Kenneth J. White
December 7, 2015
Begin Interview. Today is December 7, 2015. And the time is 2:30 PM Eastern. This is Ed Toole from the YMCA Retirement Fund interviewing Kenneth J. White. Mr White, thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today.
Happy to be here.
Great. So, my first question for you is what was your very first YMCA experience?
Resident Camping. Probably Junior High School, I was, working as a dishwasher. They called it a dining hall steward and a scullery captain. So I was responsible all summer for washing the dishes. I had a couple of guys to help me. They weren’t kids but my age kind of thing. And, then I took care of the dining room, which made sure that everything was clean and the floor was done, and I control the waiters at the tables and that kind of stuff. As a first job.
So tell, tell me how it went from that first job into your career. And take me through your career a little bit?
Okay. Well, that was when I was going to school. And I had a great opportunity. The YMCA really saved my butt. I grew up with a tough family life. And a lot of alcoholism chased all the kids out of the house, social workers, that whole thing. So, I at a certain point said that I wasn’t going to go back home. And so they put me in an orphanage. I was in an orphanage for about three months. And after the orphanage, they found me a boarding school; this is my social worker.
And the boarding school was very interested in me playing football, and I never played football in my whole life. I had no idea what it was. So they ended up giving me a football scholarship. I went to school, and I had nothing to do when the school was over. So what do you do? Well, the social worker again found, the Providence YMCA and said, do you need anybody to work at the summer camps? And that’s how that all started. So for six years, I did that, and it got me through high school. I graduated high school, first person in my family to do that. Mother and Father hadn’t, stepfather hadn’t, brothers and sisters hadn’t. So I was pretty proud of myself, you know, a little cocky of myself. And I graduated and the director of the Y who became my foster father, he was the director of the Y and became my foster father, which I always said, by love not by law.
And he said now, where are you going to go to college? And I said, what are you nuts, I’m not going to college. He said, sure you are. I said, no, I didn’t go in the Navy, I just you know, that’s what I do. You know people go in the Navy. My brother went into the Navy. And he said, no you’re going to go to college, he said you can start looking at colleges and stuff. So, he pushed and pushed and pushed and so I finally ended up going to college.
Thankfully I got a football scholarship and worked off campus and stuff. And you know, for the good of the order it was not Springfield College, but it was less than a mile away, American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. So I’m the only AIC graduate in the entire YMCA, ever to be in a YMCA, I say that, but that’s not true. But I always loved to rank anytime I get an opportunity to talk in a group rank of those Springfield College folks.
So I went through college and when I was finished college again Ted my foster father gave me a full-time job, so program director, and that was when I really started full-time in the YMCA in 1972 in Lakeland Hills, YMCA, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. And I worked there for a couple of years, did youth programming Indian guides, all of that kind of stuff. And then became a, went to Perth Amboy New Jersey. The director was having some ongoing problems with the board, and they basically said, Ted this is having some problems with the board, you better find another job because I‘m not sure how long you’ll be here, and He was right.
And so I ended up going to another job which he helped me get as Director of Urban Youth Services in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, which was a real neat opportunity just like the previous one but very urban. A high degree of Spanish- 90% of the kids I worked with were Puerto Rican primarily; whose parents didn’t speak English. So it’s always interesting on a parent night or a covered dish or something at the Y where the kids would have to help interpret for me.
But I enjoyed that and then from there and a number of other programs. Then I became a branch director out in the suburbs, and then I became the Associate General Director, Associate CEO whatever they would call it now. And, then I got a call one day from Julius Jones. He said, I got a recommendation to talk to you about a job I have in Washington D.C., and so I said, oh, alright then. I don’t know who Julius Jones is. Anyways, I negotiated that well, and I ended up going to Washington D.C.
But just prior to that I had gone to Springfield College and hired somebody at the branch that I was at as a Program Director who happen to be by the name of Tim Stitzer, of the Stitzer Center. So, Tim comes in he starts, and first day on the job I say, Tim, by the way, and I’m leaving in two weeks, and I’m going to Washington, D.C.
But I always feel like, well, I get one of those Stitzers in the Movement. Then I was at the Alexandria Branch Y for about two years, two and a half years. And that was a Y that was having a really hard time with blacks and whites. They had some high up trustees that owned the building which was unusual for a metro Y. They had to deal with Julius downtown and Tom Hargrave downtown. But they would talk at the meetings with me there in the room, how they even liked Julius and he’s black, I even like him. But we hired our first black director there, and it was a very interesting, a very interesting time in Alexandria.
