A group of elementary school-aged children were taking tennis lessons from Hall of Fame coach Chuck Waldron, serving as a backdrop for the Clinton YMCA’s 50th birthday celebration Thursday afternoon.
The celebration included a ribbon-cutting for the Y’s newly renovated tennis courts and soon-to-open pickleball courts.
“The sustainability of the YMCA here in the city of Clinton has been through the hard work of a lot of people,” said Clinton Y CEO Harold Nichols. “It’s generational, and it runs through the fabric of our community. We serve the most diverse population in our city and county – youth, adults, families and seniors. It’s a great organization, and it’s an organization that means a lot to a lot of people. So I think that that’s why there’s been sustainability over 50 years.”
The Clinton Y opened its doors in September of 1973, and while it has grown and offerings have changed with evolving fitness equipment and programs, a pool and tennis courts that are being adapted now to serve the growing popularity of pickleball.
But that is part of the challenge, Nichols said.
“Moving forward as an organization, you always want to develop and grow,” Nichols said. “We want to build on the success that they’ve had here at the YMCA through the strong leadership of the board and (retired CEO Gene Simmons and his staff over the years.
Simmons spent more than 43 years leading the YMCA before retiring as CEO at the end of 2020.
Thursday’s ceremony was an appropriate time for Simmons to reflect on his years with the Y.
“I’m just proud of the fact that it has served our community, both Clinton and Laurens and that I played a small part of that for 43 years and seven months to be exact,” Simmons said. “I’m proud of what Harold and his staff have done. It’s a never-ending process.”
Keeping a 50-year-old building running can be a challenge, but Simmon praised the builders and the people who have done renovations over the years to fit the changing needs of the community.
“This facility has good bones,” he said. “Whoever built this building did it right. It’s a never-ending process to keep it up, but I always felt like it was my responsibility as a previous CEO to leave it in as good or better shape than when I started back in June of 1977.”
The renovation of the tennis courts was funded in part by the City of Clinton, and a recent pool renovation was aided by the federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA), and Nichols said both projects were undertaken to help the Y serve the entire community in the future.
“We’ve got to continue to meet the needs of the citizens of this community, members or not. That’s why we’re here,” he said, noting that no one is turned away from the Cllinton Y regardless of membership status and a large percentage of members are on some kind of financial aid. “That’s an ever-evolving thing. . . . You’ve got to be able to have a little bit of vision, a little bit of forward thinking and continue to try to meet those needs.”