Ryan Bean

Begin interview. Today is September 29, 2014 and the time is 11:00 a.m. This is Ryan Bean from the Kautz Family YMCA Archives interviewing Alice Sawyer. Ms. Sawyer, thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today. My first question for you is what was your first YMCA experience?  

Ms. Sawyer

First YMCA experience. I was not a YMCA child. I didn’t attend the YMCA. I lived in New York City and the only Y I was aware of was the West Side Y and also the 92nd Street Y, which actually is a Hebrew YMCA. I didn’t have a YMCA experience until I was hired part time. I was young and at home with three children under three, and my neighbor worked for the Y and she was an exec, one of the first women executives of a big Y in the city of Wilmington, Delaware and she said, “You got to get out of here. We got to get you doing something.”  So I went over and worked part time, a few hours a week doing PR, writing, a little of this, and a little of that, for her branch. That was my first YMCA experience. I’ve never actually walked in the door of a YMCA and it was probably in the 1970s, probably 1974 or 1975, something like that.


What were your first impressions when you walked into that unknown organization?  

Ryan Bean

Ms. Sawyer

I’m trying to think. They were actually experiencing a situation where they needed somebody to help recruit women because they had been challenged in a lawsuit in 1974, that it was a men’s organization and some women lawyers had actually sued them. I was brought in to start a program and start promoting and getting women through the door. I set up this program called Lunch Talk and women were invited to come in free of charge, bring a bag of lunch and we get speakers. We ran one about once a month and I did the promotion. And afterwards, after the little talk at lunch, we take 10 minutes to give them a tour and ask them to join the Y and it worked very well. It was very effective. We had some topics that women were really interested in.

Ryan Bean

So, were you looking for women members?  


Ms. Sawyer

Yeah.


Ryan Bean

Okay. 

We were offering full privilege membership for women. Somehow, women, well, I guess, they hadn’t been offering that before. You could be an associate member but you couldn’t be a member. The lawsuit actually did a good thing because it did open it up for women. 

Ms. Sawyer


Did you face resistance from existing members who had been used to…?

Ryan Bean

Just the guys, of course. 

Ms. Sawyer


Yeah. 

Ryan Bean

Yeah, of course. The men didn’t like the women. I guess they used to swim in the pool and all of that and they didn’t want women in there. But the timing was right. The lawsuit sort of sealed the deal. But that was what I was brought in to do for part-time. Then I liked it, I enjoyed it, and then they hired me as the Association Office of the Y then hired me to do PR like 20 hours a week. So I started doing that. 

Ms. Sawyer


Okay.

Ryan Bean

It was a good segue into a job. 

Ms. Sawyer


Yeah. Okay. 

Ryan Bean

Worked out well. 

Ms. Sawyer


Then how long were you doing the PR?  

Ryan Bean

I worked for about 14 years for the YMCA of Delaware doing marketing PR, fundraising. I did a lot in that category and communications. We published all the newsletters, the tabloid that had all the programs in it. They ended up hiring two staff to work with me as the Y grew, and grew, and grew. And then my job, the hours, as the kids got bigger, it was perfect. It was a perfect combination of work and being able to sneak out and watch a kid play baseball or something like that. It really worked well for me as a woman. My career has been really focused on raising women up in the organization. 

Ms. Sawyer


Okay.

Ryan Bean

We can talk more about that.

Ms. Sawyer


Absolutely, yeah.

Ryan Bean

It started with bringing women in and it continues without any radicalizing, sort of subtly making women more valuable and valued in the Y. And I feel good about that because I did have an impact on that. 

Ms. Sawyer


Going back to those first efforts to try to get that in there, what was the case you made? How did you make the case to the YMCA that this was a good thing for them?  

Ryan Bean

To get women? 


Ms. Sawyer


Mm-hmm. 

Ryan Bean

Yeah. Obviously, there’s a wonderful Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” I mean, how can you be successful at anything unless you include women, mothers and sisters and wives? And the time was right. It was just that time where politically, it was becoming an issue and it really didn’t seem like much of a fight. It seemed like people were ready. There were a few old guys who didn’t like having to wear swimsuits in the pool but not very many. Most people, really, the members at that time really were happy to open the doors to women. It just hadn’t been done.

