‘Y?’ Board member exercises its historic journey

By on November 16, 2016
Volleyball players strive for a win at the Adamstown YMCA. They are playing in what was a former church sanctuary. The former choir loft serves as the exercise room. Photo courtesy Ralph Vedder

Volleyball players strive for a win at the Adamstown YMCA. They are playing in what was a former church sanctuary. The former choir loft serves as the exercise room. Photo courtesy Ralph Vedder

Where do you go to have family fun and get exercise? Why don’t you lift weights in a choir loft? Say what?

In 1938, George Bollman, of the Bollman Hat Co., and other Adamstown citizens formed the 26 -member Adamstown Athlethic Club.

In 1944, after meeting and playing in a smaller building, the growing athletic club, with the help of the community, bought the Evangelical Church building on Main Street. The arched and pointed church sanctuary windows and choir loft presented a unique backdrop for fun and sports.

Sermons, singing, and quiet prayers in church were replaced by the colliding of bowling pins in two new basement bowling alleys. Pool tables, ping pong, darts, quoits, checkers, and cards were a few of the many opportunities for fun at the re purposed building. The former choir loft became the future spot for free weights.

Fast forward to 1956 when the Adamstown Athletic Club, now a recreation facility, was in need of a new direction.

Led by Kenny Hopkins, a Bollman president, the athletic association members and leaders teamed up with the Reading YMCA and formed an independent, but affiliated YMCA.

The “Biggest, Little YMCA in the World” was now in Adamstown!

John Boehringer Jr., of Boehringer’s Ice Cream family, touted the value to the community of a place where “me, my children, and my children’s children” can have “a real recreation center here in Adamstown.”

The new YMCA was a hub of community activity. One area in the building also served as a storage area for Bollman Hat Co. wool.

The church sanctuary area was ultimately converted to a gym for exercise, basketball, and volleyball. Over the years the building provided space for the Adamstown Library, women’s club, pre-school gym, round and square dancing, family fun nights, hobby groups, Girl and Boy Scout activities and senior citizen groups to name a few community functions. A center of this importance to the community needed to be run by an energetic community-oriented person committed to Christian values and the tenets of the YMCA.

In 1968, James Leisey of Adamstown was appointed program director later becoming executive director of the new and growing Adamstown YMCA. Jim lived on Main Street directly across from his full time job at Bollman’s and a couple of steps down the street from the YMCA. His “day job” blended seamlessly into his activities at the YMCA while being supported 100 percent by his loving wife, Dolores. The Y was as much a home to him as was his house.

Jim Leisey’s tenure at the YMCA was punctuated with many high points. In 1968 a volleyball program was started. By 1970 as many as 95 local teams, including an Adamstown Women’s team, were actively playing at the Y. In 1978, Adamstown’s hard working, talented team, captained by Neal Reinhold, won the Pennsylvania State Class B, USVBA championship.

Jim helped to develop a wider vision beyond Adamstown.

YMCA management at Camp Conrad Weiser introduced Jim to a visiting YMCA official from Hanover, Germany. Between the two people, the nucleus of a sports exchange program was formed. The Hanover YMCA volley ball team visited Adamstown in 1987, 1991, and 1997. The German team members stayed at homes of host families around Adamstown. The Adamstown volleyball team visited Germany each of the following years. Some of the friendships that developed still exist today.

In 2007 Jim retired after 40 years of service to the YMCA and now spends precious relaxing moments at home with his wife. Adamstown will always be grateful for the many hours and personal effort contributed by people like Jim.

The Adamstown YMCA remained an affiliate for many years, ultimately becoming an official branch of the YMCA of Reading and Berks County. This enabled Adamstown to avail itself of the many support functions available in the larger organization. Also, the community pulled together and almost doubled the size of the YMCA building in 2003 by adding a new gymnasium and upgrading the facility including air conditioning. The church sanctuary previously used as a gym, basketball and volleyball court now became an integrated exercise area and the free weights were moved down out of the choir loft.

The year 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of our community members working together under the YMCA banner.

Our branch is now headed by Alyssa Raven, branch executive director with key support by Justin Baas, program coordinator, and various local employees and volunteers.

Volleyball is still played, but to a much lesser extent than previously. Basketball has become a larger, growing program, especially for younger children. Children’s programs both before and after school are very active along with a range of personal wellness programs for adults. These programs serve a range of ages from preschool to seniors.

In 2016, for the first time, the YMCA took over management of the Adamstown Borough pool’s summer program. Membership response was positive and opens possibilities for future years.

Ralph Vedder is a board member of the Adamstown branch of the YMCA.


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