And then a guy by the name of Neil Nicoll, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him or not. He was at one of the other branches, and he left and went to Worcester. He had four branches where he was so Hank Bagelman was supervising me at that point, Julius had left and gone to Pittsburgh. So Hank put me over in Prince George's County, so I followed Neil over there. And that was my third branch job.
You know, I knew it all. You know, I knew everything. And these people downtown, they knew nothing. They just had no clue what was going on with the branches. And I remember telling that to the APD Exec one day when he was in town. I was driving him around Jim Stooke he says Ken you're just going through a regular phase like everybody else. You think you know everything. You don’t. But you think you do. And you think they know nothing. And they don’t. They really do know. What it means is it’s time for you to go run your own Y.
So, I started looking around for positions with the YMCA. And that was difficult because I was a heavy guy; I carried a lot of weight. And that’s not consistent with the Y image. So interviews were difficult, regardless of my accomplishments. And I understood it. I mean, I wasn’t angry about it. It was perfectly understandable.
I had interviewed at a place up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and I got back, and I got a call and I really connected with this volunteer. And he called me up, and he said to me, Ken, you didn’t get the job. We’re offering it to somebody else. But I just wanted to call to tell you that I really appreciated meeting you and you know, you were my first choice, but you know, the committee decided otherwise, but I wanted to let you know that. I wanted to let you know. And I had already heard from the director, it was kind of work in the process you know the RD, or whatever they called them those days, field staff member and he had told me that they had a problem with my weight. I said, I know that Jim. Thank you for the feedback, and I know that.
That did make sense. So and I mentioned that to George in this conversation. I said I know the difficulty with you know, having a person as big as I am, being in the director’s position in the community and he says what do you mean, where did you hear that? And he went off the deep end.
Well everything cooled out, and a week later I decided I was going to be there for a while, so I joined a membership. I joined a country club membership and decided; if I was going to be there I wanted to play golf, so I joined a country club membership and got a call from this guy again about a week and a half later.
And George says to me, Ken, he says, you’re going to get a call from the chair of the committee tonight. About an hour, and he says, he's going to offer you the job. I’m not asking you to take the job. I don’t ask what your decision's going to be. But I wanted to tell you ahead of time, that I want you to take this job. I want you to. He says I want you to have a few minutes to think about it and it’s really a tough job and I know that but this is something I think you can do and he says, I really think this is a great match.
And the chair called me, and I said, you know Vince I'm not really, you know sure that this is going to be a great match. And I had in my mind some doubt about, you know, people second guessing things. And I said, I’ll tell you what, I said, if we could have another opportunity to meet and I could meet with some of the board members that would be a great opportunity for me. Not that I’d go down and say yes or no at the time, but just to go down and meet and talk to people.
So he set up a little cocktail time, and I came down with my wife, and we went through the whole, well, I was you know, I just felt really comfortable there I said this was great. So, that’s why I ended up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It’s also the home of my wife. She lives in Bucks County, and you don't take a Bucks County girl out of Bucks County. She was in Washington D.C. for five years or so, so she was ready to go home. But that was really good. And the Y was in a tough situation because they built a building they couldn’t afford.
They had all the debt, and the bank was knocking on their door and you know they had a moratorium on the mortgage, but nobody knew what the heck that meant. So obviously, we had to raise some money. And my job there in the period of time I was there was to raise the money, get the building paid off. My predecessor was exquisite in building the building; she did a phenomenal job. But the board and her didn't raise any money. So that was my job, and I did that and got the membership on.
Then I started working on other opportunities and jobs, and the job that came my way was New York City. I was looking at working either on the field or MRC and New York City. I got a call from Paula Gavin because Gene Schaeffer who was predecessor to, I guess, Len Wilson on the field staff. He was the field exec, and then he went to New York City. When he was a field exec, he interviewed Bill Cameron and myself. And you know the story that they weren’t close together. And he said to both of us I could choose either one of you.
I said, I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know which one to choose. But he ended up choosing Bill. But Gene had at the back of his mind; he said, you know, there must be something in the skies. So when he went to New York, and they were looking to put in a new MRC Director, he said, Paula, you really need to talk to him. So she called me, and I went in and had lunch with her, and she offered me the job on the spot. And all hell broke loose because the job wasn’t listed and blah blah blah blah blah. But there was some issues that they did not want listed. It would become very unprofessional.
