The Young Men's Christian Association
Nearly thirty years ago the first Association was formed in Rock
Island, with the same general objects as the present institution. It was
engendered by a great religious revival, and E. W. Spencer, one of the
originators of the idea, was elected the first president. Rooms were
opened in the post office block, and Sunday afternoons religious meetings
for young men were held. At the end of two years Mr. Spencer was called to
other fields, necessitating his resignation, and the work was allowed to
The present Y. M. C. A. had its origin in 1884, A. M. Bruner, R. W. Salisbury and John Perritt being the prime movers. April 20, of that year, the Association was born at a meeting held at the Central Presbyterian Church, and thirty-eight members were signed to the rolls. Frank Nadler was chosen president, and George P. Lyman secretary. June 3 the formal opening of rooms over 1729 Second Avenue was held. The following February a general secretary was called in the person of George Warner, of Minneapolis. At the end of the first year there were sixty-five members.
The Ladies' Central Committee was formed as an auxiliary, in September, 1885, and in December of the same year the Association was incorporated. In March, 1886, new quarters were taken over the Peoples National Bank. F. W. Lang of Menominee, Wisconsin, assumed the duties of general secretary in August, 1886. In the Fall of that year ten delegates were sent to the State convention at Rockford.
The building movement was begun in January, 1887, at a gospel service held at Reynolds, Illinois, by a few young men, where two little girls, Anna Stewart and Libbie Schoonmaker, who were interested in pictures shown of Y. M. C. A. buildings, each gave fifty cents without solicitation "to put up a building at Rock Island for young men;" later a like amount was given by Louie Bow-man, one of our boys. This dollar and a half was the nucleus of the fund which gave us our $50,000 property and interested over seven hundred contributors. At a meeting of the members a few months later $1,000 was pledged and a building committee appointed.
The present site was bought from the Henderson estate for $4,000, the heirs throwing off $1,000 as a contribution to the cause.
The contract for the foundation of the building was let at a meeting of interested business men at the residence of P. L. Mitchell, held September 24, 1888, Larkin and Stephens being the successful bidders.
The cornerstone was laid June 26, 1890, Mayor McConochie putting it in place, assisted by the three young persons who were the first contributors. One of the notable features of the exercises was the reading of a letter from Sir George Williams of London, England, the founder of the Y. M. C. A.
At the opening of the year 1900, about $15,000 had been subscribed, and March 28 of that year the contract for the superstructure was let to Collins Brothers for $15,189.
A library was started with a book reception. Later the Franklin Hose Company donated its splendid collection of books and a book case.
Educational classes were started.
The ladies were first organized as a central committee, then as the ladies auxiliary. They are now the association helpers. They raised hundreds of dollars for the big debt, and furnished a large part of the building; through their influence the ladies of the First M.. E. Church furnished the reading room; the correspondence room (now office of the boys secretary) was furnished by the Ladies Aid Society of South Heights; the directors room by the King's Daughters and the chapel by the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
In November, 1895, through the generosity of the late J. W. Potter, proprietor of the Argus, the auxiliary published a sixteen-page Thanksgiving edition of the Argus, which was a decided success.
The new building was completed sufficiently to admit of its occupation April 2, 1891, but another canvass for money had to be undertaken to provide for the furnishing and completing of certain parts to place them in a condition to use. September 1, 1891, G. C. Blakeslee became general secretary in place of Mr. Lang.
At the eighth annual meeting of the Association. April 20. 1892, prominent speakers from all over the middle west were secured and $6,400 was raised, and in a month more conditional pledges were secured that raised the general fund to $18,000. The Ladies' Central Committee offered $500 on condition that the amount specified be raised by September 1. August 29 the sum of $732 was still needed, and by a great effort it was secured during the two days following.
Building operations upon the interior were resumed, and as the funds became available, completed, and January 1, 1894, the contractors turned the building over to the Association practically as it stands today, with the gymnasium, bath and dressing rooms, and the auditorium ready for use. In a short time the membership was raised from one hundred to three hundred. The annual dues for senior members was placed at five dollars. W. L. Lavender was chosen the first physical director December 1, 1895. The next year J. P. Bailey succeeded Mr. Blakeslee as general secretary, and after two years' service, the former gave way to J. S. Freeman. At the same time as the latter change was made, B. G. Hanks took the position of physical director. J. C. Pentland first took charge of the work in 1899.
The total membership is now three hundred. In the Winter season just closing about 7,000 individuals have taken exercise in the gymnasium. About forty men are enrolled in the bible classes, and every branch of the work is in the most flourishing condition that has prevailed since the forming of the Association.
A number of members have entered into life service for the Master, among whom we remember Charles Knox, J. Akers and Ed-ward Young, in the ministry; George Warner Graham Lee and R. C. Ricker, missionaries in foreign lands; A. M. Bruner, Henry Hansen, Louis A. Bowman, Orville Yerbury, J. S. Freeman, Henry Voss and Chauncey Tuttle in the Association secretaryship.
The first board of directors were: Frank Nadler, president; A. M. Bruner, first vice-president; F. H. Kaupke, second vice-president; G. P. Lyman, recording secretary; J. D. Warnock, treasurer; J. W. Welch, Charles Jensen, F. J. Akers, C. E. Adams, J. W, Stewart, E. B. McKown, W. F. Gilmore. George Chambers.
The original building committee comprised: A. M. Blaksley, chairman; E. B. McKown, treasurer; J. F. Robinson, J. W. Stewart, J. W. Welch, C. E. Adams, A. D. Sperry, Frank Nadler, George M. Looseley, A. M. Bruner, F. H. Kaupke.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908