The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), was originally founded in London, England on June 6, 1844 by George Williams. The association was formed in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in the big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution. The YMCA came to North America in 1851, finding a home in Montreal and Boston, at which time it began to grow. By the end of the Civil War, only fifty-nine YMCA's remained in the United States, but within four years, the organization had rebuilt, with a total of over six hundred. Under the leadership of John Mott, the YMCA ran the military canteens during World War I. Fundraising campaigns led by the YMCA raised $235 million for YMCA and other wartime causes. The YMCA also survived the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression. During this time, YMCA's across the country began to re-evaluate their programs and missions. At this time, many YMCA's increased their partnerships with social welfare agencies. By the close of World War II, YMCA's had fundamentally changed. Sixty-two percent allowed women, and barriers began to fall, as families became the focus, and people of all races & religions were beginning to be included throughout the organization. This philosophy has carried through the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Although the name of the organization officially includes "Young," "Men," and "Christian" in it's name, the organization today serves much more than young Christian men. People today of every age, gender, religion, and race are welcome to join and participate. (History of the YMCA Movement, n.d.).
In 2006, the YMCA reported 2,663 facilities in the United States, serving over 20 million people (About the YMCA, 2006). Internationally, the YMCA serves 45 million youth and families across the globe (About World Alliance, n.d.). Prior to the location at 418 West Third Street in Marion, the YMCA was located at the corner of 5th and Boots Streets in Marion, which is now a vacant lot (Sutter, 2008). Young salesmen who had business in Marion would come to the YMCA and stay there for about 1/3 the price of a hotel, as the top three floors of the building were designed with rooms for this purpose. In the 1950's, when the YMCA looked to move its location to Third Street, the original estimate from the consultants came in at approximately $350,000. Additional floors ran the project to $1 million. Open-ended bids were used, and the cost went up another $250,000 to $1.25 million (Sutter, 2008). At that time, the project was not fully funded before construction began, and the plan was to "phase" the project, opening the doors for business, then hoping to follow up with another capital campaign to raise the balance of the funds needed in order to complete the building. However, this plan was never able to come to fruition. As it stands today, the Third Street YMCA has two floors that were never completed during construction. Although the location downtown is good, the building shows its age.
One family in particular has played a key role in the funding and building of not only the current project at the YMCA, but also the Third Street Project in the 1950's. John Sutter was a key player in the fundraising for the Third Street building. Mr. & Mrs. James Sutter, Jr., have been key players in the funding of the new facility. When the idea for the new building first came about, around January of 2001, the Board of Directors hired a consultant to provide a study for what it would take in order to raise the money and build a new YMCA. As the fundraising process was underway, two locations on the West side of Marion were being considered, one off State Road 18, and another on Miller Avenue across from Justice Middle School. No consideration had been initially given to relocating the YMCA to a downtown location. During a live-televised City Council meeting, Mr. Sutter happened to see on television that the council was discussing the future of the Coliseum building downtown. Hurrying to make the meeting before it adjourned, he didn't even take the time to put on his socks, but slipped on his shoes and headed out the door. He arrived at the meeting in time, and spoke publicly for the first time regarding his vision to relocate the YMCA to the Coliseum site.
The War Memorial Coliseum, built in 1928, was dedicated to those Americans who have fought in all wars. "The Coliseum," as it is commonly called in our community, was the home of the Marion Giants Basketball team from 1928 to 1970 (Fricke, n.d.). The Coliseum was built on the heels of the 1926 boys basketball state championship, and is associated with fond memories of many patrons of the community, both as a memorial to our veterans as well as a sports & entertainment facility. The Coliseum was also the site of the Easter Pageant from 1937 to 2003, except for a few years during World War II. Since 2004, heat and plumbing requirements were cost prohibitive in the unoccupied building. A local church has performed a scaled-down, music-only version of the pageant the last few years. However, due to recurring financial challenges, the Easter Pageant was not performed in 2008 and may not return at all (Wright, 2008).
Mayor Wayne Seybold was in favor of the idea of relocating the YMCA to the Memorial Coliseum, as it would be a major construction project in Downtown Marion and would help to revitalize the downtown area. The Mayor also has a vision of utilizing the Coliseum not only as the gymnasium for the YMCA, but also as a community center in which organizations within and outside of Grant County could gather & meet. This could provide economic stimulus for the community as well as an additional source of revenue for the YMCA.
The Coliseum, which was owned by the City of Marion, was sold to the YMCA for $2 by the City of Marion. After continued fundraising efforts more discussion and consideration by the YMCA Board of Directors, a final decision (with a unanimous vote) was made to proceed with construction at the Memorial Coliseum site. Regarding the third street project, Mr. Sutter, very much involved in the project, has described the Third street project as "a tragic story, but educational" (Sutter, 2008). Not wanting to see the same thing happen again, the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. James Sutter has played a key role in the success of the new facility, located at the address of 123 Sutter Way, named in honor of the Sutter family on November 30, 2006. The revitalization of the Coliseum building in the form of a brand new YMCA has been a bright spot in downtown Marion.