YMCA marks 135 years in Fargo-Moorhead

North Dakota wasn't even a state when the Fargo metro's first YMCA was organized. Now, the Y is getting ready this week to celebrate 135 years of service in this community.

Y night with snow.jpg
A picture of the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties - Fercho Branch from the 1960s.
Contributed / YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties
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FARGO — A lot has changed since those early days at the YMCA Of Cass & Clay Counties Fercho Branch. Back in 1903, the metro raised $50,000 to build the first big YMCA building at the corner of Roberts and First Avenue North.

Longtime members like Tom Dawson remember the excitement of past weekends there.

"So every Friday and Saturday night we had dances here. So we had high tack on Friday night, we had canteen on Saturday night. Every weekend, two dances," Dawson said.

He is part of five generations of Dawsons who have guided and used the Y. Dawson provided a classic black-and-white photo that told a story.

"That's my father and that's my grandfather," Dawson said while showing the old photo. "And so, I'm selling my grandfather salt water taffy, because that's how we got to camp."


Back in the day, just a handful of people worked at the Y. Today it employs more than 700 people. Membership continues to grow as well.

More from WDAY's Kevin Wallevand
It started with a few bank employees who wanted to help. Some 15 years later, Bell Bank's Pay It Forward program has led to employees donating $25 million to groups and individuals.

"(T)his is a community. That's what this is about, right? So, we have this thing called the Y, and it's the one place in the community where everybody comes together," said Steve Smith, executive director of YMCA of Cass-Clay.

As the Y celebrates 135 years this week, some may remember the thousands who have spent memorable summers at YMCA's Camp Cormorant, or the expansion of Y programs including a much-needed child care system.

"(W)e're at a couple thousand kids that we care for every single day," Smith said.

One of the long haulers at the Y is its iconic sign from 1962. The sign was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in March, and it will be rededicated on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 3:30 p.m. as part of the Y's 135th anniversary celebration.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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