July 13, 2018
Begin interview. Today is Friday, July 13, 2018 and this is Ryan Bean from the Kautz Family YMCA Archives interviewing Don Anderson. Don, thank you for sharing some time with me today.
Thank you Ryan.
My first question for you is what was your first Y experience or first Y memory?
Well, I was in high school in Southern California, North Hollywood High School. And there were clubs in the school that if you were going to survive high school, you wanted to be in one of these groups. And I got invited to join one and I did. And it was called the Romans. And after being in it for a while, I discovered it was a Hi-Y club.
And I had totally unholy reasons for joining the club. You know, the guys in the clubs are the ones that met all the girls. And all the guys involved in sports and everything were in there. So it was kind of an ego thing to be able to get to be in one of these clubs. And we basically did nothing of any value for anybody except ourselves.
We had our own bench, you know, that we occupied in the quad of the school that nobody else got to sit on. Yeah. And it was that kind of a thing. Well, at the Y, there was a change in directors. And a guy named Don Tallman came in. And he took a look at what was going on and he just felt we could, we were all good people and we could be a whole lot more than we were.
And so he started, you know, we'll have a Hi-Y dance and everybody will bring a can a food. And we'll donate it to, you know, the food, feeding program. And he started slowly you know, putting some meaning into what we were doing. And then there were these Hi-Y conferences, leadership conferences. He started inviting the presidents of the clubs which I was one as a senior.
And going to these conferences and began to give us ideas about, you know, we could do something meaningful. We could be a lot more than what we were. And I remember that I was a senior and in those days the L.A. Y ran something called caravans. And basically we threw kids in the back of a cattle truck, a state truck.
And we drove all over the country camping out wherever we could camp out. And the Y was going to have one over Easter vacation for junior high kids going from L.A. to Death Valley. And they called it the Death Valley Caravan. A person you may know of, Craig Altschul, Craig was in one of those clubs. So Craig and I and another guy got to be leaders as high school kids for these junior high school kids.
And so we went to Death Valley in the back of these trucks. I mean, you'd go to prison today if you put kids in the back of a truck and drove around like that. But, so we went to Death Valley. And I knew a lot about rocks and geology and stuff just out of personal interest. So I was taking kids on hikes and explaining all this stuff to them.
And Don Tallman, that Y Director, he said, "You know, you know a lot about the outdoors. Why don't you work for me this summer at camp?" And he invited me to be on the camp staff. And so I'd been accepted to UCLA as a Physics major the fall after I graduated from high school, but that summer I worked at camp.
And Craig and I, you know, were, for several summers, were key summer camp stamp. And, oh, I've got a crazy story to tell you about Altschul, but I got involved in doing, going to mountain camp. Became a Ragger, if you're familiar with the YMCA Rag Society. Just had a wonderful experience. And so, I've got to tell you this one story I've got about Craig.
I had the younger boys. He had the older boys in the day camp for four weeks. And in those days, it was the YMCA World Service, Buildings for Brotherhood was really big. And they had these things called “YMCANYCs.” They were like a rocket and it was, and you put dimes in them and you could, I think they'd hold 10 dimes on either side of this folded piece.
And you turned them in and that was your gift to World Service. And it was the Buildings for Brotherhood that were building, you know, Ys all over the world. And so Craig is, his mind is pretty fertile. And he gets up in front of the group and we're trying to reach this $700 goal or something.
And he tells all the kids at the morning assembly, we're all there, saying, "If you guys bring in the money, you get the dimes, we're going to put a, right before your eyes, we're going to put all the money in a rocket and we're going to blast it off. And we're going to send it to Caracas Venezuela to help them build a Y." And, and, you know, I get Craig after. I was like, "Craig, what are you talking about? How are we going to do this? These kids might come through."
And so we went over to Lockheed which was in Burbank right next to here. We got this funny model, really Styrofoam rocket type thing. And we brought it in and sat it there. And it was spray painted silver and telling them, "This is the rocket." So it came and the kids raised the money. So it's the end of camp and we've got to come through for the kids. You know, they keep saying, "When are we going to blast it off?"
So we were at a Methodist church and we had use of their things and so we put this rocket up on the roof. And we told them all the money's in it. We had a tray sitting there with dry ice and water in it so the steam was coming off. And we started the countdown, "10, nine --" you know.
We get to, "Two." I say, "Okay, stop everybody. Now when this rocket ignites, there'll be a flash that's so bright, it'll burn the corneas right out of your eyes and you'll be blind for life. So you, when we get to one, you've got to close your eyes and zero and there'll be the blastoff. And then you count to two and then you can open your eyes. And you'll see the rocket. It'll be going."
And so we had a rope tied from the back of the roof on this rocket and we get to one, everybody closes their eyes. And we light a cherry bomb off. This big explosion happens, pull the rope. The rope blum-blum-blum down the back of the roof and somebody reaches out the window, picks it up, shoves it in the ball locker and closes up the locker.
And then you know, they say, "Okay, you can open your eyes." And everybody looks and we had a few shills out there, "Oh, I see it. I see it." You know? And about half the kids saw it even though it wasn't there. Great. I think, "We made it." Everything worked fine until recreation time. Some kid goes in, opens up the ball locker and the rocket falls out on the floor. That kid was locked up and got to eat ice cream all day until the camp was over.
But anyhow, that's it. So anyhow, I get involved in this summer and it made a huge impact on my life.
I can tell. Yeah.
And it was great. And I went to UCLA as a Physics major. And I have an IQ of about, equal to my shoe size. So you know, the university was pretty challenging for me.
And I'm taking Calculus and all this stuff and I'm having a really rough time. And part of that, I'm really evaluating my life. And I have a pretty strong Christian faith and you know, I wasn't doing very well. And I'm praying to God and I'm saying, "God help me." You know, and, "You're not answering my prayers," and stuff. And I finally came to a little realization, maybe He was answering my prayers and He was saying, "No."
