YMCA kicks off $4 million expansion

Published 6:54 pm Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Vicksburg YMCA kicked off its almost $4 million expansion program Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony in front of its present facility.

“This is a program that began with a question, ‘What is your YMCA story?’ ” director Phillip Doiron told the more than 100 people assembled for the event. “And when you have a YMCA like the one we have in Vicksburg that’s been around since 1923, the answers are as varied as the 96 years we’ve been around.

“For some people, it’s a place to work out; for some people, it’s a source for child care; for some people, it’s Warner-Tully Camp; and for others it’s youth sports. Many different reasons, but one YMCA.”

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When Fannie Johnson in 1923 gave the money to build the original YMCA to honor the memory of her husband, Junius Ward Johnson, Doiron said, “Not even she could imagine where we would be 96 years later.”

F.M. “Easy” Biedenharn, president of the YMCA’s Board of Directors, discussed how the board has improved on Johnson’s legacy over the years, adding, “Over time, we made changes when we needed to and we added when we needed to, and that’s where we are today.”

Biedenharn discussed the development of the events leading to Wednesday’s ceremony crediting the planning committee that was appointed to examine the plans for expansion.

He said the planning committee solicited opinions and information from board members and trustees, members, “and the community at large. There are a lot of people to thank.”

YMCA officials in 2018 announced plans to raise $3 million to expand and upgrade the present facility off East Clay Street.

At the time of the announcement, officials said the upgrade included building a half-gym for basketball and pickle ball, an area for children’s programs, and a multipurpose areas for programs and expanding the fitness area. There was also a “future plan” option to build a new gym if money is available.

Ken Rector, who has headed the planning for the expansion, told the crowd the future is now.

“There is going to be a full-size gymnasium. “We will have two gyms going, God willing,” he said. “When we first started talking about this, we had in mind a half gym.

“We did not think we would have the money for a full gym, but thanks to your generosity, and thanks to the fact that we raised almost $4 million out of this community, we are going to have a full gym. We’re very fortunate.”

Rector said the expansion will include a facility that will help the Y accommodate more children for its day camp programs and other activities.

“We hope that as a result of that that no child who wants to attend our summer day camp or holiday camp won’t be turned away in the future,” he said, adding the YMCA will also have a new wellness center to accommodate more people. The new wellness center, he said, would be built on the south end of the present facility.

“We’re excited about it; (but) we’ve got a long way to go. We’re on a 14-month schedule, so you’ll see some activity out here in the very near future.”

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. called the ceremony “the greatest day that Vicksburg can ever celebrate. It is the greatest day that the YMCA can ever celebrate. You embrace our city in a way nobody else can because you have family here.

“The best way to measure any community, any state, any nation is that you watch how they treat the elderly and how they begin the future of our children,” Flaggs said.

“YMCA, you have fulfilled your mission to me and to so many others. I ask that you continue and embrace the body spiritual and the minds of the fitness of the minds of the citizens of Vicksburg.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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