And so Paula new that she had to bite the bullet and just take all the heat that she was going to get. So I was there for six and a half years, had a staff of three consultants. And during that whole period of time, I was having some difficulty with my son. And I’m still living in Doylestown and commuting into New York City. And the Y's that I'm working with, my Y's the group that I dealt with, we're the gold coast, we're all up and down Fairfield, Connecticut.
So I would go in on a Monday to the office in Manhattan. And then I’d go up Tuesday to Connecticut, and I'd stay over Tuesday night, so I had all day Tuesday there and Tuesday night. And then I'd be back to my house Wednesday morning.
So I'd have two days up there, but what was happening was, well my son was acting out my wife was having those help. And the truth of the matter is she was a single parent. And so, a couple of phone calls from the police and a couple of dropping my schedules.
And I, you know would just cancel appointments and go home in the middle of the day. And so I just went to Paula and said, this is not working. This isn’t going to work. I’m going have to leave the job. And she’s Ken whatever you want; I’ll support you. What do you want to do? And I said, I've got to get closer to home. And I've got to get a job that’s more sane. And so, she was very very supportive as was my staff for the most part. I ended up talking to Len about it. There weren’t any openings. And Len talked to Bill.
Now Bill at that time was running the New York the Philly MRC. Glen was running the field. So the two of them got together and said, well we could, we could, share you. You’d do half time for the Philly MRC, work with the Ys in South Jersey primarily and then work with the field staff and work with the YMCAs up in Northeast Pennsylvania. And in the meantime do more development stuff, which I was really spending more time on and getting more involved in.
So, they were able to put it together. There was a big cut in salary; it wasn’t important. I was home almost every night. So, it really worked out well. I wish my son had gotten better, but he could’ve been worse, he could’ve got worse, so I look at it that way.
And from that point, I did that job for a while and then I worked for a couple of transition people when Len left to Jerusalem, I worked for Dave Wong and then I went to work for Cathy Hamilton of Y of the USA staff. And my final portfolio was doing board development, the training or developing programs for training, doing a lot of speaking in the country, and that that was like the job I had been looking to do for about ten years. And they put it all together for me at the national. So, I worked for Cathy Hamilton and then following Cathy Hamilton’s crew when Cathy retired, I worked for Susan Richard, for a while.
And then I retired when I was with Susan Richard, and I was, it was early. I was fifty-seven, and it was 2006 I believe. But the wear and tear of traveling, and plane traveling, now it’s so much worse now than it was then. You know, I just flew to Vegas and back this week, and it’s just, I said to myself, I couldn’t take it before, how can I take it now? I'd leave on a Monday, and I try to make all these meetings through the week, I get back Thursday or Friday. And it was like; I couldn’t get to the next meeting, the plane would get cancelled. I wasn’t there.
I wasn’t the speaker or didn’t meet with the board, whatever it was you know, it just drove me crazy. So I said that’s it 57. I wanted to go at 55. It was always a quiet kind of goal of mine. And then do my own business and just kind of relax, knowing I wouldn’t be doing any Y work. Because Y people get money for free. They get their consulting for free. They don’t pay people several hundred dollars a day to come in and do their consulting. Everybody always talks about that more it's like no I think you got that wrong. You've got to find another place to working, and I did. I found a number of things that I really, really, really had a great time. But that’s kind of the career.
I did have a, what I call a training career. Which was at camp, when I finally worked out of the scullery, because I was there for two years, and I became eighteen, I could become a counselor. I really got into staff development and training. I really loved to do that. So I first got into the YMCA there was a program that Ron Kinnamon had done called Family Focus. And it was a parent education program. And so I had set a goal that I wanted to train more people, more parents, train isn't the right word, but I want to have more parents involved in this program than anybody else in the country was my goal. So I had this thing where I, because nobody ever signed up for it. I'd go to a PTA meeting and do a presentation at the end of it, and then I'd have a program starting the next week. And that’s how I filled them up. And that’s, that’s how I, I think I was pretty high up there if not the highest.
But anyway, so I did the parent education program. And then when that training went down, I started with principles and practices which became CDP which I don’t know what they call it now, but it was a ten-day experience in those days. And so Allie Murphy was on the national staff at that time and I used to be the trainer, and had two or three, depending on the size of the group, I was the manager and then I'd have two or three trainers. So that we would setup set up each other with a schedule and takes them away for ten days.