And I began to think about these guys in the YMCA. Number one, they were doing great stuff in people's lives. They were, number two, they were crazy. They had fun. You know, they're doing good stuff, having fun. On top of that, you got paid for it. I'm saying, "You know, that's not a bad deal." So I went from being a Physics major my first semester to being a Sociology major. And that wasn't because I aspired to be a shoe salesman, you know?
I really decided I wanted to spend my life in the YMCA. And so I did that. Then as I got close to my graduation, at, in those days, there was a draft. There was no war on. Nothing was going on. And so I knew I was going to be drafted as soon as I got out of college.
Didn't have an educational deferment. And I met this wonderful woman and we wanted to, Susan, and we wanted to get married. And I really didn't want to start our married life as a Private in the army. The quality of life would not be that good. So I signed up for the US Air Force Officer Training School. And that would carry a four-year obligation.
And I figured, "Okay, how do I get the most out of these four years that will benefit me when I get out of the service and will help me in the Y?" And so I asked for, to be either in Personnel or Personnel Services. I figured that you know, that there would be some carryover to my work in the Y eventually. And so I got this letter back saying, "Congratulations, you've been accepted to the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School in the Weapons Controller career field."
Weapons Controller? What the heck is that? I didn't have any idea. And it just didn't sound like something I wanted to do for four years and wouldn't have much thing. So I decided to play chicken with the Air Force. And I said, "Thank you very much. I'm honored to be accepted. But I had really hoped for Personnel or Personnel Services and you're not able to give me that. So I'll decline."
Well, I came from a good university. I was a pretty good physical specimen. I had a lot of activities and stuff and you know, they wanted me. So I, playing chicken worked. I got back and I got selected for Personnel. And it was peacetime then. I went in and you know, I was looking for doing a few years and getting out. Well, they then came out with an early release program.
And so I started corresponding with a man named Charles Van Winkle in the Southern California area who'd place people in, you know, the incoming professionals.
Within the YMCA?
In the YMCA. And was, you know, looking to start my YMCA career, really looking forward to it. And all of a sudden, President Johnson showed up on the television one night and said, "We just bombed Haiphong Harbor."
And all hell broke loose in Vietnam. And instead of getting out early, they cancelled that program. And actually, in the long run, I wound up getting extended a year. So I spent five years on active duty. And this is kind of just serendipity, but if I had chosen, gone in on a Weapons Controller thing, a good chance you and I wouldn't be talking here.
Weapons Controllers turned out to be guys that were sitting out on rice paddies, you know, guiding planes into targets and they had a very short life expectancy. So you know, that wasn't anything that was conscious in my mind but still. So, anyhow, did my five years. The last assignment I did was during the Vietnam War on a little island called Mactan Island in the Philippines.
And it's interesting that when I was a young student with the Los Angeles Y, there was a man named Sam Demonteverde who was a YMCA Director from the Philippines who was assigned to the L.A. Y for a couple years for professional development from the YMCA of the Philippines. He eventually became their National General Secretary.
And he was there as Acting National General Secretary when I got sent to the Philippines. And I had become friends with him. So I wrote him and said, "Okay, I'm coming to the Philippines. You know, I'm dedicated to the Y. If I can do anything while I'm there, I'd be happy to." So when I got there, he introduced me to the Cebu YMCA people and met Narcissily Wy who was eventually replaced by a man named Angel Colmenares.
I worked with both of them. I helped the Cebu Y a little bit. But they wanted to start a branch on Mactan Island in the Philippines. And that's where I was stationed. A little city called Lapu-Lapu. And so I was on the Board at the beginning of starting this Y.
And Cris Caparoso who's actually here at this World Council was the young staff person they assigned to us to start this Y. So we actually started this Lapu-Lapu YMCA while I was in the Air Force there and in the Philippines. I had a great time. And from, I went through that experience.
I'm no war hero during the Vietnam War. I had a very hygienic experience. I saw terrible stuff, you know, our planes carried guys off the battlefields and flew them right into the Philippines for medical help. And seeing these young men come in was pretty hard. But anyhow, we had a great experience there and went, I got released. Went back and I went to work for the L.A. Y for two years as a Community Program Director.
And they were very rich years. In those days we were really, Y and Youth Work became partners with parents in raising their children. And you did this through the Y-Indian Guide program, Gra-Y clubs, Junior Hi-Y, you know, we had this Continuing Forefront program. And so you worked with Parent Councils and parents were, you know, leaders and coaches and stuff.
And I had, the Gra-Y was my favorite. They, it was third fourth, or I mean, fourth, fifth and six graders. We had a sports program that had flag football, basketball, soccer, softball, swimming, track, you know, everything. And camp outs and all kinds of stuff. And it was just a wonderful thing. I mean, hard thing was, you know, you started at 8:00 in the morning.
You never got home until 11 o'clock at night after all these Council meetings and stuff. But I had, you know, about 700 families and kids in my Gra-Y program. I had equal number in Y-Indian Guides and 50 some tribes, and then I also did some Junior Hi in the summer. I got to do the swimming, you know, it was over swimming programs and camping and all that.
You did a little bit of everything in those days. Today we're specialists, you know? And you have to be because of all the regulation and the technical. Then we just knew a little bit about everything and somehow got through it without going to jail. And it was a broad-based experience. And the Executive of my Y was a guy named Ken Munson.
And Ken wound up getting transferred to the Seattle YMCA that was going through a very, kind of a crisis period. And he went up there as, we would call today a Chief Operation Officer. Allan Ellsworth became the Executive and had brought him up there. And they were just kind of rebuilding that and Ken knew me quite well.
And I actually, when I was in the Philippines even, would write back to East Valley Y and they would send help for this Y we were starting. So we were very close. And Craig Altschul was part of all that kind of closeness too. And so wound up going to Seattle for, to take over a camp that had lost so much money and had such a bad reputation that they were, the Board had decided to sell it.
What year would this have been?
This was 1970.
Yeah, I arrived on February 1, 1970. And they gave me the title of Associate Metropolitan Executive for Camping and Youth Work. And I did some minor youth work but this camp consumed my energies of trying to get it back.
