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YMCA stretches beyond fitness

Red Wing YMCA members and staff said they appreciate the sense of community found at the health facility. Pictured, from left, are: Jerry Halvorson, Sarah Fox, Brittany Hagen, Lynne Reigle, Dan Ferezan, Ellen Hutchinson, Emily Hadler, Mary Lockwood, Holly Hanson, Martha Harris, Virgil Thoner and Anne Wildenborg. (Photo by Samantha Bengs)

For the third consecutive year, the Red Wing YMCA was voted the Beauty, Health & Wellness Business of the Year by Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce members.

YMCA staff, led by Executive Director Mike Melstad, said they are humbled with the recognition, but feel strongly that it is not about them. In the family room overlooking the pool, a group of members and staff gathered to discuss the role the Y plays in their lives.

"Joining the Y was first thing I did when I moved to the area," said Emily Hadler, a YMCA member-turned-group fitness instructor. "The community feel was amazing and so welcoming. It made me fall in love with this place and fall in love with group fitness."

While the dozen voices could have continued discussions well past a morning coffee break, their love for the health facility was unmistakably evident.

For Sarah Fox, a member and group instructor like Hadler, the benefits of the health facility reach much further than the physical fitness.

"It's our Y family here," Fox said. "There are a lot of things that go on in people's lives in and outside of these walls. We are all here for each other and supporting each other through it all."

"It" was ovarian cancer for longtime instructor Ellen Hutchinson.

"My classes rallied around me when I was diagnosed," she said. "It's not working out that makes the Y function, it's the people."

Jerry Halvorson has been a YMCA member since the 1970s. A handball legend, some would say, Halvorson has seen many faces come and go during his years at the facility, but recently received his fair share of helping hands while recovering from a large fire in his home.

"It seemed almost immediate that people from the Y were helping me out," Halvorson said. "Clothes, food, everything — people were so eager to help. For a small town like Red Wing to have a facility and community like this, people do not realize how privileged we are. It's always full of people and full of life."

Joining the Red Wing YMCA after relocating to the area, Lynne Reigle utilized the LIVESTRONG program for physical, social and emotional needs, she said. The program is aimed toward cancer survivors, helping them improve their strength and physical fitness, diminish the severity of therapy side effects, develop supportive relationships and improve their quality of life.

"Everyone is dealing with something," Reigle said. "I was diagnosed with cancer twice and have multiple sclerosis. Being new to the area, this became not only a physical health element for me, but a very important emotional and social outlet."

Story after story, the coffee break group bonded over these shared moments at the YMCA. In the case of 90-year-old Ellsworth resident Virgil Thoner, he said just three short weeks of fitness work at the facility saved him from needing an operation on his shoulder.

"I got a shirt from my daughter for my birthday," Thoner said. "It reads: 'It took me 90 years to look this good'. I'm 90 years old and a diabetic. They (YMCA staff) have really helped me."

Community hub

YMCA Board member Holly Hanson began her relationship with the organization like most do, utilizing the facility for fitness.

"It really evolved quickly for me," Hanson said. "It feels like your second home. The Y is so central to Red Wing. We are the hub, with the spokes reaching out and touching everyone in the community."

Hanson said as she began learning about the social responsibility initiatives, she felt drawn to getting involved with the organization.

"I wanted to plug into that mission and give back to the community in this way."

The mission of the YMCA, healthy living director Martha Harris said, is what makes winning the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce awards possible.

"We are so honored for the recognition, but it is more rewarding to know the community is benefitting from our work," Harris said.

The Y Pals program, which partners children with adult mentors, is one of the YMCA's longest running programs. The recent development of the summer lunch programs have been very popular at the facility.

"When we open our doors to the community, the community responds," Harris said.

Mary Lockwood, an active member, said the behind-the-scenes work is a true motivator for her involvement in YMCA.

"The Y gives back so much to the community, bridging the gap between those families that can use a hand and those that want to outstretch their hands and help."

Lockwood pointed to the scholarships and programs the organization offers, so no one is turned away because of a financial constraint.

"When you have more than you need you build a bigger table, not a higher fence," Lockwood said, "I think that saying perfectly applies to what the Y does for families in Red Wing."

Dan Ferezan, a 30-year military veteran who spent many years on the East Coast, commended the YMCA staff on the excellent facility in Red Wing.

"I have been in health facilities like this around the country, and this facility in Red Wing is as good as it gets," he said. "The staff don't act like staff. They are family."

While recognition is always welcome, YMCA staff insisted they don't come to work for the praise.

"We love the people who are coming in that door, whether they are new or have been coming here for 50 years," Hutchinson said. "They will find welcoming staff that will take them by the hand and show them around and make them feel comfortable."

For more information on the Red Wing YMCA, visit