And this was primarily where I was at, central and a little bit before when I was at Doylestown, and I would do three a year, on my schedule, my vacation. And the board saw that I was doing this. So they came to me and said, Ken we think this is great and everything and this is good for you, you like it, but you got to take vacations. So they decided that they would give me three weeks of their time. And I would still have three weeks of my time; I think it was four weeks, maybe. So I always managed two and trained one, but in the course of all that time, I had about 1,100 people who went through.
So, I knew people all over the place. You know, it was like; it was really a great opportunity. And as you know, a third of those people go on year but still, there was a lot of people out there that I'm still Facebook friends with now.
When that was finished, and I went to the MRC in New York, and I was no longer a CEO. I said, oh this is great, now I'm going to get to do training. And I found out; it wasn’t about training. You know, I didn’t get any calls about going to training. I get calls from boards saying, we have this problem we have this problem. And I go, oh, okay, how the hell do I do that you know how do I that.
The most humbling job I’ve ever had in my life. And so quickly, and I went to school with Carrie Kingsley out on the West coast it was a time. I’ve got all kinds of materials Stevie Hambright and all kinds of other people and really started zeroing on board development. And that became my third training experience.
Then we focused the CDPs and then I went to board development. And the more I get into board development and the more training I got, the more I found out just by the ways of working with boards and learning about boards, that really became my final third leg of my training capacity. So, that’s, that should’ve taken care one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.
Not quite though but you'll see. That was great stuff. So let me go back to you mentioned the Y Director your foster father Ted and maybe this, he qualifies, and it sounds like he does. Tell me about a mentor you had in the Y and how did that person or multiple people, who they were and how they influenced you in your career, in your thinking, and how you conducted yourself?
Well, I would have to say it was Ted Ressler. And, Ted Ressler was a great camp man. He was a phenomenal camp man and the staff that he hired and supervised and trained would walk off the ends of the earth to support him. But he had a problem running Ys.
Basically, his problem was, and the staff used to always call him the snowman because he would always tell you baloney, you know. But kids believe it you know, but he couldn’t do it to boards. And so it cost him several jobs, until the point came where I think it was Gene Schaeffer one time said, I'm never going to recommend you for another job. And so, he never really made it all the way to the career that he wanted to.
But because he was so dynamic and such a great trainer, and such a warm and good person, but don’t ask him about the figures and facts because he'd only tell you what you want to hear and that’s where he’s getting himself in some troubles. So all through college he helped me out. I learned the first bit of training that I ever had from him, and he worked in front of a group, how he was able to be successful with a group and how was he able to lead.
And there was an awful lot there. He lived in Delaware he won a state award, he and his wife for volunteer for a year for save Delaware. He started the first Children’s Theatre he and his wife in the Dover area. But it really encompassed a lot of other things.
He was a very dynamic person, and I was very very close to him. And I always called him my foster father. And it wasn’t until later on in life that I got the line where I said he’s my foster father, by love not by law. And he’s passed now, but his wife is in a nursing home. And I write to her just about every day. And she’s doing pretty good.
What do you believe was the most significant thing that happened in the YMCA movement during your career? Or things that happened?
I think, the Y got more professional. Professional in a sense that directorship. Prior to my career, there was the move from secretary to director. But it was a title change. And there was still, and this may sound not so right but it’s really how I feel, it was more where the director would roll out the basketballs at twelve o’clock. It was more that the kids would come in after school and they would have all the games set up. And in my day, it became more of you would worried about budget. You were worried about raising money. You were worried about the community image. And you made sure that you'd have people that do that. And you were kind of in tricks between, and you did some of it yourself, too.
But I think, it became much more involved with marketing and promotion and more of the administrative type staff tasks that I saw in the very early, early years. I think that was the biggest. And I think it’s also going in that direction still and I think that’s good because the organization is becoming more and more professional which you can do with volunteers instead of just having just staff to work for you. The people who also feel a strong sense for the mission. And what they can do, and magnifying actual running of programs and things like that, I think that that’s a big change that’s going in, a good evolution of what’s going on.
The other thing is I think; there’s been a lot of changes at the national office, there's been where we've reached out and had people come in that weren’t YMCA people and ran the national office and had a very difficult time getting their arms around the organization. Where we’ve gone out and grabbed people with an urban execs, and while they didn’t have that problem putting their arms around the organization, they would look at everything like a metro. And had problems with independent YMCAs as opposed to multiple YMCAs.