Went up to camp. It's on an island. You take a ferry boat from a place called Anacortes out to a place called Orcas Island, the San Juan Islands. No camp had better assets than this camp. They had, you know, three quarters of a mile of waterfront, this Puget Sound, this gorgeous place on this island.
They owned a whole 'nother 106 island for out camp post. They had 10 acres on a freshwater lake up on a mountain you could hike to. And I'm trying to figure out, "Why are they having problems in this camp?" And they go to the camp, and they had dismissed the Camp Director and everybody at the end of the previous summer as part of this whole turnover. And, you know, I got there and all the busses were shot up with .22s and BBs, the windows.
There was, I went in the kitchen and there was, open the refrigerator, and there was a plastic bucket of egg yolks that had been sitting there since last summer, you know. And I've never quite had a smell quite like that before. And anyhow the whole place was a mess. So we got to put that together, that camp.
And we open the camp with 32 people in the first session, had 38 people in the second session and then we kind of got rolling. We had 100 and we kind of limped through the summer. The next summer, you know, we had everything put together. It was young people deserve the credit for turning that camp around. They went up with me every weekend, over the Easter vacations.
We dug in trenches and laid 1,200 foot of pipe. We cleaned everything. Everything was broken and we just, I had a young guy that overhauled the truck that was dead. And we just put the camp back together. The first thing we did was clean it up to make it look good. And we kept, my motto for them was, "If you don't look first class, you can't be first class." And I mean, you can look first class and not be first class. But you can't look like a pile of garbage and be first class. So we got it all cleaned up and it brought a lot of leaders.
I got a bunch of the leaders were involved in the Values Education program. And that was, were you familiar with that whole movement out of Akron, Ohio? Had that kind of thrust and we infused that in everything we did at the camp. And we put the Rag program into the camp and all of a sudden things started going. But the difficult thing was, this is 1970.
Parents had a value system. The YMCA had a value system. The parents and the YMCA wanted to pass that value system on to their children. We did that with a staff that did not have that value system. If you're familiar, if you knew what the whole youth anti-authority, anti-establishment, don't accept anything that, everybody over 30, you don't trust them. I mean, it was that whole era.
It was a very challenging area. So I found it a very challenging time to try and accomplish this mission for the Y and parents with a staff that, and a generation of young people that didn't really embrace all those values and everything. But we found good middle ground. We got the best, you know, rational people, rational young people could see the best in the values. We could accept some of the things the young people were saying and we built this wonderful culture.
And by the end of the fourth year, by April, I would have 1,000 people on the waiting list that were trying to get into that camp. We created, and we, you know, we had 340 some kids a day. One of the things was it was an all boys camp and it had always been an all boys camp. After the staff went home and everything in the summer, they let a few girls and a couple female directors come up and play at camp for a while without much support.
And one of the things I was trying to figure out, you know, "We're trying to fill this camp and we're telling half the people in the world they can't come." And that didn't make a lot of sense. The other thing is, an all-boys community is not really a real community. You know, it's a contrived community. And we needed to bring a lot more minorities in and we began to work with the United Way and do that.
And so we had this tremendously eclectic group at the end. And the way we did the, making the camp co-ed, I had a Board that was very traditional. Saw the camp the way they remembered it, you know, 40 years ago. And I had branch-emphasis sessions.
And I went to the Board and I said, "You know what? The West Seattle Branch and the Central Branch, that's their session. And they'd like to bring some of their girls with them and we'd like to try that, you know, for two sessions this summer." And so the Board was open to that. They let me do that. So we did that. And it worked pretty well.
And so I went back to the Board and said, "You know, that worked pretty good. Why don't we make half of our sessions next year open? The other branches kind of liked what they saw and so let's do half of them." And then the third year, they were all co-ed. And we went off on that. And if I'd gone in and say, "You know guys, we're behind times. We need to have women in the camp." The Board never would've done it. So it was just, sometimes evolution works a little better than revolution.
I know that's probably not the theme of the day but it worked very well there. And we really developed a marvelous culture and stuff and the camp continues. And so we were doing so well, it was 190-acre farm that was adjacent to the camp came up for sale.
It was what protected the camp from any intrusion of development. And I thought, "Geez, we really ought to get that camp." And at the same time, I had attended a YMCA Camping Consultation that was attached to the American Camping Association in St. Louis. And there were three speakers at that thing.
One was a man named Chuck Kujawa with the National Office. And he was a very inspiring, a very gentle, fine man. And he kind of painted a picture of what camping meant in people's lives. The other speaker was a guy named Art Harrison who was probably the premier camp planner. He was an architect, landscape or camp planner talking about how you, the principles of planning a camp and making it work.
And the third speaker was a guy named John Mcbean who was a fundraiser, you know spear-carrying, fire-breathing fundraiser. And all those people got in my mind. So I went to the Board and I said, "You know, this is our time now." We were being really successful. Everybody was happy.
"We need to plan the camp. We need to buy the property. We need to raise money. Rebuild cabins. Make this a premier facility and protect its future and everything." So by that time they'd listen. If I'd said, you know, two years, three years earlier, "Let's go raise a million dollars." They would've looked at me and said, "You know, we'll watch you for a while. Don't drag us into that."
So, anyhow, I had the encouragement of the Association. The Board bought into it. And we hired Art Harrison as our campaign, or our planner, our architect. Did a marvelous job. We involved people and kids and everything and we just laid out this beautiful plan for the camp. And we started to, we had to raise some money.
And there was one guy, his name was Michael Dieter. And he would've been the right guy. He was Mr. Seattle. He knew everybody. His kids, his grandkids went to Camp Orkila. And he would've been the right person to lead that campaign. We kept going to him, he said, "No."
Kept going to him, said, "No." And so they set up a dinner one night with the Board Chairman, the Metropolitan Board Chairman, a guy named Frank Pritchard who his brother was Senator Joel Pritchard. And he was a wonderful man, one of the YMCA gods of Seattle.
And a guy named W. Walter Williams who had been on the National Board and was a fantastic guy, powerhouse. And a guy named John Ryder and the past Board Chairman tried to gang up on him at a place called the Rainier Club in Seattle. And we kept saying, "You know, Michael, you're the right guy. You can do this." He kept saying, "No, no, no." And he said, "Well, tell me about this property thing that you want, this 190 acres."
