Surviving life's challenges one lap at a time
By Noah Brown
Senior Aquatics Director
Morgan Family YMCA
Every building has its fixtures. After 40 years, a building is apt to have fixtures that are less dazzling than they once were: a pesky leak in the hallway that seems to come back every winter or a sticky lock on an office door. But after the passage of time, there are apt to be fixtures of another kind – familiar faces that grace us with their presence on a regular basis. These people create a kind of larger-than-life atmosphere that transcends beyond four walls and a roof.
At the Morgan Family YMCA, David Hirst is one such fixture. Most days for the past 40 years, Dave starts his day at the Morgan Y. For Dave, walking into the building at 1002 South Pearl Street is more than part of his daily routine. He attributes the YMCA as the key to his longevity and quality of life.
To understand the depth of Dave’s relationship with the YMCA, we have to step back to July of 1977 – two months prior to the opening of what was then the Tacoma Family YMCA. While on a flight to Alaska, Dave began suffering what he thought was a severe case of air sickness. By 3am the next morning, Dave was in route to a Canadian hospital in British Columbia. There, doctors diagnosed Dave with an Arterial Venus Malformation which had caused a brain hemorrhage. Dave underwent surgery, and over the course of the next two months, he experienced a grueling recovery that included acclimating himself to his new reality. Dave has a recollection from this time where he distinctly remembers watching the seconds wash by on a digital clock near his hospital bedside. “For me, every second that passed was like a minute in my life. Every minute was like an hour.”
Through renewed faith and a dedicated positive outlook, Dave remained committed to adapting to this new and often challenging reality. Two months after waking from surgery and finding that he had no movement or feeling on the right side of his body, he had regained enough strength to walk out of the hospital and drive himself home. He had made tremendous progress, but Dave wanted more. One of his first stops after coming home, was the membership office of the Tacoma Family YMCA (now the Morgan Family YMCA) in September of 1977.
At first Dave tried a variety of activities, but it quickly became apparent that the Don C. Pilkey Aquatics Center was his salvation. He began to swim. At first he managed one to two laps per day, but as is true to Dave’s character, he persevered. By May of 1978, he was completing a daily mile in a respectable time of 27 minutes. For Dave, who learned to swim at his childhood YMCA in Council Bluffs Iowa, this was a symbolic re-acquaintance for what has become a life-long relationship with the Y.
Over the past 40 years, Dave has endured multiple surgeries on his brain, back, hips, knees and heart. Each time, the pools at the Morgan Family YMCA have served as a constant in his life – a way to bring himself back from whatever obstacles or challenges arise. When asked what he hopes to see for the next 40 years of the YMCA in Tacoma, he replies with a dreamy smile and a twinkle in his eye. “John Morgan wanted to build a Y that would challenge the community. I hope that we continue with that mission.”
September 15, 2017
Morgan Family YMCA
Join decades of Morgan Family YMCA staff and members for tours of the facility as we journey through years of impact and a 45-minute program filled with generations of memorable Morgan YMCA moments shared by members, staff and volunteers.
On September 12, 1977, the Morgan Family YMCA opened its doors to the North Tacoma community. From a core group of 4,200 members to today's 16,358 members, this Y has been a pillar in our community and we invite you to join us for a night of celebration. Bring family and friends to celebrate with us over hors d'oeuvres and drinks while we take a look back at 40 years of impact and share decades of memories with generations of Y families.
To RSVP please contact Tauna Shoemaker.
Morgan 40th: Celebrating John Morgan
By Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
It was July 12, 2014, three weeks before John Morgan’s 90th birthday, when a group of friends, family members, former staff, and volunteers got together to celebrate his birthday. He was a hero to many of us in the Y movement and was well-respected throughout the community, not only for his vision, but also for his ability to get others to share in the vision of what the Y could be for the greater good. It was fitting that, at his birthday celebration, John would have the last word, sharing a story of impact. It was no surprise his story spoke to the work of the Y, and for him to be able to step up to address the group that day seemed almost miraculous. He was in great pain towards the end of his life, but it was as if he was called one last time to share the mission he dedicated his life’s work to deliver.
The story he told was about the annual father/son canoe trip to Bowron Lake in British Columbia; it was a Y tradition John started. On this particular trip, one of the fathers was struggling, constantly complaining about the conditions they were experiencing rather than focusing on the time he had with his son. One night, John awoke to a scream. The father had stuck an axe into his foot while attempting to chop wood for the fire. John jumped into action, wrapped his foot, got him into a canoe, paddled to the nearest farmhouse, and then traveled with him two hours by truck to get medical care.
Months after the trip, the father appeared in John’s office wanting to share how much the trip meant to him and his son. The father reflected on how he had been so fixated on his discomfort that he almost missed out on valuable time with his son. He wanted John to know that he now realized what a gift the trip was for them both.
When I worked under John, I always loved listening to him speak; he was passionate about the mission of the Y and here, during his last opportunity to be with people, he wanted his last words to be about the power of the Y in people’s lives. John passed away on his 90th birthday, August 1, 2014.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work for John Morgan. He instilled in me the thrill for the work of the Y and the impact it has on a community. I first came to Tacoma six years after the Morgan Family YMCA opened and I was instantly drawn in by the energy and excitement of the members there. In those early days, I had the opportunity to hear from many volunteers and community leaders who were proud of this new branch and how it was meeting the needs of the people and families of Tacoma.
It was inspiring to learn about how those community leaders arrived at the decision to hire John Morgan in 1969. People like George Weyerhaeuser and Bill Phillips thoughtfully determined that their city needed a place for people to gather and healthfully raise their families. They decided that the Y would be that place, and John Morgan would be the person to make it happen.
