Y’s new boss is finding his fit

Published 12:15 am Saturday, March 10, 2012

Casey Custer is not accustomed to wearing a coat and tie, preferring instead the khaki-and-polo look.

So it was no shock that he looked a bit out of place wearing a sports coat over a YMCA polo shirt. But, as he explained, he had an executive board meeting and needed the jacket.

After slightly more than two months as head of the Vicksburg Y, Custer is learning, and adjusting, to his role as executive director.

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“It’s challenging work but it is rewarding,” said Custer, 35. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity. Just like Herb Wilkinson did for all those years, I am surrounding myself with great people.”

Custer took over the position on Jan. 2 from Wilkinson, who retired after nearly 50 years as executive director of the Vicksburg Y.

“Casey had the best teacher in the world,” said board member Ken Rector. “It’s a real advantage because they worked together for so long. He had the benefit of working with Herb to get the knowledge and experience needed. That meant a lot to us on the board in making a decision.”

Custer has spent the last 12 years working in various capacities at the Vicksburg Y, but his history with the organization dates to when he was a child growing up in Louisiana.

Custer was born in Lake Providence and lived in and around the Louisiana town through elementary school. His aunt and uncle, Albert and Geneva McKay, were the original caretakers at the Y’s Warner-Tully Camp in Claiborne County. As a small child, the family would have family reunions at Warner-Tully. At 7 years old, he became a camper — his first registration form is framed in his office. When he got old enough, he became a camp counselor.

He graduated from Brandon High School in 1994, then graduated from Mississippi State in 1999 before moving to St. Louis for graduate classes. When the program director’s job opened in Vicksburg, he jumped.

“The rest is history,” Custer said.

He has been employed by the Y since, advancing from program director to assistant director. One of his newest duties was transforming in the summer from assistant director to Big Chief.

The Big Chief runs Warner-Tully Camp. He is the sheriff. Custer will hand over the reins to Kollin Falk for this summer.

Big chief is a role Custer admits he will miss.

“Warner-Tully is such a big part of who I am, and I still have such a passion for it,” Custer said. “There are still some kids who call me the big chief just like John Guider was my big chief.”

He quickly added that he will be a presence — “to catch a few poisonous snakes” — during camp week.

Landy Teller, a Vicksburg attorney and board member, said, “Casey has done wonders for the Warner-Tully Camp.”

“We are very high on Casey taking over,” board member Pete Stone said. “He is a fine young man who has been here for more than 10 years under Herb’s tutelage, and that is the biggest reason we made the decision. A lot of people from the Y USA would love to come to Vicksburg.”

Kollin Falk will be the new big chief at Warner-Tully, while Custer spends more time with the public and overseeing the East Clay Street facility.

One of the first noticeable changes that went up in late January — it actually was planned when Wilkinson was still in office — is a lighted marquee. It’s a cosmetic change, one Custer hopes will attract even more business.

“Herb felt a while back that we needed to be a bigger presence on Clay Street,” Custer said. “There are still a lot of people from Vicksburg or are new to the area who do not know that we are back there in the cul-de-sac of YMCA Place. Thanks to a very nice gift by the Y’s Men’s Club, we were able to get the sign up.

“It will be a strong marketing tool for us and will say, ‘hey, there is a YMCA in Vicksburg.’”

Eventually, he will get used to board meetings and Y’s Men’s functions. He’s already wearing — on some days — shirts that button all the way down, and the sport coat is beginning to look like a normal fit.

Soon, Custer will settle in as a different big chief at the Y.