And they said, "Well, we want to raise three quarters of a million and that's going to be that and that. But this property would be another 100 and, another couple hundred thousand, you know. And we're still thinking about that. We'd like to do it." And so the meeting went on. And finally, Michael knew what he was doing.
End of the meeting, he looked at us, the whole group and said, "Okay, you convinced me. I'll do it. Under these conditions. We buy the property. We raise $1,000,000. And Walter, you're my Major Gifts Chairman. Frank, you're our Special Gifts Chairman. Board Chairman, you know, John, you're the Family Gifts Chairman." And we walk out of there with the whole campaign totally organized, the goal and everything.
And we did, we raised over a million dollars. And that was the largest amount that had ever been raised for a standalone camp campaign by that time. That was 1974 dollars. And you know, that million doesn't sound like much now, but in those days, it was a pretty steep mountain. And we did it. And so that was one of the richest times of my life. I probably worked with over 1,000 young adults.
Many of them still email me weekly. I'm in touch with them. And we had a very strong culture, very strong thing. And camping is that way. Camping is a culture. It's a subculture. And you're a member of it and you build bonds that you know, last lifetimes. So that was there. My punishment for raising that million dollars and you know, I say, "I raised." I didn't.
I had a lot of wonderful people. But the punishment for being successful when that million dollar raised was they made me the Vice President for Financial Development for the Association. They thought, "Okay, this guy can raise some money. We'll --"
So what year would that have been?
That would have been about 19 -- I think about 1979.
1980, right in there.
So how old would you have been at the time?
How old? I would've been 39 years old. You know? You grew up quicker in those days. You know, at 39 some, today kids are still sitting in their parents' living room watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. But in those days, you know, you grew up. And the military grew you up in a hurry. So I did that for a couple years.
And then I got invitation to go to Berkeley YMCA which was kind of a train that had run off the tracks at that time. And I seemed to have the experience with trains that had run off the track so they thought it was a fit. I remember going to the interview and they asked me what I thought of the, you know, I had looked around.
And they asked me what I thought of the YMCA there and everything. And I looked at them. They were all men on that Board. And I said, "Gentlemen, your YMCA is not any place I'd find myself in on purpose." You know. And you know, they kind of looked at me and we had a really good conversation. It was dirty. Staff were not responsive to anything going on in the place and stuff.
And so we, they hadn't paid their fair share of dues to National in several years. The power company was ready to turn the power off. And you know, the inmates were in charge of the asylum there and it was kind of a mess. And so the first thing we do is I got the job. And I was not the staff's choice for that job.
And so a good number of them left which opened great opportunities for me. Brought in some really wonderful people for their first Executive job. Greg O'Brien was one of them. Hired him from San Jose. And he later became the CEO of the Phoenix Y, Urban Group Y. Mark Young, he was a Program Director over in San Francisco. I brought him in as a Branch Executive. He later became the CEO of the Portland YMCA in Oregon.
Good people that had good potential. And we worked. We just worked our tails off. Yeah, you know, until 10:00 at night painting, fixing up, cleaning things. I remember the maintenance guy the first week I was there, I told him, I said, "We've got all these posters."
Berkeley was a madhouse of liberal causes and posters and demonstrations so we had all these posters splattered all over the front of the YMCA. And I asked the Maintenance Superintendent, I said, "You know, by the end of the week, I'd like all those things removed." And he looked at me, said, "There's no reason to do that. They'll just go right back up." And I said, "Then we'll take them down again."
And so he kind of grumbled, got [his say] and he took them all down. And sure enough within a week or two there were a couple more and we removed those. And that was it. We didn't have them anymore. People didn't want to put their posters where they weren't going to, were going to come down the next day. So we got that. And we just cleaned it up and did everything. We had, if you're interested in wild stories. I'll tell you one.
This was kind of funny. There were, there was a commercial fitness center group. Two, one in Berkeley and one over in Oakland, were very successful fitness centers. And people had invested in them and they were businesses and they had their business plan.
And they were selling lifetime memberships one day and then closed up the next day. Shut their doors and told everybody they'd gone out of business. And some people had just bought the lifetime membership the day before. And the State Attorney General in California was getting on this problem because it was common.
There was a 24-hour Fitness Center in Santa Barbara, California that sold like 5,000 memberships pre-opening and never opened and so it was something that was on there. So I wanted to find out who owned this place and talk to them. Because they had tons of equipment. I knew the State Attorney General was going to be on their case and they needed to do something good to stay out of trouble.
And nobody would seem to tell you who owned it. Well, I knew the real estate guy who leased the building in Berkeley and I talked to him and then found out it was actually someone in Hawaii. And I called him and I said, "Listen. You know, you've gone out of business. You've got some stuff that we could use and I could solve a big problem for you." I said, "What we would do is we'll buy all that equipment from you for $10,000."
And he had just spent a couple hundred thousand equipping these two places. "And we will honor all your memberships, no matter what terms you had sold them on, we will honor them. We offer everything you offered and more. We have a swimming pool. We have a gymnasium, racquetball, not just fitness equipment. And when the State Attorney General visits you, you can say you've made provisions for all those services to be rendered and everything."
I said, "Why don't you get your attorney and I'll get mine. We'll get in the room and we'll tell them not to argue, but just to make it happen." And they did. And got it. So I turn to my guys and say, "Listen, the IRS is going to show up and put locks and chains on these doors. I think we need to get the equipment out of those buildings pretty quick."
And so we got a truck from one of our Board members. It was equipment rental. Pulled in, oh, and we collected some of the guys from our weight room. You know, their knuckles dragged on the ground when they walked. And went out at, you know, about midnight to these places. We had got the keys, got in, and pulling equipment and you know, taking it to the Y, shuttling it back to the Y.