And during my tenure, the move was to try to merge all of these YMCAs. Yet the strength of the whole organization is the fact that locals make global decisions based on their needs, based on their community, with their volunteers. Not even the professionals out there other than dialoging with them, trying to help them make the appropriate decisions. So I’ve seen that, those changes that have going on and you know, there's positives and negatives to both of those. Guys like Neil did an outstanding job and he certainly was a metro executive and believed very strongly in that kind of a setup.
When you reflect on your career you shared with me, and I was a, actually let me go back to another thing. Because you mentioned Alexandria and some issues maybe with race relations, I’ll turn it that way. What was your experience with that in your career and did you see that in other places? Or was it really strongly when you down in that DC area with some of those difficulties? Talk to me a little bit about what you saw and how either you responded personally or how the Y tried to respond to those type of things?
There was a person by the name of Yvonne Ragler, I don’t know if that name means anything to you. But she was on the Philadelphia staff for a while. She was also on the east field staff then called the mid-Atlantic staff. When I was an urban youth services director prior to going to Washington and Perth Amboy, and I was trying to get a center opened in a housing development, low-income housing development.
And it was just sitting there, dilapidated, it was in terrible shape, and I needed money to fix it up, and I needed money this. Well, Yvonne became, you know, just my best friend in all the world because she really had tremendous skills in this area. So she said, well, you know, go to that, go to this, go to that. So I started writing to these places getting my in, and then she did some really weird stuff that I would never have done.
She said, I want you to get a team of people from your youth community and go and interview all of the people in the community face to face, go knock on their doors, and I said, what? And she was so right on. We did that for like three weeks. What do you need here? What can we do if we commit? And then at the end, we had a big open house in the place we going to have renovated. We had to bring lights and generators in to have light in there. And you know she says, I wanted it to look it worse it can. Don’t you put anything in there that’s nice.
And the mayor came. The Mayor calls me and says, I want to speak there. You got to introduce me. Oh, my goodness. And, ah, she was like, you didn’t call him first, you know, no, I didn’t, how to do that something. So we got that whole thing going. The first week we were in there hiring another guy out of Springfield College, was actually a Springfield College ball player. And the first week he was there he was stabbed. And I remember going to his hospital that night, and he was up in the hospital alone. He says, Ken I'll never leave here now, I balled my eyes out. And I said, okay Louie, alright. I said what can I say, and I really felt bad about this. He prosecuted the kids that did it.
But it was an impetus that turned him into this ball of fire. And he really got that center going like nobody’s business. Well, this is the idea that, Julius was looking for somebody in Alexandria, somebody who has some sensitivity. This was area you know it’d gone from about 90% Hispanics to about 104% African-Americans. And so Yvonne says, you know this guy can deal with this kind of, these racial issues. And in Alexandria they had hired, they had a relationship with another branch because the guy left, he happened to be African-American. They said, he’s not allowed.
They told Downtown Y it's not allowed here, this is a White Y. And so they ended up hiring a woman, they’re sending in a woman. Rather than get in a big fight, they send in a woman from the resident camp. And she was going to interim there, well they change all the locks on the doors. They said, we don’t want any women here, either.
They said, well, you can’t discriminate, number one. Number two, you can’t throw Downtown out. It’s your building, but if you want to use the YMCA’s name, they have to do it, and you don’t have any alternative about that. So they ended up sitting down and working it out. And they said, we’ll get another director, and that’s when Julius hired me to come in there. And so when I hired the first black director, they didn’t like it at all. But they knew it was going to have to happen. And they weren’t going to fight me.
They told me it wasn’t a good idea. It was a White Y, but I’ll never forget the first day on the job, he walked across the street to the supermarket to get something for lunch. And they followed him around the supermarket, and they grabbed him. Ordered him to the manager’s office, called the police. They’re going to have him arrested for stealing. He didn’t steal; he said I didn’t steal anything. He says, well, what the hell are you doing in here, and he says, well, I work for the Y, he said you don’t work for the Y. They knew he wouldn’t be working for the Y because he was black. And that’s how crazy it was. And I couldn’t believe it.
