winter. The structure will be a neat one, and will unquestionably be a very popular place, as it will contain elements attractive to the young men of Ishpeming. “(Iron Ore, July 11, 1908)

After a winter of construction, the building, which was located on the southwest corner of Pine and Division Streets, (now a parking lot) was finally ready for use.

“The doors of the YMCA will be thrown open June 1st for the receiving of membership applications. The dedicatory program will likely be held on Sunday afternoon, June 17th, more time being required to complete arrangements and get speakers. However, those joining may begin the use of the association privileges as soon as their applications are received.

Those who have rented rooms in the building may take possession Monday, May 21st and those desiring to rent the rooms still left may do so at any time by calling and making a selection. “(Iron Ore, May 29, 1909)

The building featured a reading room, a well-equipped gymnasium, swimming pool, classrooms and 22 rooms to rent. In September of 1909, a full schedule of classes was published.

“The schedule has been arranged so that there will be time for everybody. Four classes for business men each week, two in the afternoon from 5 to 6 and two in the evening from 7:30-8:30. If anyone needs systematic exercise, it is the business man. Our physical director is an expert in meeting your special needs, and will prescribe exercises that will fit your physical condition, rest your brain, develop your muscle and increase your digestion.” (Iron Ore, September 11, 1909)

In addition to the physical education offerings there were educational offerings as well.

“The purpose of the association night school is to enable men to increase their efficiency, thus preparing them for higher positions and salaries. It is not always possible for a man to attend college, but he can add to his present knowledge by night study and thus increase his possibilities of success.” (Iron Ore, September 25, 1909)

“A special course prepared by Dr. Peter Roberts of New York, which enables the student to begin speaking English at the first lesson, progressing step by step until he can converse on numerous subjects using correct pronunciation. There will be two night classes and two day classes per week for a term of six months.

Special Note – Those taking this course may attend any of the classes, i.e., men on day shift at the mines can attend at night and when their shift is changed, they can attend the day classes without missing any of the lessons.” (Iron Ore, September 25, 1909)

Other classes included common school courses and a full range of technical studies in the sciences. “An Electrical club will be formed for the purpose of studying Electrical Engineering with instructions by lectures, general discussion and recitations on a text.” (Iron Ore, September 25, 1909) Electricity was still new to many people.

There were also classes in mining, literary and debating, and even a class for those wishing to qualify for civil service.

It should also be noted that in the early years, the facility was only open to men.

The YMCA proved to be a valuable addition to the city of Ishpeming for many years. However, fundraising was an ongoing activity and there were periods when a deficit was run up. In 1926 the state began taxing all YMCA facilities.

When the depression struck, many people could no longer afford memberships. In 1935, the YMCA closed its doors. The mining companies had mostly paid for its operation for three years, but they also could no longer afford to support the YMCA. In 1938, ownership of the building was transferred to the City of Ishpeming. Despite several requests to reopen it, the building remained closed. In 1948 the Michigan National Guard accepted the building and renovated it for use to station a Guard Company in Ishpeming. In February of 1959, the building was destroyed by fire.


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