And in this one building in North Berkeley, the equipment was a little bigger than the door. And so the solution to some of these guys from the weight room was to get a running start. And so I pull in there, and all this is going on. They're dragging this stuff down the hallway, ripping up the carpet and everything. And all of a sudden, the building is surrounded with police and flashing lights and everything.
And they come in, they want to know what we're doing emptying this building out. And I said, "Well, I know Ron, the Police Chief. My name's Don, call him. Just tell him, you know, we're okay." And so they check us out. We're okay. So anyhow, go back. We get done about 3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning. I'm dead asleep at the Y and the desk person comes up at about 7:00 in the morning and said, "There's some guy that owns the building in North Berkeley and would like to talk to you."
And so we paid probably more for the repairs on the building than we did for the equipment. But it worked out. It turned out that we got a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment. We picked up over 1,000 new members. And you know, initially there wasn't a lot of income. But a lot of them were expiring and they were very happy with us.
And the Berkeley Y, we took it from 1,400 members to over 5,000 members over a period of three or four years. And I give Greg O'Brien a lot of credit for, you know, making that happen. And so Berkeley really got on its feet. We paid off our debts. And, you know, we didn't ask for forgiveness from the National Y, we just paid it. And we had more money than we knew what to do with.
The thing was really off and running and so Berkeley was good. Berkeley is an interesting place. We refer to it as the People's Republic of Berkeley. They debated foreign policy in the City Council until 3:00 in the morning. And it was really, really an interesting place. But there was a tolerance there that was wonderful. You know, you'd have a John Birch arch-conservative on the bike next to a Maoist and they all tolerated.
So, I mean, Berkeley was a great teacher for me on tolerating people that you really disagreed with and everything but you were all human beings and share it. So Berkeley, while it was a crazy community, there were some really, really nice things about it.
And then I got a letter from Honolulu asking me to apply for the job. Bob Masuda had gone to the National Y to lead the International Division. And I knew a couple people there. Ron Kinnamon was heading the search and he knew me very well and they asked me to apply for the job.
Well, I was busy and everything and I didn't apply. The deadline had passed and I got in my basket and I saw this thing and I went, "Oh God. I didn't even answer these people. That was really rude." So I wrote a nice letter and said, you know, "I thank you very much for inviting me. I would be honored. I see the deadline has past and I really wish you well but I've really been involved here and everything's fine."
Well, Ron called me. A guy named Bob died that was kind of acting as interim. He's a YMCA saint. And a volunteer, August Yee who was on the National Board. He was head of the Westfield Committee that I worked on. And [they both called] said, "Don, you know, we know it's passed. But we'd really like you to apply for this job."
And I thought about it. I talked to my wife and you know, and she says, "Hawaii? Out in the ocean?" You know, I said, "You know, let's go take a look." And so we went out there. I mean, the YMCA in Honolulu, fabulous Y. Great international, great youth programs. Everything. You know, you, as it turned out when I got there, you know, I wound up on a first name basis with the Senators and the Representatives and the Governor and the Mayor.
There's 900,000 on the island of Oahu and 100,000 of them participate in Y programs. You know, it's just a wonderful, wonderful YMCA. So very inspiring. So we want to look at housing and stuff. And we go out there. There were really strong candidates for that job.
And I won't use their names but they were probably twice the person I was. You know, I hold them in the highest esteem. And, but I did some things in preparation for that interview. I had a list of all the staff.
I went and got all the old Annual Reports with pictures of the Board. I memorized the faces and the names. And the names were pretty challenging. A lot of Japanese names, Chinese names, Hawaiian names. And I called Bob Masuda and I said, "How do you pronounce this?" And I learned how to pronounce all the names correctly.
I learned how to do it. They said, "When you come for the interview, you don't need to wear a suit. An Aloha shirt, and like what I'm wearing and slacks will, you know, that's all you need." So we went, came out for the interviews and I probably got chosen for all the wrong reasons. I came out there, I wore, I didn't wear a suit.
The other candidates wore their power suits and their red ties and you know, stuff. If they asked me what time it was, I didn't tell them how to build a clock. I understood the Asian culture a little bit, the softness. So, and I could pronounce all their names. When I said them, I greeted them by name. I said their name right.
I had lived in the Philippines a little bit and there's a lot of Asian cultural themes that went well. And they offered me the job. And these other guys had far more distinguished backgrounds than I had. I'd been a Camp Director, and you know, ran a Y in Berkeley and was not sophisticated as the other guys.
But they just, culture is so important to the, in Hawaii and just the way they feel about you. And my wife's a huge, Susan's a huge asset. I understand one of the other candidates, every time they asked him a question, the wife answered it. You know? And Sue's just this gentle, fine person. Everything just fit. So got to Honolulu and that was great. Had a tough landing in Honolulu.
The big, big challenge was before landing in Honolulu was finding a place to live. Actually, after being told that they were, they offered me the job and was selected. I really tried to get moving on the housing thing.
We didn't have to find the house we were going to buy, but we had to see somewhere to live. And the cost of housing was astronomical. We lived in the Bay Area which was high, but Hawaii, maybe the price was the same, but what you got for the price was not the same. And I told my wife at one point, I said, "You know, we lived better than this as a second lieutenant in the Air Force."
And we finally thought, "We just can't do this. You know, we can't afford to move here for what they're offering." And August Yee was with us the night before we were going to be going home and we were out for dinner. And my wife still remembers this, and we were saying, "We can't, we just can't find anything."
And Augie looked at my wife and he said, "You know Susan, we're going to find just the right thing." And Augie's the kind of person when he says that, you know you're going to just find the right thing. She said, "My heart just went 'plonk' when he said that." She said, "I knew we were moving to Hawaii." And the next day we were able to find something and we actually bought it. And so, but when we arrived in Hawaii, after a few weeks, the biggest program Honolulu was running, really the program that paid the bills was their after school program.
And it was, they had like 1,700 kids a day in this program and it was very important. And the Board Chairman was taking me around, introduced me to the Governor, introduced me to the Mayor and the thing. You know, and I was meeting all these people. And after we'd met the Governor, we walked down on the street and the newspaper was on the stands.
