Locals began enjoying YMCA 100 years ago

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Even though the YMCA has only been serving the Cassville area for the last three years, the organization first offered services in Barry County in the early 1900s. A Railroad YMCA was located in Monett from 1900 to 1929.

During the early 1900s, the YMCA also served military personnel across the United States. Gordon Brown, Monett and Cassville Area YMCA executive director, recently discovered a letter that was published in the Dec. 8, 1917, edition of the Cassville Democrat, which includes information on services that were provided at Camp Doniphan near Wichita, Kan.

"We hear the bugle at 5:45 in the morning and that means we must be up, dressed and lined up in front of our tents in 15 minutes," wrote Clayborne Bowman and Ernest Brock, who were stationed at Camp Doniphan in 1917. "We get about 20 minutes double time and then our breakfast. At 7:30 a.m., we march to the drill ground and get 30 minutes physical exercise that brings the kinks out of a man's back."

The letter explains that the soldiers participate in company drills until noon and lunch is served at 1:30 p.m. After the meal, the men are required to march and perform drills until 4 p.m.

"We then go to the YMCA where we get our stationary, read good books and listen to fine music," wrote Bowman and Brock. "We also have Sunday school at the Y and preaching on Sunday nights."

According to the YMCA website, the organization began serving Americans in 1851. During the Civil War, the YMCA distributed one million Bibles to fighting men, and from that point forward, the organization was committed to working with soldiers through the Armed Services YMCAs.

The organization, which started as a place for Bible studies, meetings and as a host for local libraries, began offering Americans recreational facilities in the 1880s.

At that time, the organization also started offering Railroad YMCAs for railroad workers who needed a place to stay during stops. The facilities provided sleeping quarters, hot baths, reading rooms and Sabbath services.

In the early 1990s, the YMCA operated numerous military canteens for members of the Armed Forces. The organization raised $235 million to operate the canteens and paid nearly 26,000 workers to run the post exchanges.

"The YMCA played a big role in services to soldiers during the first World War," said Brown. "This included 1,500 canteens for personal supplies and 4,000 YMCA huts for recreation and Bible studies."

During World War I, the YMCA conducted 90 percent of the welfare work among American forces, ministered to more than 19 million soldiers and extended services to over five million prisoners of war, said Brown.

"The YMCA continues this commitment with the Armed Services YMCA with 16 branches and 19 affiliate locations across the U.S.," said Brown. "Through them, our YMCA and hundreds of others provide free membership to the families of deployed soldiers."

The Cassville Family YMCA began administering recreational programs in Cassville in September of 2005 and opened to membership in March of 2007. The current Monett YMCA opened with programs in January of 2004 and began accepting memberships in March of 2004.

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