Mankato YMCA begins celebration of its sesquicentennial

Published On: April 18, 2024Categories: In The News

Liz Zaruba admits she hasn’t had much time to go through the shelves of tubs containing historical information from the Mankato Family YMCA.

She has some of it, separated out mostly by the different programs offered there over the years, in her office. The rest is down the hall in a space they refer to as “The Garage.” Photo albums from events, documents tracking budgets and officers’ names, newspaper ads and clippings.

When it comes time for many organizations to celebrate big events like the YMCA’s 150th year in Mankato, finding records and photos is a chore. For Zaruba, the challenge will be in going through it all and sorting out what to highlight.

“We have some fun things planned for our members including a couple free family fun nights, fitness challenges and a big celebration and open house in August,” Zaruba said of the year.

The big events come late this summer and fall, when the Y’s Club Corn Roast will be moved from West High School back to the YMCA property with the addition of more activities and surprises, Zaruba said. A Carnival Night was held in January; other events will include a Summer Picnic on June 5 and a Holiday Party Dec. 1.

“We would love to know how the Y has impacted lives in our community,” she said. “Stories can be shared online at”

For more information about events, visit

Executive Director Andrew Burk notes the significance the YMCA has held in the history of Mankato.

“Without the support of our community, the Mankato Family YMCA would not be celebrating our 150-year anniversary,” Burk said. “While we look back at the past and celebrate our community and partnerships over the years, we also look to the future. We continue to look for new ways to serve our community and be a place for all.”

According to a history prepared in 1986, the first recorded existence of the organization that would become the Mankato Family YMCA was in 1874, when a group of men from Centenary Methodist Church, First Baptist Church and the First Presbyterian Church came together and named Edmund N. Pope first president.

This organization existed for about eight years and then disbanded.

It was reorganized nine years later, this time with George M. Palmer as the president. In order to have an ongoing program, it was decided they needed a full-time leader. Edgar W. Martin was the first general secretary. Meeting rooms were rented at 313 S. Front St. in what is now the Mankato Place.

“In 1903 William D. Willard, the YMCA president, filed the first Articles of Incorporation with the State of Minnesota,” according to the 1986 history. “In that year a decision was made to construct a modern YMCA facility.”

At the 1903 annual meeting, it was reported a purchase option had been obtained for the Jensen property at Second and Cherry streets. Willard reported that $15,400 had already been pledged toward the overall cost of $28,000. The building was dedicated in January 1905.

It is reported in the history, “The YMCA building became the center of many activities for young men and boys” during the Depression and World War II period. “Its athletic equipment, swimming pool, the gymnasium were used to full capacity much of the time, and after a half century began to show the wear that comes with extensive use.”

In 1957 the site, which now houses the Johnson Furniture Outlet Store, was sold to the Greyhound Bus Company. The Oscar W. Schmidt residence, 111 Park Lane, was purchased. In 1961-62, $110,000 was raised for an addition to the house that included a regulation-sized swimming pool, gymnasium, handball court and locker rooms.

The name “MankatoFamily YMCA” was adopted in 1962, with Y programs expanded under General Director James H. Buckley to include all members of the family. Many additions were made before 1986, the date of the history’s writing, and through today, including the Chesley Skate Park.

Throughout the years, the YMCA buildings have been added onto, adjusted and reconfigured to meet growing and changing needs, creating a bit of a maze of hallways and stairwells for the uninitiated. But facilities are impressive.

Multiple gymnasiums allow for spaces that can host basketball games or a cross-fit workout; one pool allows for lap swimming while another, the Taylor Family Aquatic Center, encourages family water adventures; rooms are designed for racquetball/handball or cycling; various studios accommodate aerobics and yoga; and a walking track and locker rooms provide amenities for everyone.

Before the pandemic, when membership numbers topped 10,000, extensive surveys were conducted to determine the feasibility of adding a second facility on the east side of town for ease of use. A drop of more than 50% during the pandemic has put those plans on hold as numbers inch back to pre-pandemic totals.

Burk succeeded longtime executive director John Kind, and discussions continue with an active board of directors on how the YMCA can grow programs and services to meet the wants and needs of its members.

The Mankato YMCA puts Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind, body and social well-being for all, Zaruba said. It works to gather communities, making accessible to all high-quality programs and services that promote and develop health, spirit, mind, body and social well-being, focusing on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

For more information, visit the Mankato Family YMCA website at

By Michael Lagerquist

This story was originally published by the Mankato Free Press.