And the headline in the newspaper was, "State to Begin a Dollar a Day After School Childcare Program Universally Across the State." Whoa, you know? A dollar a day? And you know, it would blow us out of the water. We'd be dead. So walk back to the YMCA.
And by the time I got back to the YMCA, my phone was ringing. It was the newspaper and everything. They were saying, "What do you think of this Dollar a Day program?" And I said, "It sounds wonderful in terms of what parents need." I said, "I have no idea how you could do that for a dollar a day."
And it was going to include lunch too, or a snack, after school snack. "How do you do that for a dollar a day? And I really can't give you a lot to print because I know nothing about it. This is the first that I've heard about it." Well, the next day, the newspaper was a picture of the Lieutenant Governor who had constructed this program, and they had my picture because Bob Dye had sent it into the newspaper about the new guy in town.
And they had us face to face. The Lieutenant Governor and this howly guy fresh off the boat. And the headline was, "YMCA Shocked at Program." I mean, this was in letters three inches tall. You know? And this is not what the Lieutenant Governor needed because the Y is so highly regarded. Certainly not what I needed as a new kid fresh off the boat, you know, in town.
And so the Governor wanted to punch my lights out. He was a touch, feisty guy. We got off to a very bad start. But then, we took the position as that we were going to support the State. We were going to give them all our manuals and stuff so they could do a good job. The Lieutenant Governor was up at one of our communities meeting the parents in an audience that was stacked against him.
There was another private provider that had set him up, had parents crying, had kids crying, "You're destroying this thing." And it was a politician's nightmare. My Branch Executive stood up and said, "You know, this will cause some major adjustments in the YMCA. But what's good for families and children is most important and the Y will cooperate and support this any way we can."
The next morning I got a call, a phone call from the Lieutenant Governor saying, "Who was that woman?" You know, because she had just saved him. And so it turned out we developed our strategy. I met -- and we knew the principals. This was the last thing, the principals didn't see this coming. They didn't, their hands were full. They didn't need a whole 'nother program and staff to manage. And so I met with the Senate Education Committee.
Went and lunch with him, who happened to be on a Y Board. I met with the House Education Committee Chair. I said, "You guys have got to now enact legislation that makes this possible and puts it in place. I only have one request. I want you to include in there that principals would have the ability to either run the program or choose a private provider to run the program on their behalf at a cost no greater than it would cost the state to run it."
And we got that provision in. So the program went into effect. On Friday we had 1,700 and some kids in the program. On the next Monday when the program went into effect, in our own programs we had 500 kids in the program. And we had a very tough year. But the next year we picked up the schools.
And in that first year, we had like 2,800 kids, you know, 1,000 more than we'd ever had. And it went to 3,500 and for that, and now it's between 7-8,000 kids a day in that program and we're running it. The two things about it is, you know, in 1989 when I went to Hawaii, we were getting like $110/month for childcare.
Now we only get like $70 or $80 and that's all these years later. But instead of 1,700, we've got 8,000. The quality childcare people would have a fit because it's a 1:20 ratio rather than a 1:7 or 1:8 or you know, whatever they're asking for these days. But you have to define quality in different ways.
Is quality something that everybody gets and everybody can afford? Or is quality something that a few people get that's a Cadillac, you know? But that was a big issue in Hawaii at that time. And we survived it and survived it well. And it pays to have a lot of friends.
And from being somebody that the Lieutenant Governor wanted to shoot, who later became Governor, we became very good friends. And when the great Hanshin earthquake struck in Kobe and Osaka and killed 5,000 people, he called me on the weekend, asked me to come in and head the whole center for the State of Hawaii, coordinating volunteers to collect contributions and get it to Japan.
Japan Airlines took on the job of flying everything. The Hawaii National Guard would move it from a warehouse we were given to the airport. The, we had 1,400 volunteers manning, coming and going, manning the warehouse.
And every school, every post office, every Y was a drop center. And we sent something like 8,000 boxes of relief goods to, on that. But it was the kind of thing that doing the right thing, you know, with the Governor and the program even though it, you know, was a very challenging thing really paid off in the long run.
When it came, we had a capital drive some years later. And we figured we needed about $30 million and feasibility studies showed that just wasn't there in our little island of 900 people, or 900,000 people. And we got half our money from government to build YMCA buildings, you know?
And it's because everybody respected what the Y was and knew that we responded positively to the needs of the community. And so we got all this CDBG money and State Improvement Funds. And even Senator Inouye in Washington who went back and met with him and there were special troughs that certain senior Senators could feed from.
And it kind of, so you know, we got half our money from government for that campaign. Built a couple new YMCAs and stuff out of that. I need a break. So.
Yeah. Take a pause
And I want to --
Resuming interview. Don, right before our break, you were mentioning the earthquake that had happened in Japan and how you were able to leverage your resources and connections to support that. Honolulu, that was your last YMCA station, is that correct?
Yeah, my last 16 years were spent --
- as President of the YMCA of Honolulu.
Are there some programs or signature sort of moments that you'd like to share that really highlight that sort of career arc that your career journey has taken?
Yeah. They're, you know, the arc starts before my arrival but I got to surf on some waves, you know, that were good. And I got to make a few ripples myself.
And one of the things that really stands out in my mind as significant is the international history and contribution of the YMCA of Honolulu. A good example of that is about the time of my arrival in 1989, the YMCA and through Bob Masuda and Bob Dye was engaging the YMCA in mainland China who were emerging out of the dark days of the cultural revolution and reestablishing themselves.
And there was a project that the two Bobs had identified and it was going to be to build a school and a hospital, you know, pretty big projects, a school and a hospital in an area called Wuding which is a rural area outside of Kunming in Yunnan Province in Southern China.
It's a very rural area inhabited by lots of ethnic minority, kind of tribal people. And we decided we were going to raise, $250,000, a quarter of a million dollars to assist the China Y to do that project.
And Bob Masuda was getting money from National to go along with that. So I think it'd be you know, something like $450,000 or something in the end put into that project. The, we have a good Chinese community in China, I mean in Honolulu.
