Kannapolis YMCA celebrates 100 years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Joanie Morris
Salisbury PostIn 1844, George Williams, an Englishman, started a young men’s group interested in studying the Bible in London.
Sixty-four years later, in Kannapolis, a group of men met for much the same purpose ó spirit, mind and body.
That day, Oct. 5, 1908, started one of the oldest ó if not the oldest ó social programs in Kannapolis history, the Cannon Memorial YMCA.
From those humble beginnings, the Cannon Memorial YMCA has grown. From one small branch in Kannapolis to the West Cabarrus Branch to the Harrisburg Branch. Now, 100 years later, the YMCA is still growing strong.
“It’s not just men in a room studying the Bible anymore,” said Kimberly Cousineau, vice president of operations for the YMCA group. Even though the YMCA has grown, it’s still much the same.
“The principles that started that YMCA are still in practice today,” Cousineau added.
The YMCA concept was brought to the United States by retired sea captain Thomas Sullivan in 1851. The first U.S. YMCA was in Boston, Mass.
“It’s grown into an international organization,” said Cousineau. “It’s very different from state to state. The YMCA focuses on the needs of that community.”
As an example, Cousineau points to one of the first programs still going on today. The Empty Stocking Fund helps buy gifts for indigent children at Christmas, as well as dealing with heating fuel needs in the cold months for numerous families.
The firsts
The Kannapolis Branch YMCA has also celebrated many firsts and achievements over the 100 years it has been in operation.
“At two different points in history, this Y was the largest in the country,” said Brett Crosby, associate executive director at the Kannapolis Branch. In 1940, the Kannapolis YMCA had 12,815 members, making it the largest in the United States and Canada.
In 1941, according to Y records, the Kannapolis YMCA became one of the first in the country to allow women ó 10 years before that became the norm across the United States.
The national volleyball YMCA champions came out of the Kannapolis YMCA. The first library in Kannapolis was inside the YMCA.
Swimming was organized shortly after the Empty Stocking Fund began, and the YMCA even had a residence camp.
In 1975, the Kannapolis YMCA started the first Y boys’ soccer program in the country.
“Today, that’s still one of our largest programs,” Crosby said.
Nationally, the YMCA is also known for many firsts. The organization was the first to start body building as a way to tone muscles; the first to set group exercise to music; and the organization that formed the sports of basketball, racquetball and volleyball. In addition, the YMCA helped found the Boy Scouts of America in 1910; Father’s Day was founded at the Spokane Washington YMCA; and the YMCA and five other national service organizations developed the USO.
Many buildings
Ask just about anyone and they will tell you they were affected by the fires that destroyed the Kannapolis YMCAs. There were two of them and both held memories for countless individuals.
The first fire, in 1925, completely destroyed the YMCA. The second facility opened boasting a 1,400-seat auditorium, four bowling alleys, a library, a gym and rooms for meetings and activities.
The second fire happened in 1937. The YMCA lost countless records in the fires.
“Everything went through the Y for so long,” Crosby said. The mill ran everything at the time, so anything stored in the YMCA ó such as the cemetery records ó was destroyed.
The building people remember the most, Crosby said, is the one at the Cannon Mills headquarters, which opened in 1940 as the third YMCA facility.
That’s the one where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited and spoke to citizens on the front steps in 1942. It contained youth and adult program centers, an indoor pool, two gyms, a library, meeting rooms, a kitchen with catering services, a girls’ department and even a barbershop.
This YMCA was the first in the United States to have separate departments for girls and women.
“It was true community center,” Cousineau said. “We were a division of Cannon Mills. We didn’t become an individual YMCA until 1987, when this building opened.”
In 2003, the West Cabarrus Branch of the Cannon Memorial YMCA opened in Concord. In 2006, the Harrisburg Branch opened.
Planning ahead
Plans are being made for the Cannon Memorial YMCA to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the YMCA in Cabarrus County at all three branches.
Cousineau said the celebration will be outstanding. YMCA staff is looking for stories about the YMCA, artifacts from the Y and anything else citizens would like to share.
There will be a planning session today at noon for volunteers who would like to help.
Plans include opening the time capsule that was placed at the building when it opened, placing a new time capsule in the ground to be opened in 50 years, a walking timeline, oral histories and more.
For more information on how you can help, contact Cousineau at the Kannapolis Branch YMCA at 704-939-9622.
Contact Joanie Morris at 704-932-3336 or jmorris@salisburypost.com.

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