So I went over there, and, you know, I was really letting the manager you know, have a piece of my mind about how inappropriate this was. And he goes, hey, you want me to apologize? Bring him back I’ll apologize to him; I don’t care. You know, you could tell the attitude. So that guy did survive about a year and a half. But it really was, not only saying it, but the doing of it. And we went from a very, where we had all kinds of financial problems, and Julius was a tough manager about finances.
He was tough as hell. And we did get the baby to balance. We never raised a lot of money in annual giving, but we got the baby to balance finally. I think I was there for three years, and then I left and went to the bigger branch, following Neil Nicoll. But that was a very challenging time, very, very. I learned an awful lot.
That is, that’s amazing stories. So I’m sure you're proud of your time there and what you were able to accomplish. So what are you most proud of when you reflect on your career within the Y? Is there any one thing or two things that stand out?
I think the thing that stands out to me Ed is this whole sense of being able to utilize what I think was my best talent, which was training. And being able to see my career in three distinct trainings. You know, that the idea when I started with family focus, the parents’ teaching program, hard to promote and everything. And setting the goal, saying, I’m going to train more than anybody else in the country. And it was a very popular program. There was a lot of people doing it across the country. And Ron Kinnamon had done such a good job developing it and putting it together. It was like when I was a youth director in Perth Amboy, and at the same time, I had a goal that I wanted to know every kid in town. And my test was that I would walk downtown on Main Street, and the number of kids that I would know.
I could tell by the number of kids that would go past me. They would say, hey Mr White, hey, Mr. White. You know, whether I was getting that goal achieved or not. But probably being able to the Y letting me do that, letting me utilize my training skills. I felt most comfortable with it. I felt like that was a good trait of mine. I got positive feedback. You know always look for that during that period of time. And I think I got better at it. Even better at it as I went along. I think my board development stuff was better than my CDP stuff, was better than my positive parenting and family focus stuff. But that’s what I keep in my list.
That’s great. So a decade, about a decade into retirement. What does the YMCA mean to you?
Well, you know, it’s. I have to say it’s more than a career. It’s a lot of memories. It’s interesting when you leave, you really leave. You know, it’s not you go from this high-impact kind of an operation to no impact. They did have some opportunities for retirees to get involved in coaching, you know coaching CEOs.
I never got a call to do that; I wish I had. I know Randy and Marty Bolsinger well. I worked with Marty in Washington, DC. Worked with Marty in New York City, so maybe she decided I wasn’t somebody that they would call. But whatever the reason was, that would have helped my transition, having worked in my own business for four or five years. It was absolutely every day that I worked. I would work, find out what other people didn’t know. It was just so obvious in the Y.
That somewhere along the line you were going to pick up something. Whether it was executive coaching or selection. I did some executive selection for some agencies. It just amazed me what the Y had over these people. But when I look back at the Y, I’m very fond, and I look forward to the Y very fondly. And I very involved with AYR. Got probably more involved that I should have, but I got through. I was a treasurer for three years when Len was the president.
And that was difficult. The ailment that I have is more prone to manifesting itself when you have stress. And in a job like treasurer which is nitty-gritty, behind the door when the door close, doing stuff all by yourself and getting it done, and schedules and all that kind of thing is, it just produced more stress. And it was fine stress. But for me and my ailment, it was negatively affecting me. And Len was very good about it; you know Len would say, well don’t worry about it. I can’t do that, I got to do. No, wait next week. I said, well, that’s on my mind, and if I don’t do it. But he was good. He was really good with that. But AYR is a good opportunity for people.
So what is something that today’s YMCA leaders should be aware of? Obviously, you seen a lot of work with boards and everything. So when you think now, what is it that you tell them, what do they need to be aware of moving forward, whether that be volunteer or professional staff leadership?
Well I think that people in the organization should learn about volunteers earlier. And that they should learn. You know, there’s a lot of really good relationship between working with program volunteers and working with work board volunteers. Regardless of the fact that the status is. You know what I’m talking about, branches, sometimes CEOs.
That they oversee your livelihood. And I think that they, that the whole emphasis early on in the Movement should be working with volunteers, whether they be program-related or board-related or branch-board-related. That people should. It’s too often that many of the Ys that I’ve seen in trouble, even the ones that you know, when it’s, we’re in a position like you. When you’re working with a local Y, how the CEO goes under the radar over certain things, and you don’t know what’s going on, and they’re keeping it from the board as well.
