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Gratif Y ing career: Klumper calls it quits after 37 years with YMCA

Wayne Klumper sits in his office, which has become legendary for its accumulation of memorabilia.1 / 2
Wayne Klumper2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- As Wayne Klumper sits in his office, the sounds of pounding feet and bouncing basketballs overhead reverberate clearly through the ceiling. But Wayne isn't fazed or even distracted by the noise.

"I don't even hear it," he said, looking upward. "If there was a real game going on up there, it'd be really loud."

Things will soon be much quieter for Wayne, who will end his YMCA career on Aug. 31 after 32 years as program director at the Worthington Area YMCA and 37 total years working for the YMCA organization.

"I'm totally amazed at how fast those 37 years have gone by," he said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Since I was 22 years old, the YMCA is the only W-2 wages I've had. It's the only job I've ever had."

Wayne can trace his connection with the YMCA back to boyhood.

"George Zeise (then YMCA director) and Milt Osterberg helped me get a sustaining membership when I was 12 years old," he recalled fondly. "Now, 47 years later, I'm still a card-carrying member. I was definitely influenced to be a YMCA worker by George Zeise. I patterned myself after him as far as being a good YMCA worker."

The son of John and Myrt Klumper of Worthington, Wayne graduated in 1968 from Worthington High School, attended Worthington Junior College for two years and finished his degree in 1972 at Mankato State University.

"There were not a lot of teaching jobs at the time, so I went into the YMCA," Wayne said.

After a few months at the Worthington Y, Wayne heard about an opening for a program director at the YMCA in Mitchell, S.D.

"I was in Mitchell applying for the job when George McGovern showed up to vote for himself" in the presidential election of 1972, Wayne recalled. "I started out there as program director but became the executive director in January of '73."

During his time in Mitchell, Wayne met future wife Dea and conducted a capital campaign to build a new YMCA facility. By 1977, however, he was ready for a change.

"I just ran out of gas," he explained. "Plus, we had the opportunity to move to my grandma's farm, so we moved back to Worthington. For the first six months, I thought it was the worst thing I'd ever done."

Career-wise, returning to Worthington was a step backward for Wayne, who became the YMCA program director.

"I've been in charge of programs, registrations, scheduling, finding people to work the programs, recruiting coaches, volunteers, overseeing the programs, trying to maintain a budget, a lot of public relations work," he detailed about the job description. "There was a time when I was in charge of all the pool stuff. And there were fundraisers, selling memberships, cleaning up when the kids spill. In a Y this size, what you do is diversified. The biggest program I had a hand in starting that is still going on is the Big Brother-Big Sister program, now called Y-Pals."

Another program that is near and dear to Wayne's heart is aquanastics, initially started as a way to fill space in the pool. He taught his last class in May.

"Aquanastics would be a highlight of my Y career," he said sincerely. "Over 30 years, it became way more than a class. They threw baby showers for me, we lost members of the class, members lost spouses -- it became a family that lasted 30 years. The last time I did my aquanastics class was my saddest day."

Despite opportunities to change it, Wayne's job title has stayed the same since he returned in 1977.

"I always had the goal of being executive director, and I was offered it in 1988, but I had so much going on, and I enjoyed what I was doing," he recalled. "Instead, I became endowment director at that time, too. I took that on. And off and on I got to be director -- every time one of them left, I got to be the director (in the interim)."

In more than three decades at the Worthington Y, Klumper has seen thousands of kids pass through its doors, and he hopes that in some small way they have been influenced, as he was, by the experience. He's also taken notes of how things have changed in regard to programming.

"Personal fitness has replaced leagues," he reflected. "It used to be that we had 104 adult softball teams; now we have 13. I can remember when people stood in line to get a racquetball court. Now you can pretty much show up at any time and get one. Now working out is more of an individual thing. You don't need a partner, you don't need a team. The biggest change is personal training."

For Wayne, one of the biggest benefits of his YMCA career was being able to spend time with his children in his workplace. Wayne and Dea's three children, Dan, Tresse and Joe, all spent a lot of time at the Y, and their interest and success in athletics in high school and college was undoubtedly shaped by that environment.

"The kids would come to work with me on many occasions," Wayne said. "They grew up here. I really think the Y played a big part in preparing them to be good students and good athletes. In that way, we avoided putting them in child care, and it helped me to have a good relationship with them."

Now Dan and his wife, Abby, have two daughters, Olivia, 6, and Isabel, 4, and live in Brandon, S.D. Tresse and husband Joe Evenson are both employed at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., while Joe is a student at Augustana, playing his last year of football.

Having more time -- particularly on weekends and evenings -- to spend with his kids and grandkids -- is one of the perks Wayne looks forward to in retirement. But Wayne also has a second occupation to keep him busy.

"For 30 years, I've also been farming," he explained. "We were given the opportunity to live on Grandma's farm, so I thought I might as well farm it. It's been quite the combination. Talk about a contrast in lifestyle. At the YMCA, there are always people around, and there are committees and boards and other staff members to talk things over with, make decisions. On the farm, it's just me and the dog, and all the decisions are just me."

Since 1985, the Klumpers have raised and marketed lambs, and he also does crop rotation of corn and beans.

"We had some cows, pigs, but found the lambs fit into the operation the best. ... I think I could deliver a baby if I had to, I've delivered so many lambs."

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the Klumper farm will change locations, moving more than a mile down the road to accommodate the Minnesota 60 expansion to four lanes.

"We're going to build a new house, leave our legacy in a new place," Wayne said, emphasizing the positive about a move that will still be emotionally difficult. "Almost every huge event in my life has taken place in that house."

First Wayne must deal with leaving the employ of the YMCA. He deliberately chose to depart before the move to a new facility on the Minnesota West campus sometime this fall.

"I'm probably going to enjoy it more so, being there as a participant," he said. "In a town like Worthington, we're fortunate to have this new YMCA, to be the legacy of another 50 years of solid programming space."

On Aug. 31, Klumper will remove from his office walls years of accumulated memorabilia from his Y career -- pictures of sports teams, drawings of football helmets created by son Joe, newspaper clippings, the numbers from the 12 King Turkey Day 10K races in which he ran, including 1994, when he suffered life-threatening heat stroke.

"My office is somewhat of a legend," Wayne said with a smile as he surveyed the organized chaos. "But what I will miss the most is all the thousands of nice people I've met, the staff, the interaction with people, getting to see somebody make their first basket, jumping off the diving board for the first time, all the supporters. ... It will be strange to wake up Sept. 1 and not have a YMCA job. I'm sad it's over, but I'm happy because it's a chance for a new chapter."

A retirement party for Wayne Klumper will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Prairie View Golf Links. A brief presentation will be at 6:15 p.m. People planning to attend are asked to RSVP by calling 376-6197 by Tuesday.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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