Finally, YMCA is open

WORTHINGTON --- It was a very long time coming. The Worthington Area YMCA-DeGroot Family Center and City of Worthington Aquatics Center was more than a decade in the making. More than one person thought they'd never see the day. But they did. Fro...

Handing over the key
(Brian Korthals/Daily Globe) YMCA Campaign Co-Chairs Mark Shepherd (center) and Greg DeGroot accept the "key" to the old YMCA at the beginning of the dedication ceremony Saturday afternoon in Worthington

WORTHINGTON --- It was a very long time coming.

The Worthington Area YMCA-DeGroot Family Center and City of Worthington Aquatics Center was more than a decade in the making. More than one person thought they'd never see the day.

But they did. From the very young to the very old, hundreds attended the facility's grand opening on Saturday, many of them clad in red T-shirts that read "I helped open new doors in our community!"

At the ceremony's start, a large, laminated key representing the key to the former YMCA was delivered by the Okabena Bay Area Striders, who had run from the downtown YMCA building.

And as Worthington Area YMCA Executive Director Andy Johnson surveyed the crowd packed into the brand-new gymnasium, his sentiment was simple and heartfelt.


"It makes all the hard work and sleepless nights worth it," he said.

The building will officially open for business at 5:30 a.m. today, exactly one year after ground was broken on the Minnesota West campus.

"Many of you stood on this exact same spot with some white lines on a parking lot when we were trying to give you an idea of what this would be" he told the crowd. "There were days that we came back to staff meetings ready to throw up our hands. It's because of all of you that we got this done."

Johnson --- who received a standing ovation from the crowd and a surprise "housewarming" gift of $100,000 from the DeGroot family --- repeated the message of gratitude of those who had spoken before him.

He thanked his family, friends, the current and past city council, the Minnesota West administration, the USDA, First State Bank, RJM Construction and BKV Architects, the YMCA board of directors, staff and the volunteers who had helped raise $5 million for the center's completion. He gave special thanks to his wife and two children, to former college and current councilman Ron Wood, and to Greg DeGroot and Mark Shepherd, the YMCA Campaign Co-Chairs who he said "gave away every bit of their time," since the project's humble beginnings in 1998.

Finally, he thanked the community. "Congratulations on a job well done Worthington," he said to a response of cheers.

"There are literally hundreds of people that need to be thanked for making this building come to life ... Andy has been working 10 years on this project," Shepherd said, recounting recent conversations with two local folks. "They said I never thought that I would see a building like this come to Worthington. That really put things in perspective for me," he said.

Greg DeGroot, who, along with wife Cindy, was a major benefactor of the project, said he was honored to have been involved.


"You know, I didn't have a favorite color until today, but I'm thinking red looks pretty darn good," he said with a smile."

DeGroot reported the facility was 95 percent paid for, and that Farley's and Sathers had recently increased its contribution by $10,000. "Our slogan used to be 'It's time,' but now its 'We're almost there but not quite,'" he said.

Mayor Alan Oberloh thanked the late Bob Filson and former mayor Bob Demuth.

"I think there are people around the state of Minnesota who are going to envy Worthington and this facility," he said.

MCA Board President Daniel Greve admitted he had his doubts when he visited the construction site two weeks earlier.

"But hey, everybody got it done and we delivered it on time and on budget," he said, joking that the YMCA almost had stock in Johnson & Johnson for all the Band-aid fixes they had used on the former building while anticipating the new facility. Now, he said, "We'll look forward to utilizing this facility for the next 50 or 60 or 100 years."

Also speaking were Minnesota West Community and Technical College President Richard Shrubb, USDA Rural Development State Director of Minnesota Colleen Landkamer, Minnesota Sen. Jim Vickerman and Rep. Rod Hamilton.

Finally, in what may have been the best-attended ribbon cutting ceremony in recent history, the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors stretched a long, blue ribbon in front of Johnson, who cut it with large scissors and no small amount of excitement from the crowd. Afterward, the facility's countless benefactors gathered for a group picture as the Spirit of Trojan Marching Band played "YMCA," and a dancing Paycheck led them in celebration.


"You're going to build memories here you'll never forget," emcee Chad Cummings told the children at the conclusion of the ceremony, "You're going to learn all kinds of things in this building."

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