Ms. Sawyer


So it just sort of was…

Ryan Bean

Not a lot of resistance at all. 

Ms. Sawyer


Okay. Okay. Great, how about for the women coming in?  Were they eager to get into this or was there some sort of coaching on there and to say that, “We really do want you in here now?”  

Ryan Bean

No. I think they were pretty comfortable coming in. I can remember the marketing slogan which was so funny. I can even remember the first brochure that I just worked with someone in design. I wrote the copy. I really am a writer, not a designer. It was called the Best Self-Improvement Program Is, and then you opened it around the corner of the YMCA and it had women and it was showing all the things that we offered not just body but mind and spirit for people at the Y. I can see the brochure. I know I don’t have it anymore but I can see it. And then we had a list of the programs that we offered at lunchtime for our lunch talk and we had some really neat things. We even had a psychic come in one time and just draw a different crowd of people. We were trying to get women that were executives, of course, but women who were just around the corner and somebody’s secretary or assistant or something. We wanted to widen that threshold for people. 


Ms. Sawyer


Yeah. How about being a professional during that change? And you said that you’re recruited by your neighbor who was one of the first female branch executives. And I imagine, when you came on staff, there weren’t many other women involved. 

Ryan Bean

Definitely not. 

 

Ms. Sawyer


What was that corporate culture like?  

Ryan Bean

Well, it was, and in some places continues to be, 'good old guys’ kind of situation. And it was definitely that way. The first boss I worked for, the CEO. I reported to the CEO, actually, once I got hired in the Association Office and he was a great guy but he was definitely a guy’s guy. And I found in my career that it was difficult sometimes. And it probably continues to be for some people. But it’s much, much better than it was, much better than it was. And most of the women at that time in the Y were working the lower you know frontline jobs, part timers at the desk kind of thing, part timer teaching a fitness class or aerobics instructor or something. And most of the men were in the positions of leadership. So one of the things that were really important to me was to really raise up those frontline folks and that’s where as a marketing person, I really focused my career. And I could see very quickly as a marketing person that we were doing a good job of bringing people through the door. We were doing a lousy job of keeping them. 

So then I had this epiphany about that and decided to take my entire marketing budget except for just enough to get the publications out and focused it on customer service training or member service training and really look at who we hired for those positions, how we trained them, how we supported them, empowering them, and designing and supporting that, and those were mostly women.

Those women who came in with part time sort of throwaway jobs, they usually would say, “I need a job so I can get a free membership,” or, “I need a job because we just need to make a little extra money but it’s not my career.” Really, we focused on, “No, this could be your career in membership and you want to aspire to be something called the membership director.” And that’s why I changed my title from marketing director to membership director and I honestly think I was the first person in the movement that had that title. In fact, I would go to marketing conferences and people would say, “What is that?” I would say, “What it is about developing relationships. It’s about really looking at keeping and encouraging relationships and keeping people in the Y.”  People were, “Oh!”  We found that word of mouth is always our strongest advertiser in the Y. If you had strong word of mouth, membership went up.

And we saw tremendous growth that first year. I remember going in and telling my boss at the time, “I’m going to spend most of my budget on this.” There wasn’t any training out there. I actually went to the local MRC and got funding through the MRCs which were the Management Resource Centers at the time. And they funded me. They gave me $70,000. You could imagine in the early ‘80s what that was. That was a lot of money and we went and developed a program called Making Your Caring Power Known. We developed it with somebody who developed those programs. I was itching to do it myself but the MRC said, “Well, you better work with somebody who knows what they’re doing.”  

Ms. Sawyer


Is this a third party that you brought in to visit a corporation or a consultant?  

Ryan Bean

It was a woman who had a little company that she developed training. 

Ms. Sawyer


Okay. 

Ryan Bean

I learned a lot from her. She was good. Sandy Phillips was her name. 

Ms. Sawyer


So, a lot of Ys, I think, were struggling with a similar situation around that time of a disconnected?

Ryan Bean

Absolutely. 

Ms. Sawyer


Frontline staff. Do you have any insights on the organizational culture, the society? What was going on that created that disconnect?

