Back to the YMCA, then and now | News, Sports, Jobs


For at least the fourth time in my life, I am a member of the YMCA.

This time my health insurance “Silver Sneakers” program pays the bill in order to keep me healthy.

The location of this latest decision to join the Y is the venerable five-story brick building of the Brookville YMCA which opened in 1917 in the heart of downtown. It includes a swimming pool, showers, dining hall, gym, exercise rooms, classrooms and offices.

I found the answer to a perplexity. Why, I wondered, “Silver Sneakers” pay hundreds of dollars for an annual YMCA membership — when I don’t use it often?

“Uh… Mr. Bonavita, we pay per visit, not per year”, was the sugary response from the helpful man who took my inquiring phone call. Makes sense. I used my 16 digit ID number to test out the rooms at the Brookville Y.

“Rooms” is appropriate. The Brookville YMCA has stairs, stairs, and more stairs that connect a weight room (with a few stations attached to machines), a machine-laden weight room (with a few free weights), classrooms to biking and a multitude of rooms for everything from yoga to toddler activities.

In previous years, the YMCAs I joined in DuBois, Warren and Erie were fairly modern layouts, one or two stories at most, with plenty of room. My impression: “Let us entertain you!”

But their forerunner, my first YMCA, Warren’s long-demolished dark brick building in which I learned to swim, play basketball and tinker with weights in the 1940s-1950s, was, if I remember correctly, at four levels. It contained sleeping quarters for transients, green-shaded pool tables, leather chairs and lamps for a reading room – and the pool, weight room, etc.

The Brookville YMCA, although built with this in mind, is more airy, open, and well-lit, no doubt due to renovations.

Look around like I did, I didn’t see groups of stark naked pre-teens rushing between the pool and the locker room.

Yes, naked.

Back in my preteen Stone Age, circa 1950, YMCAs in Warren and other places followed the Greek fitness model that encouraged body pride and nude swimming lessons for tadpoles, minnows, fish, flying fish and, perhaps, sharks. I got to Flying Fish which meant I could more or less dive freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, water and butterfly. I never got to Shark.

What else I got were red marks from being hit with wet towels by older boys and snapping threats aimed at you-know-where. The adult instructors, who wore bathing suits, toed the line at this latter hazing technique, but tolerated fewer bites and red marks as part of the growth. It was another era. Instead of “Let us entertain you” this severe edifice suggested, “Young gentlemen, you’re going to start getting back in shape, right now!” »

Today, the halls and halls of the Brookville YMCA reflect the screams and laughter that are an integral part of the camaraderie of swimming pools, weight rooms, and fitness classes. There is only the tiniest trace, not at all noticeable unless, as I have done, one deliberately sniffs it, of “sneaker water” that damp, musty smell that inevitably emanates around enclosed swimming pools, locker rooms, shower rooms, and weight rooms.

The Brookville YMCA also has another “breath of the past” a walking track suspended above and around the perimeter of his basketball court. The old Warren YMCA was larger, a real running track that also served as a spectator gallery when young men and adult men played in the basketball leagues. The ladies of that time in this town had their own facility, a YWCA, but they would delicately (yes, ladies, you made the crossing!) make their way to the men’s building for carefully chaperoned swimming lessons.

During our recent winter stay in Florida, I “elaborate” (that’s overkill) in a fitness center. The exercise, no matter how light, seemed to make me feel better. So I thought I should try to tighten my fat.

Although now a generational geezer, I still grunt and growl manly when pressing weights or rolling them up. I don’t use the pink women’s 3 or 5 pound dumbbells, but the free weights I use fit the description of “Baby weight.” I have 80-year-old bits of bone. They break easily and often do not heal well. Caution is in order.

So, gym bag in hand, I plan to valiantly enter the YMCA about three times a week and, if all goes well, avoid crawling miserably as I try to get back to my car to Go home.

Oh. It is an intention, not a commitment.

And my sneakers won’t sparkle like in the “Silver Sneakers” program name. They will remain a solid, sensible shade of geezer gray.

Denny Bonavita is a former newspaper editor/publisher in DuBois, Brookville, New Bethlehem and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: [email protected]



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