I remember one where a board, the CEO is giving himself raises and then giving himself bonuses, and the board knew nothing about it. I knew nothing about it. You know, when it hit the fan, he was gone in two seconds. But it was like, you know, who would know that stuff? But you know, there is more to that than those people out there.
There’s people who really need some help in terms of the board. And from a national point of view, they need somebody that could be the intermediary and say the things that are tough for the CEO to say. And the board will listen a little bit more. And if they kick you out, big deal. It’s better than them kicking the CEO out. But you know, I think that’s one of them. And obviously, if you ask the membership person, they’d tell you membership. It makes sense that I would come back to volunteers for program, and branch board, and corporate board volunteers.
Just a couple of other questions. So you referenced to your tough childhood, and ultimately being part of the YMCA. So when I think about it now, now, of course, it’s one of our pillars, youth development. And hearing your background and then what you went through, what does that mean to you when you think about youth development in the YMCA?
I think for me, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I was. I probably would have graduated from high school; I probably had enough smarts to do that. But I definitely wouldn’t have gone to college. I needed somebody who could mentor me and who could talk turkey with me and tell me things that I didn’t want to hear, push me in directions I didn’t want to go. You know, if it wasn’t for the YMCA in those days, there would have been nobody, there was nobody.
There were social workers who I had, that they would come with their cars to my junior high school and pick me up with a big state seal on the side of the car, you know. And it just, you know. Just dying having me get in there and everybody seeing that, what’s Ken doing, what’s going on. Tell stories about what my mother was doing and how bad she was, and the drinking. Well, she’d meet with my mother, but she’d call her up, and she’d say, I’m coming over on Tuesday at ten o’clock. My mother would be dressed; she wouldn’t be drinking. And she kept telling me things like, you’re lying, why do you do this? Let’s go out and have an ice cream she’d say.
And then she’s trying to tell me that I kept making these stories up and I said this is going nowhere, Mrs. Ward. I can never, I’ll never get that out of my head. And one day she came to my house unannounced. My mother wasn’t dressed, and she had been drinking. And she called her every name in the book. And I never saw that social worker again. She turned around and walk back to her car.
And a new social worker the next day. It was actually that guy who was the one that said, alright we’ll get you in a home, in the orphanage and then we’ll see where we can put you. And my older brother, I was the second, and there’s four in the family. And my older brother had left, he went to the Navy.
So he was gone, he was out of the house. And so now I was the center of all attention. But he was the one that found a boarding school for me; he was the one that got me some scholarship’s money out of a foundation in New York for the school. He was very, very good. But the connection that made it, in the summer because I had nothing to do.
You know, I would go down to camp as soon as school was over. And it was two or three weeks before camp would ever open up, but I would go down there, and Ted would say, I need this painted. I need this done. I want this little piece right here. And I would get up in the morning and work like crazy all day long. And then I would stay after camp until football would start double sessions.
But the Y was very, very good. If it wasn’t for the Y, I don’t know where I’d be. I guess I would kind of know because my younger sister was a heroin addict and died of it. My younger brother was much like my mother and father, an alcoholic and struggles with it still today, but he’s doing pretty good. We ended up, made a living.
So my brother, thank goodness, when he got out of the Navy, he actually went and got a GED. Went back and got his degree. Went to Boston University, got a seminary. Almost finished it, didn’t finish it all the way. Became a minister in the United Church of Christ, non-Methodist. So he really did well. But his thing was his wife was really pushing him. And she was great. She was just wonderful. I mean, he came around really, really well. But he’s a good guy.
Well, Ken, is there anything I didn’t ask you today that you would like to share? Anything else that you thought of?
Yeah, I think the thing that I think about often is the phenomenal supervisors that I’ve had in my career. And even names that wouldn’t really mean, a hill of beans to anybody that were my board chairs when I was a CEO, how phenomenal they were. You know, I had worked for Paula Gavin, I had worked for Hank Bagelman. I worked with Julius Jones. I mean, it’s just some. You know, I had at least five more names on that list.
There were just, Bill Cameron, just unbelievable people that were just tremendous leaders in the movement. And you know what a great opportunity that was to work with them and be on their team as they all felt that, they all felt that they had a team, and they weren’t pushing their finger down your throat every day. They were demanding, but they didn’t push their finger down your throat. So I think that would be the one thing I would add to it all, is the wonderful opportunities that I had. Some unbelievable years in the Y.
Well, great. We appreciate your time today, and thanks so much for spending it with us.