Ryan Bean

That’s an interesting question. I think it wasn’t just the YMCA. Even today, you think, “Who gets the least respect and is treated the worst or the kind of throwaway people?” It’s always the front-line staffing. In healthcare, it’s the nurses. In business, it’s those front-liners and stuff. It was going on at the time, this sort of lack of respect for front-line people. I actually went to a conference. I asked if I could go. I had seen something that caught my eye and it was up in Cambridge and it was put on by Harvard on service marketing. I thought, “This is what I need to do.”  I went and it was really my big epiphany.

That’s when I really became a zealot and I really was a zealot on this stuff. The guy who spoke, his name was Christopher Lovelock. He was a professor at Harvard in their service marketing curriculum. He asked us all. We were sitting in this ballroom at the Hyatt, I can remember, overlooking the Charles River, and he asked us all, he said, “Who do you think is really the most important person in marketing?” People said, “The marketing manager, the CEO.” And he said, “Okay, let me ask you a question. How many of you know the CEO of Hyatt Hotels?” No hands went up. “How many of you know the marketing director?” No hands. “How many of you know the.” He kept asking all these key positions in this hotel, the manager of the hotel. “How many of you met a bellman, waitress, and front desk person?” All hands went up. And he said, “Who do you think impacts your experience here the most, whether you’ll ever come back or not?” It was like, again, the light bulb, the affirmation that this really was where we needed to focus the organization. It was cool. It was really cool.

It is very powerful to see every hand go up. You couldn’t deny that those people really impact your experience and in the Y, it’s absolutely true, too. It’s not just the front desk, it’s those front-line people. It’s your instructor in your class who remembers your name and asks you, “Where were you last Tuesday? I missed you in class.”  I’ve connected. I remember sitting on an airplane flying somewhere next to a woman and when she found out I worked for the Y, she told me the story. She said, “I really hurt.” Those were her words, really hurts. She said, “It was a Chicago area Y. I go to this Y. I’m there all the time.” And she said, “And I got sick and I wasn’t there for three months. I was in the hospital,” and she said, “Nobody called me from the Y.”  She said, “But that really wasn’t it.”  She said, “What was worse was when I came back three months or four months later. Nobody said, ‘Where were you?  We missed you.’” Her expectation really was that she should have been missed. When you really pay attention to those kinds of naming and knowing people and you make it the focus of your work, front-line, that happens. That will happen. You just miss one class, somebody’s going to say, “Where were you?”  Anyhow, I didn’t mean to interrupt you but I wanted…


Ms. Sawyer


No. That’s great. You had said earlier that the frontline staffs are the ones who get it the hardest and are treated the worst. I think you said something to that extent. Is that on both sides? Is that both within the organization, so management on up and the staff or where are you?

Ryan Bean

Well, it was interesting. My observation was that it was in the middle. It was the program directors who really treat, not treat. I don’t mean abuse in any way. I just mean ignore and treat them as if they had no value. The leadership, they drank the Kool-Aid. I would go out there and speak at conferences and stuff and they would say, “Yeah, yeah,” and they’d come back. But it was the middle management where it fell down. Because middle managements are so busy, those program directors or so, and they just really didn’t understand that they needed to be working extremely closely with their frontline staff.

And there would be things; little things like a Girl Scout troop would be showing up at 3 o’clock to go swimming. The program director had arranged and never told the front desk. The front desk would sit there and go, “Oh, my gosh!  I don’t know what to do with all these little kids. What do I do?”  The program director wouldn’t be there. We actually created what we called a communication incident report. It’s like a little report card and that frontline or desk person could write, “At 3:15, a Girl Scout troop showed up. I had no information.”  That would go to the executive director so that those kinds of things wouldn’t happen.



Ms. Sawyer


You created an opportunity for empowerment?

Ryan Bean

Ms. Sawyer

Right.


A voice at that level?