And some key members of our Board are part of that Chinese community, August Yee, Y Ling Lom. There was a man also on the National Board named David Hague that had traveled to China and was interested. So put a little committee together and we were trying to get people to pledge $5,000 to that.
And the importance of it was that all the old bureaucrats of China before the cultural revolution remembers all the great contributions that the Chinese YMCA made to Chinese society. The anti-opium, the literacy, the prostitution, introducing the teaching of sciences and all these things.
The China Y had made such great contributions. But all the people with those memories in government were erased by either time or by design through the cultural revolution and after the cultural revolution, the China Y was receiving their properties back. And receiving the good will of the government and needed to in turn prove again the YMCAs of China were useful to Chinese society.
And so the success of this program, to be able to build this school and hospital, even though they would be government schools and hospitals, was extremely important in the reestablishment of the credibility of the YMCAs of China. So we attacked this with some zeal and some sense of a major contribution being made and responsibility. And we were successful.
The final being August Yee who just about everybody in the YMCA knows. Just a wonderful man. Had lunch with a guy and came away with a $25,000 gift. And so we were able to be successful in that. And the interesting thing was, some years later, after the success of all this, my wife and I were in Beijing.
We were being hosted at a dinner by the All China Youth Federation and the Chinese Communist Party. And we were sitting at a table. And we were at a leader, one of the Party leaders was sitting there. And he mentioned that he was the one that had asked the YMCA to do this project. And I said, "Oh, that's nice. Thank you."
And my wife being smarter than me, asked him, "Well, why did you ask the YMCA to do this project?" And he explained that the population, all these tribal people down in Yunnan Province were by in large, were Christians. The missionaries, you know, decades and decades ago had worked those groups very effectively and by and large, most of them were Christians.
And he said, "I thought because there were so many Christians there, the YMCA would want to help." That was their logic. And I thought, "Oh, that's very interesting." But I think that's one of the things that we can be proud of. I am told that is the largest single amount ever raised by a local YMCA for a single project up to that time.
I don't know if that's true today. Another thing that was very, very interesting is that the YMCA of Honolulu had a number of partners, the National Council of China, Osaka, Seoul, Hiroshima, Taipei were all partners of the YMCA of Honolulu. And the expectation of the Board was that I would operate very effectively internationally.
And that opened up a whole new world to me and I'm so grateful. It just enriched me so much. One of the things, there's a thing called the World Urban Group of YMCAs. And they were having a meeting in Mexico City. And I went to that meeting. That was my first World Urban Group meeting.
And our partner, Taipei YMCA sent their Executive Richard Lee who was just a terrific guy. And Lia Ping from mainland China was going. And a bunch of other people And it was interesting. We arranged to have Richard Lee and Lia Ping room together in Mexico City, Taipei and mainland China. And they became wonderful friends.
And those two, myself and the Executive of the Metropolitan Singapore Y was a man named Yuen Kong. We kind of all bonded together and we went out to the pyramids together and ate together and became good friends.
And when the conference was over, Yuen Kong said, "I'm going, Don, I'm going through L.A. and I understand they've built a beautiful new Y there. And I would love, I'm going to be there a couple days, I'd love to see if I could see some of the YMCA programs and facilities." Well, Mark Young, who had been one of my Executives in Berkeley had just moved down and was the Executive of this brand new YMCA. And I said, "I think I could work on that."
So I called Mark up. I said, "Mark, I've got this guy. His name is Yuen Kong. He's coming in on this plane. Could you meet him and take care of him and show him around?" And so Mark did a fabulous job showing him the Y and everything. Well, Yuen Kong couldn't believe that casually and in a few minutes, a phone call all this could happen. And there had been this group called the Four YMCAs that met annually to share ideas and things, and that included Seoul, Osaka, Taipei and Metropolitan Singapore.
And you know, Yuen Kong after that called Richard and said, "Do you think we could ask Don to join that group?" And Richard said, "Oh, yeah. I know Don is, you know, it'd be great." So we got invited to be a member of this Five YMCAs. It has since evolved to Six YMCAs with the Chinese Y of Hong Kong being involved. But I was invited to their meeting and their next meeting was in Singapore.
And through the years, all through those years of going to those meetings, I probably got the deeper understanding of things from those meetings than anything else. When I was with my U.S. colleagues, you would discuss a problem like succession planning or board development or relationship and you were all coming out of the same culture, you all pretty well had the same perspective and you were dealing with the same things.
And you had a nice discussion. But when you sit with people from four other cultures, or five other cultures with totally different perspectives and problems and viewpoints and cultural elements and you discuss that in depth, you begin to see that issue in three dimensions instead of as a flat Earth thing.
And those meetings were so wonderful to me and so much in terms of my personal, I got so much from those. And that was a great thing. And that again, rides on the reputation of the Honolulu Y internationally and I was glad I was able to get involved. And the current CEO still participates in those meetings. And it's a real blessing, just a real blessing.
One sort of recurring thing I'm hearing throughout your story is just the power of partnerships and cultivating them. Is there anything you just want to speak about that as just as a theme? Or maybe there's another anecdote that that statement leads you towards?
Yeah. Let me talk about one. And forgive me, this is kind of a long story and it starts in all kinds of unusual places. Prior to World War II, there was a young boy whose father was Japanese, from Japan, running a rubber plantation on the island of Mindanao.
And this was pre-World War II. Well, the war broke out and they went back to Japan. The young boy grew up to be[Tetsui Hayashi who became the General Secretary of the Hiroshima YMCA eventually. I had this experience of during the Vietnam War of being stationed on Mactan Island in the Philippines.
And you know, becoming involved with Cris Caparoso and, you know, the YMCA there in the Philippines and making a lifelong friendship, you know, and eventually going back. Also in ancient history is World War II. The largest naval battle in the history of the world was off the island of Leyte, the Battle of Leyte Gulf where tens of thousands of Americans, Japanese, Filipinos died at the hands of each other.
Fast-forward to my arrival in Honolulu in 1989. I had seen Cris a few times over the years. He had been brought to the U.S. for training and passed through Berkeley and stuff. But when I got to Honolulu, on my desk was a Partnership Agreement was the Cebu YMCA and Cris Caparoso.
