YMCA closes doors of old facility

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 19, 2002

Curtis Watkins prepares for his last workout in one of the weight rooms at the downtown YMCA Friday. (The Vicksburg Post/C. Todd Sherman)

[08/17/02]After 79 years of service to the city of Vicksburg, the downtown YMCA, located at 821 Clay St., shut its doors at 8 Friday night.

“I know we need a new building,” longtime Y member Dick Palermo said, “but I am going to really miss the old building.”

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The downtown Y was built in 1923 and given to the city of Vicksburg by Fannie Willis Johnson and named in honor of her late husband, Junius Ward Johnson.

Y member F. M. “Easy” Biedenharn said what he remembered most about the building is a special bond it helped formed between he and his grandfather.

“There was an almost secret society of volleyball players and I got to play because my grandfather, Mac Stout, played,” Biedenharn said, “It gave us a special bond to be able to play a sport like that together.”

Palermo said he thought of the building as more of an old friend.

“It became a very secure place for me,” he said.

John Peterson brought a camera on his last workout at the facility.

“This is nostalgic,” Peterson said, “I usually work out of town but I made certain I was back home for this night.”

Herb Wilkinson, general director of the YMCA, said the requirements and standards with associations and life safety codes differ greatly from what was the standard in 1923.

The Clay Street building was sold to Michael Hayes, of Nashville, in April 2000. Hayes plans to convert the building into 27 one-and-two-bedroom apartments for those 55 and older.

While the old Y will always hold special memories for many people, most agree that a new building was needed.

“The new Y is going to be so functional and really efficient for everyone,” Biedenharn said, “It will definitely be a plus for the community.”

Wilkinson said the new Y at 267 YMCA Place, off Clay Street between McAllister’s and McCoy’s Building Supplies, will be a single-level, 32,000 square-feet state-of-the-art facility. It will open to the public on Sept. 3.

The new Y will feature:

8,000 square foot gymnasium, equipped for volleyball and basketball

3,500 square foot cardiovascular center

3,000 square foot meeting room space

Indoor swimming pool

Group exercise room

Dressing rooms/ showers/ sauna

Whirlpool on pool deck

Racquetball court

Childcare center

YMCA central offices

Special needs locker rooms

Palermo said he hopes young kids form a bond with the new Y like he formed with the old one.

“I came to the old Y as a 10-year-old boy,” Palermo said, “I hope this generation kids can have their own stories about the new Y in 80 years.”

Palermo said it didn’t matter which building the Y was located in, as long as it had YMCA receptionist Mary Jane Plett’s smile it would always feel like home.