When John arrived in Tacoma in 1969, the YMCA was located at 714 South Market Street in the downtown area. It was a 70-year-old, multi-level building with approximately 600 members. Over the next eight years, John worked to convince people that a new, 102,000-square-foot building on South Pearl Street should be built to serve as the new hub for the Tacoma community. At the time, there were very few who believed the investment would prove to be a good one – even the bank believed it was money lost – but it was successful beyond expectations. Fifteen thousand people joined within the first six months and staff had to institute a waiting list to handle the demand. The community embraced the new Y wholeheartedly. It was a new dawn for the YMCA in Pierce County.
On September 15, 2017, the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Morgan Family YMCA and commemorate the legacy that John Morgan instilled in our Y and in our community.
I was fortunate to spend some time with John toward the end of his life, visiting the branches throughout our association. He was thrilled to see how our association had grown from those 600 members on South Market Street. For him, the Y mission never changed. On one occasion, a few years before he passed away, we were walking through the Morgan YMCA gym and stopped to watch teens playing basketball – he loved seeing youth in action in the Y. As we watched, one teen started getting loud and using inappropriate language. I was about to step in when a man ran onto the court and got the teen’s attention with some stern words of discipline. I was impressed with what I saw, and when I looked a second time at who the man was, I realized it was someone from my past. He was a teen I once needed to discipline – on more than one occasion. He was a troubled kid from a broken home. He often acted out on the basketball court, and here he was correcting his son on the basketball court some 30 years later.
I shared the story with John and he smiled, understanding that the beauty of the Y lies in what members learn and pass on to their children. He saw it over and over again throughout his time in the Y – when parents and children spend valuable time together, investing in their relationship, the result is a strengthened family.
I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from John Morgan, and now to celebrate his life with the 40th anniversary of the branch that carries his name. Thank you, John, for your commitment to our Y and our community. You left behind a legacy, which we continue to carry forward for the betterment of this community.
Jessica, far left, and daughter Jordyn Rogers, with Emma and Jaime Roetcisoender backstage at the Pantages Theater this summer. It was the first formal recital for Jordyn and Emma.
By Craig Craker
Morgan Family YMCA
Marketing and Communications Director
When the curtains went up on Sunday, June 4, at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma, Paula Rogers found herself in a strange spot: in a chair watching a dance recital.
Despite attending countless recitals over the years, Rogers had never actually sat down to watch one. She always was backstage helping with dancers’ hair, costumes and any other volunteer work needed.
This time, though, she was enjoying the show, watching her granddaughter, Jordyn Rogers, perform in her first formal recital.
“It was very different,” Paula said. “I got a little impatient, like I should be doing something – like I should be tucking in bows or putting shoes on.”
To call the Rogers’s involvement at Morgan Family YMCA a family affair would be an understatement.
Four generations of the Rogers family have been involved, from volunteering to dancing to driving folks around to just supporting the Arts Directors.
Great-grandma Carrie, grandma Paula, mom Jessica and daughter Jordyn all have been involved intimately with the dance program.
Paula Rogers, left, and Debbie Fortescue watched their granddaughters perform.
Great-grandfather Phil, who also attended every dance recital Jessica was involved in, was on the board that helped Morgan get built in 1977 and volunteered extensively during lunch breaks and after work. Carrie also was very involved as a member and a volunteer. They helped instill the call to serve in their children and grandchildren, as well as showcased everything the YMCA had to offer.
“It was just a big part of our life for our kids when they were growing up,” Paula said. “I felt they were safe there – they loved their classes. They would not have had the opportunity to do those things if we hadn’t had the Y because we wouldn’t have able to afford to pay for private dance or swim classes.”
Jessica, along with her sister Alison, was one of the first children to enter the Morgan dance classes when then Dance Coordinator Lynn Wilmot-Stenehjem launched them in 1989. Brother Andy was very involved in the gymnastics program.
“The YMCA was my childhood,” Jessica Rogers said. “I lived there with my family. We ate our meals there in between classes. When I got older and chose what sport I wanted to continue, I chose dance and that is where my close relationships were and it encouraged me to do community involvement.”
Jessica Rogers and Jaime Roetcisoender in 1990.
Jessica, who was one of the best dancers Morgan had to offer during her time in Dance Company, volunteered at this year’s recital, following in her mother’s footsteps.
“It’s been a little nostalgic,” Jessica said. “It’s different being on the parent end of it rather than the dancer end of it. You see a bit more of what goes into the program and the volunteers and the importance of the amount of volunteers and just how it runs so smoothly.”
Volunteers like Carrie, Paula and Jessica are what helps the Y run and helps grow programs like dance. What started as just 50 kids in the late 1980s is now 850 children in the Morgan dance program, with 4,000 people participating in arts across the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties.
“Jessica was one of those students – even at 5 years old – she was so focused on what she was doing,” Lynn said. “She was the one making sure the other 5 year olds would get in line, but not in a bossy way. She was the dancer who knew all the choreography; she was such a smart dancer.”
Jessica eventually outgrew the program but remained involved by teaching classes even when she was hired as an elementary teacher at a local school.
Her YMCA experience came full circle when Lynn reached out to her about an opportunity to be involved in the YMCA’s Center of Community Impact, Y Arts Outreach program at Blix Elementary School in Tacoma.
“It was almost like it was meant to be,” Jessica said. “And I felt like saying no wasn’t an option, nor was it one I would have taken.”
Just like her mom and grandmother before her.
Jessica Rogers, left, and Jaime Roetcisoender in 2005 at one of their final recitals with Morgan Family YMCA.