Ryan Bean

Yes, which they really never had. I don’t know whether the Y still does that or not. But I mean, we tried thousands of kind of things working with those membership directors as they started emerging out of the Movement, that we would come up with. And we created a lot of training materials, a lot of support materials for frontline and membership directors. They needed somebody that cared a lot about that to make it happen. I cared enough. I worry sometimes about the person. Ginger Hepler, I’m sure you know Ginger, she’s wonderful and she was somebody who was one of my trainers and we had a training network across the country. I have no issues. She’s been wonderful. But I do worry about the keeper of that passion and whether it’s still there. I don’t know. I try not to try to find out. 

Ms. Sawyer


Sure.

Ryan Bean

You hope that it would still be there.

Ms. Sawyer


I’m curious if there’s any connection to your being brought on to lift up women and empower them within the movement and this epiphany of lack of empowerment of front-line staff and you had mentioned that many of them happened to have been women as well.

Ryan Bean

Right. The majority of them really were.

 

Ms. Sawyer


Yeah.

Ryan Bean

At that time, because I worked until 2008. As it got later into the ‘90s, there were more men involved and retired people started coming in which was a great market for front-line folks. But it really was the membership directors, if you look at nationally, a lot of them are women. They came out of sort of that background of coming in as part timers and realizing there was a career here and there was important work to be done in developing membership and recruiting, retaining, and recapturing members and things like that.

It was like a sidecar. It was something that I knew would impact women. My main purpose was to impact movement and to see folks that were on the front-lines doing really great work with people to be raised up and recognized for that work, whether they were men or women. But it did impact women in the Movement just like childcare did, too, because childcare was always sort of that stuff over here. It wasn’t really the Y stuff. It was something we had to have. And it was a lot of women in that they were involved. They always felt like they were sort of underdogs in the Movement for a while. Now, childcare, once it became, especially after-school care became a big cash cow, if you will, then they got a little more respect but anyhow. 

Ms. Sawyer


That’s very interesting. Yeah. You were in Delaware for 14 years?  

Ryan Bean

I was for 14 years.

Ms. Sawyer


Okay.

Ryan Bean

Then I went to Len Wilson and Bill Cameron who were my friends. I had worked with the MRC. While I was in Delaware, about five or six years in, we formed something called the marketing coop which was probably my favorite thing I did in the Y. It was a cooperative turned into the M&M exchange which was Membership and Marketing exchange.

We took the Ys that were part of our MRC, which basically went from Washington into Maryland, Pennsylvania. Wait a minute. Washington was when I was working for the field. It was Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, and Delaware. There were about 32 Ys and we brought them together, a representative from there. Some of them weren’t marketing directors or membership directors. They were just folks and they would come and we would produce materials. They would pay a certain amount to be part of our cooperative and we’d take that money and we would spend it on things to support the Ys. We kept templates to help them with promotions that would raise the quality there. Promotion is about 100 percent because they were doing stuff on mimeograph machines of little drawings and things. It was a great idea. I think actually, it was Len Wilson’s idea. I got involved in that and I got involved in it so much that the MRC came to my boss at the time and said, “Can we buy half of Alice’s time to do this?” So I was working. What really I was doing was two full time jobs because nobody wanted me to do work half time. That never works.

So, then I finally decided to go up to the MRC after 14 years in Delaware, so full time and worked there. I worked there about five or six years. A couple of years under Len and then Bill Cameron took over. Then Len hired me in a field office for a while. It was just a bigger, All that time, we were still running the coop and at one time, we had over 280 Ys across the country who joined our co-op. Ys were saying, “We love this stuff.” And a lot of it was training material that we were developing. I’d say, “Okay, well why not join,” until we had even a higher rate for folks who gave us more money to do more stuff. It was really great. It was going along wonderfully.

When I was in the field, we had about 280 Ys, associations and branches, from little ones to big ones that belonged. Some of the bigger Ys just wanted to belong to see the kind of stuff that was coming to get ideas and they might have their own marketing, advertising agency or something with themes and things like that. We just had so much fun at that group. I see some of those people and they’ll say, some of them are retired, some of them are not. They’ll say, “The most fun we ever had.” And we did.

We had these great, fun meetings and we’d bring the group together. People would fly in. But what happened was the national Y decided they wanted to do the coop. They asked us to cease and desist. They don’t want to be competing. They were going to offer it for free even though it would be part of the support. We said, “Fine.” We didn’t want to be mavericks.