He had no idea I had just gone to Honolulu. I had no idea that the Cebu YMCA and Honolulu were in the process of developing a partnership. And so I thought, "Okay, what do I do about this?"
And I decided I would just sign it, put my name on it and sign it and send it back to Cris, the Partnership Agreement. You know? And I did this. And then I get this phone call, "Don, what are doing?" You know? And stuff. And so we began, we have this partnership. There was a terrible flood at the end of 1992 that killed 8,000 people.
Torrential rains just came down and washed villages and people out into the ocean in the city of Ormoc on the Island of Leyte. And I had a meeting in Taipei with our partners. I went by to visit Cebu after this disaster had happened. He took me over to show me the work they were doing.
They had adopted 30 families who were living in tents in this compound that had lost members of their family, they'd lost their house. They'd lost everything. And the Y was teaching the young men carpentry, teaching the young women how to do manicures in colony. Bought and did the schools, gave them all the equipment they needed to go out and work and get a livelihood. And, you know, we visited, he and I visited that.
I ate with them and got to know these families. And it was a haunting experience. And I kept thinking, you know, what could we do? And both Hiroshima and Honolulu had sent a little money to help support what the Y was doing in Cebu.
And I found out that the Cebu, or the Hiroshima Y had sent some young adults there to work with these people. And so I can, Tetsui Hayashi who now is Hiroshima has kind of a background and a love of the Philippines. And here I am in Honolulu and I have a little connection to the Philippines. They're partners with Cebu. We're partners with Cebu.
And, you know, I'm calling Hayashi and I'm saying, "What can we do?" And the gist of it is that they're planning another work camp, Hiroshima and Cebu. And I said, "How about Honolulu joining you?" And that's good. So Hiroshima bought property and Honolulu raised the money to build the houses, the 30 houses on the property.
And so in 1993, I took a dozen young adults from the Honolulu YMCA. Cris got four or five YMCAs in the Philippines to send young adults. Hiroshima, Japan sent some young adults and we went to this village.
And we did all kinds of improvements around these houses and had a wonderful experience. Ran a dental clinic, free dental clinic. Cris's daughter and son-in-law are dentists. They got a bunch of dentists. It was, you know, a really great experience. And our young people really bonded. And so we're having a closing devotion, sitting out, looking across the water.
All of a sudden it dawns on me, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 50 years before. A half century before almost exactly. And here we are, Japanese, Americans, Filipinos, sitting there having worked together, building, meeting people's needs and houses when before we were killing each other.
And you know, there's a lot of, you know, "The world's going to hell." And, "It's a much worse place." Well, in that respect, maybe not. You know? Wonderful experience. And there's such power, and the life changes for the 12 people that I took were indelible in me. I mean, I did a debriefing with each one of them and what did they learn? And what did they do?
And it was such a powerful, powerful experience. And that, without going through all the details, we have done that every year now for 25 years. And I continue to do it after retirement. And still take people, and still taking young people from the YMCA of Honolulu. Hiroshima is still sending people. Cris is still finding wonderful projects. We've built schools.
We've built shelters for street kids. We've done all kinds of things. After the worst typhoon ever recorded in the world hit the Philippines a few years back, we went to a school that was flattened and rebuilt that school. You know, there were 70 from Hiroshima, Honolulu and the Philippines there and we rebuilt his whole school.
Ran a dental clinic. Ran a, brought eyeglasses and gave reading glasses to the seniors. We still do this. We do this every year. I just got back two months ago from the Philippines and doing a poor little rural school. And I wound up now taking about 500 participants on these things and still talk to each one and what it means.
And one young lady we took who wound up eventually on the World Alliance Executive Committee, a young woman named Colleen Leung who had went on one of our projects and had really gotten turned on to the Y. One year the student Y wanted to send, you know, they were going to send six people.
And they interviewed the people and Colleen was on the interview committee because she had been a participant. And she was so moved by the quality of the people that wanted to go on the trip that she herself went out and raised a couple thousand dollars from her family and herself and her friends so a couple more people could go on these trips. And you know, just the multiplication factor is fine. And I have, now as a retiree, I have involved the Rotary Club of Honolulu.
So now we have top business people, Rotarians from Honolulu and these young adults going. And in our community, our young, our business leaders are seeing the fabulous young people of the Y and they're sharing this experience with them. I'm talking about presidents of companies and they're going out and having the experience.
This one man who owns a construction company underwrote the experience this year for the young people from the YMCA to go. He underwrote the cost of the experience. He saw Cris needed a new van, he gave $30,000 for the new van in Cebu to do it. And there's some other things I could tell you. He actually made a gift of five million pesos to pay off the mortgage of the Cebu YMCA.
So the multiplication factor of just doing these simple little projects is fabulous. And I would say in my life, as I retire now, and I need relationships and I need meaning, what I get out of it is absolutely fantastic.
One thread I heard as going, you told all of this and particularly reinforced at the end, is this concept of strengthening and rebuilding, going back to your first sort of Y career with that camp that was broken down. And now you've continued that on and I think it's just, it's a wonderful thing to hear these themes that sort of rise up of individual's careers.
And what sort of, the many different ways the Y can present itself to different people and for you, this strengthening, rebuilding partnership is a really strong theme. Reflecting on kind of retelling this story of your career, what does the YMCA mean to you?
Well, besides everything, a life that I've spent in the YMCA, and what it means to me. I have spent my life hanging out with the finest people in the world. The staff of the YMCA, the volunteers in the YMCA are all there for the right reasons.
They are the best people in the world and I've got to spend my life alongside them. And not only alongside of them, we get to do things that are meaningful. The two things you need in life are relationships and meaning. And if you have those relationships and meaning, you have a rich life.
Without either of those, I think life is less than it ought to be. So you know, if I had to put it shortly, that's what the Y means to me.
That's great. Is there anything else you'd like to share while we have this opportunity?
I don't know.
We covered a lot of ground so.
Don, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.
Great. Thank you.