Tom's first memories of the YMCA began many years ago at Camp WATYMCA, a residential campground on the banks of Lake Kampeska in the small community of Watertown, South Dakota. The week of summer camp at Camp WATYMCA was an eagerly anticipated highlight on the calendars of local youth. But, in the mid to late 1930's, with the Great Depression in full swing, many families found themselves unable to afford to send their sons to camp. Tom was one of these boys.
"Although many of us could not come up with the camp fee, the Y took care of us anyhow with what they called 'free camp,'" Tom recalls, explaining with gratitude the resourcefulness of the camp director, a man who went by the name of Christy. "Each of us would bring a sack of whatever food we could spare to contribute to the food stock," he says. "Christy would volunteer his time, and two ladies would volunteer to run the kitchen and feed us using the contributed food."
The memories Tom made at Camp WATYMCA would prove to last a lifetime. He describes in vivid detail the excitement of waiting for the local trucking company to send the stake truck that would haul the boys off to the lake, the swimming lessons, and coveted cabins, the ghost stories and songs around the campfire. In the midst of a difficult period of time, Camp WATYMCA allowed the boys to forget their troubles and enjoy their childhoods.. It left Tom with pleasant associations of the YMCA, associations that would continue to develop throughout the many Y experiences woven into his life story.
When his successful newspaper sales qualified him for a special trip as a teenager, he stayed overnight at the Minneapolis YMCA. When he and his wife traveled to Asia as part of their volunteer work with international students, they were hosted by a family who was heavily involved in the Asian YMCA movement. And when he was invited to the traditional Korean wedding of one of the students he'd hosted in his own home, he was surprised that part of the ceremony involved inviting each of the wedding participants to get up and sing a song. He recalls that situation with particular fondness, "The only song I could think of was 'Hail Camp WATYMCA,' as taught to me by Christy many years back at the Watertown Camp YMCA."
When the Haselwood Family YMCA opened, he immediately joined and has remained a member ever since. After his wife passed away, he explains that it became not only a good location for exercise but also a source of relationship and support from newfound friends in his age group. "When you live alone, this becomes very important, " says Tom. As he experienced even as a child, when a seemingly impossible need presented, "the Y took care of me anyhow."