Ms. Sawyer


And when was this?

Ryan Bean

I’m trying to think. I’d have to check on that. Because what we did instead of producing materials it was when, I can’t think of his name. He was from Michigan. He came in as a marketing thing and he was there for about three or four years. I can’t remember his name. But he wanted to do it. He thought it was a good idea and Detroit had been part of our coop and it was a compliment. We were complimented. So we decided not to disband our organization, that we would just do more sort of networking and we’d get folks together to talk about issues. Right up until I retired, they were still running those groups. 

Ms. Sawyer


Okay. Do you know if they still are going to?

Ryan Bean

I don’t think they are anymore. You need somebody in the area that’s going to just devote time to it. After a while, it just sort of faded which was too bad. We would just bring people in. We’d have meetings and we’d have something called solution tables where we would brainstorm. It was very low budget. We’d just brainstorm. “What are the issues you’re dealing with?” And we’d get them all up on a new sheet and then we’d say, “Okay, you get to vote on the top five or six problems or issues that you have that you’re struggling with.”

Then we would set up six tables and then we’d just let people, we’d ring a little bell and then go from table to table and they’d come up with fabulous solutions and we’d share all those. They loved that. It was very low budget, very easy to do because we didn’t. We couldn’t collect money from anybody to do anything. It was interesting.

Ms. Sawyer


What were some of the common issues that, were there any issues that were kind of just kept reappearing, any persistent issues that?

Ryan Bean

I’m trying to think at the time. There were issues always around hiring and keeping good staff at those frontline positions. We would talk about stuff like that. Or there would be issues around cleanliness and maintenance of buildings and issues around having the empowerment to do what you needed to do. They would always come up. I don’t have the freedom to make decisions on these issues and things like that. Those came up a lot. I’m trying to think. I can’t remember. This is stuff that I’m sure are still on the agenda today. I hate to say it but.


Ms. Sawyer


Do you have any thoughts on why; let’s say the frontline staff, something that your career started with, why that is such a persistent issue?

Ryan Bean

I wish I did because I wanted to work for the Y for 30 years and this became my issue maybe three or four years in. We’re talking about 26 or 27 years. I have a really big passion about this and I try to create champions around and there are still some.

Talk to Harry Rock, he’ll say, he’s one of my groupies, that there were people that really felt passionate about it at all levels in the organization including CEOs who really wanted to carry the torch and make it work, because I could see that it worked. But actually, if you really focused on resources, human and financial, on those frontline folks and really make them a voice in the organization, they are the ones. I had a saying that I was famous for and people still quote me and I said, “If you don’t feed the staff, they’ll eat the members,” and that was simply put, what we worked on was what do those staff need, what are they hungry for? 

I just did this at a workshop I was doing for United Way Agencies on Thursday this week, past week. I asked that question. I said, “What are you hungry for?” folks in the audience. It was leaders of United Way Agencies. And they were the same things, “appreciation, feeling in on things, a work that I can assume responsibility without somebody else micromanaging me.” It was the same stuff I have heard over the last 27 years. And these were United Way Agencies. You know maybe it’s something to do with just the way people are. I hate to say that.

I’ve always wanted to think people have the ability to change if they really want to. I have no really good answer for that, but I think these are going to be issues that we always. There’s always going to be someone who’s underdog. There’s always going to be somebody on top. I always think the best leaders are the ones that lead alongside people, not above. I don’t know. I don’t know if we do a great job in the YMCA or have done a great job of really getting that message across, the servant leader.

We talk about it. There was a lot of what is it that Emerson said? “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It’s a wonderful thing. You hear a lot of rhetoric in the Y about this. But then when you really look at how an organization is being led or managed, you can see that it’s not happening. I don’t know. I wish I had an answer because if I had known, I would have tried to do something about it. I'm still in my own little surreptitious way, I’m still trying to impact it through people that I know that are still in the Y movement.


Ms. Sawyer


It’s great. What does the YMCA mean to you?

Ryan Bean

That’s a great question. It’s a force for good when we’re at our best. The mission is wonderful because it’s so at the heart of what people want. They want community. The people are body, mind, and spirit without a doubt. Spirit, mind, and body, I guess, is a better way to say it these days. I think we have tremendous potential. The organization has tremendous potential to really impact communities.

To me, it’s been a life, my career. I never did anything else. I thought I was going to do this for a few years and then I was going to go on to do what I really wanted to do, which was I wanted to write. But then I found that I was doing a tremendous amount of writing and all of the fun things that I enjoyed in life at the Y. It was a wonderful community of support through the person, the people that I worked with were wonderful. The finest and funniest, I always said that the movement had to offer and we had a lot of fun but we did important stuff.

The YMCA, I think, has tremendous impact and is a force for good in our world today, not just here but all over the world. There is a tremendous need for community, relationships and listening, and what’s going on in the world now is just very disturbing. I just think if they could go to a Y and hang out for a while.

I know the Jerusalem YMCA is famous for having everybody there under one roof in the childcare center and there are some wonderful stories about that that I’ve heard where families are coming from different communities in Jerusalem to the Y and sharing food, and customs, and peace. I think the Y is a tremendous force, if we really stay true to what we’re about. We don’t get lured away into the shiny stuff and the fancy fitness equipment and all the stuff that I think pulls us away sometimes from.

I was told that all that great stuff, buildings and equipment, is just a tool to bring people in and let them make some friends and find community in a world, where there’s not a lot of community anymore. Everybody is doing this with their cellphones, a lot of screen time and not people time. I still feel that way. I still feel it’s just a tool, fancier tools, but the real work of a Y is in relationship building, community building, making friends, making people feel strong and valued and all that good stuff. I still think that’s what we’re about. 

Ms. Sawyer


What is something all new YMCA employees should know?  

Ryan Bean

All new YMCA. They should know that this organization really means its mission, that it really is important. It’s not just something that hangs on the wall. If you believe it, you internalize it and it becomes part of what you really think about the organization. Then you’ll find that it’s not just a job, it’s a calling. It becomes something more than a job. I think that’s probably the most important thing to start off thinking, knowing that. And that’s up to you. I don’t think in some cases that you’re going to get that message. So, once you get that, you kind of catch the fever or whatever and it makes a difference. It really makes a difference. 

Ms. Sawyer


How about what is something YMCA leaders should be aware of?  

Ryan Bean

Well, I would say the same thing, but also that the leaders, they should really look at their leadership in today’s world and be aware of the sort of servant leadership model. I hate to use that because it’s sort of an old fashioned thing, but the idea of being authentic, being a visionary, being a relater. I think relationships are really important.

The leaders need to be able to sit down and talk to people and listen to people, not just lead from afar, and that they need to be bold and take risks. Those are maybe four things that come to mind. Authentic is probably the most, well, I don’t know if one’s more important than the other but they need to walk the talk. They need to really have a strong vision and I use the analogy sometimes, when I talked to this group up in New Jersey, they were all leaders and I said, “One of your jobs is to be--” I did this once with the YMCA folks just for fun.

I bought a puzzle that had like 3,000 pieces. I put all the pieces out on the tables. I didn’t tell people what I was doing and then I said, “Good, young, wise leaders.” They said, “We’re going to put this puzzle together. This is our first thing we’re going to do.”  They all got so excited. I said, “All right, go and see how long it takes.”  So they were all out there scrambling around. And then finally, like five minutes in, a young guy wanders up to me. I was sort of just standing around waiting and smiling. He said, “Well, where is the picture on the box of the puzzle?”  I had purposely hidden it. I was waiting to see how long it would take them.

I use that as an analogy that as leaders, we are responsible for carrying that picture around with us. Everybody needs to see it. Here it is. This is what we’re about. Because everybody that works for the Y, volunteers as well, has a piece of that puzzle. If they don’t know where it fits or they don’t know what the heck we’re doing with it, you lose their interest. And that’s what was happening with this room full of people.

Slowly, they were saying, “I can’t do this. I don’t know what this is.” They were slowly disconnecting from the task at hand. It made a great analogy and I told this to the United Way people. The person who was actually head of the United Way in the area came and she said, her comment was, “You know, I spent all the time carrying that picture around for volunteers and community leaders and I forgot about the staff.” 

I think a lot of CEOs are exactly the same way. They’re carrying that box around when they talk to the rotary club and they’re carrying that box around when they’re talking to community people and volunteers and board members but the darn staff doesn’t have a clue, especially those frontline people. They don’t have a clue. So, for me, that would be it, that box, that picture on the box for the puzzles is probably that vision is very, very important.

Ms. Sawyer


You mentioned on several occasions this concept of the servant leader. Who are some servant leaders that you’ve had the pleasure of working with?

Ryan Bean

That’s an interesting question. The last year that I was working for the Y and I was thinking that I would retire, I had some health issues and it was just no longer fun, I had lost the fun, a lot of folks that I had worked with, and I remember sitting in a restaurant with some folks who still worked for the Y. We sat around and we said, “Now, if we were going to work for a CEO in the movement, who would we work for?” Boy, did we have trouble really coming up with a name. I would say for me, I finally came up with it. I came up with a name first and that was a guy who, I don’t even know if he’s still in the Y, to be honest with you.

He was the CEO of the Syracuse, New York Y. His name is Hal Welsh and he was probably the best YMCA leader I ever knew. He really got it. He really understood it and he was always innovating in the area of membership and he was somebody I actually ended up. At one point when he was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a smaller Y, I went there and took a film crew with me, a video crew and I had money and I did a little video about him and shared it with the Movement. It would have been great in those days if we could have just emailed them but we made copies and sent it out and people showed it along with a sort of discussion about what’s innovative here.

The name of that was called “A Little Bit of Heaven” which was one of his members actually, we interviewed. We just sort of we’d catch them, nothing rehearsed. And one guy said, “This place is a little bit of heaven.”  There was just something about him that he just was so, the way he led, was wonderful. 


Ms. Sawyer


That's great.

Ryan Bean

I don’t know if he’s still in the movement. I really don’t. I need to check on that. 

Ms. Sawyer


We’ve got about five minutes left and so my last question for you is there anything that I did not ask you about today that you’d like to share?  

Ryan Bean

Well, I’m trying to think. I think I’ve probably gotten it all out there today about my concern. I am still a little bit concerned about the impact of technology on the YMCA, just because it is one of those things that tends to draw people away from people and sort of disconnect them, where I spent a lot of years trying to connect people, find ways to make sure that that member had a moment at the desk to say, “Hi, Ryan! How are you today?” as I came in and use names.

Now, I go to the Y now in Delaware. I have my free lifetime membership which I love. I’ll go in and they’ll just scan my card and nobody knows who I am in some of the branches. And it’s all very high tech and I use my card to get in the locker room and I use my card here and I use my card there. I haven’t been overly impressed with that. It concerns me. It doesn’t seem to really bother people. I’ve tried to observe to see whether people are bothered by that. They seem to know a lot of people. I know people there, my neighbors. My neighbor and I go together. I bring my social network with me. But I worry about the impact of that and as we get slicker and fancier with our technology. And maybe, I don’t know whether this is going to replace human interaction.

I saw the movie “Her.” I don’t know if you saw that. That was just amazing. I didn’t really like it but it was amazing to me that you could have a relationship with a voice on a computer or in your iPhone or something, like Siri on steroids or something.

It worries me about the future. I look at my kids, I look at my grandkids, and I worry about that. I worry about it for the Y because I do still believe and I will always believe that people need human touch, human contact, relationships, community, all of that. I am the head of my church and I’m working really hard to build a community there and help grow the church with the same kinds of principles that we’ve talked about today, helping people connect and making that first experience, that first contact, a great one and continuing to get people more involved and connected to the people in the church. It seems to be working.

We are growing and that strategy, I think, will always be important. But I think the YMCA is sort of lured in other directions these days and that concerns me. They’re not alone. But that is a concern. I can’t think of anything else. Probably the most important thing, I loved working for the Y and I am very grateful that I had so much fun and so many nice friends that I still see and hang out with. It’s a great organization to work for. I didn’t waste a minute of those 30 years, I can tell you, not a minute. It was fun.


Ms. Sawyer


Wonderful. Well, thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your story. 

Ryan Bean

Absolutely, Ryan. I enjoyed it.

Ms. Sawyer