August 31, 2018
Begin interview. Today is August 31, 2018. This is Ryan Bean from the YMCA Archives interviewing Mike Bussey. Mike, thanks for sharing your time with me today.
My pleasure. Great to be here.
My first question for you is what was your first YMCA experience?
Yes, it was -- I grew up in Minnetonka, a western suburb of the Twin Cities -- right on Lake Minnetonka in a community called Katajuit
It’s a great place to live and grow up. When I was in 10th grade, my mother said to me, “I think you should get a summer job.” I said I have other plans, and it was easy to have other plans in those days. But she said, “No. Let’s go down and just see if there might be something available at the YMCA that you could connect to.” So within a relatively short time, before I could push back and come up with a good excuse, I was in the car, and we were driving to the local YMCA.
And I found myself quite soon in the office of the director of Camp Christmas Tree, which is a YMCA day camp related to the Minneapolis Y. And as unimpressive as I was and as even unimpressive as I was trying to be, they still hired me. And so I had my first summer in a YMCA camp when I was 15 years old or 16. And I look back at that time as being such a transformational time because it became so clear to me that this was really a big deal.
The big deal is working with kids. And just a quick reflection on that, the one point that I remember that just clarified it and committed me to my work with the Y, I’ve spent a lot of time in and around water and teaching aquatics and all this. So I was asked to work on the waterfront at Camp Christmas Tree. There was a young camper that came down with this group every day to the beach who was afraid of the water.
He couldn’t even hardly go near the water. The waterfront director said, “Would you mind taking Jeff one-on-one, just to make sure he’s safe. The other kids are in swim lessons, and if you can get him comfortable around the water, that would be great.” So Ryan, after 10 days being with Jeff in and around the water, he could float. And I know it doesn’t sound all that impressive in the context of where swimming might take you, but for me, and for, I think, for Jeff, it was a big deal.
And it just confirmed for me that that is a really great way to invest your life and your time. So I ended up working there for two years, and then it lead to me working in YMCA camps all through my college years in the Minneapolis YMCA -- Camp Icaghwan. And during those years, I was at Gustavus Adolphus College. I had a business degree.
And in the Twin Cities, you know there’s any number of significant business opportunities, big or small, from 3M and Pillsbury to whatever. And back in the days when I was at Gustavus, people came to college campuses to recruit. So I had a lot of opportunities to consider business jobs. Somehow, it didn’t seem right. I just didn’t find what I thought I was looking for. And fortunately, one day, my camp director called, Merrill Olson, who’s passed away recently -- more than a few years ago.
But he was my director at Camp Icaghwan, and he asked me, “How is your job search going?” To which I said, “Not that great.” And he said, “Why don’t you come downtown, and we’ll have lunch. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.” So I went downtown Minneapolis and joined Merrill for lunch, during which, after he heard my travails or whatever, he said, “What I would encourage you to do is follow your heart, not your degree right now.”
And he said, “Life is long, and it’ll define itself, but right now, I think you actually would do very well in connecting to continuing your Y work.” So I went to the St. Paul YMCA, and I’d already been working for the Minneapolis YCMA part-time and all sorts of different jobs with the West Suburban Y, which is now Ridgedale. But I went to the St. Paul YCMA and got hired as a program director.
So my first job out of college with a business degree after thinking it would be 3M or Pillsbury turned out to be at the St. Paul YMCA.
So at the time, when you were feeling maybe -- I don’t want to put words, but conflicted about the business opportunities coming to you, were you actively thinking about the YMCA or were you just sort of unsure of where to go?
Yeah. I was actively thinking because, at one time, I think I had five part-time jobs with the West Suburban YCMA.
I was working with church athletics in a child care center, teen center in Mound and all sorts of different things. So it occurred to me that that was a comfort area for me, that I really loved doing that. I just wasn’t sure if I should or could do that as a full commitment in a career first step, and my degree had kind of taken me in a bit different direction.
But the great news is that I soon realized that a commitment to the Y is a combination of business and people, and a business degree is very helpful in YCMA work. And it has served me and it has served me well throughout my career. I just needed somebody to help me sort it out, and Merrill Olson and my mother were the two main players in doing that.
That’s great. So you’re at the St. Paul YCMA. Can you briefly sketch out your career?
Sure. I started -- John Traver was my first branch executive. I started at the Northwest YMCA, and I started on the first day it opened in May of 1971. They built a brand new family branch in Shoreview, and I was hired to be the community program director. In other words, they’d been doing lots of community programs.
They were pulling -- having a center, now our YMCA building, but they didn’t want to give up all their day camps and Y Guides and everything, so I was hired to be community program director and then we had --Rick Shuffleman, who you probably know, too, was on the staff also.
And it could not have been more ideal. My wife is a high school math teacher, a Young Life leader. We love living in Shoreview/Roseville. And it was fabulous to work with Y programs, day camping, and all of that. But the two of us had occasionally discussed and we knew that at some point, we wanted to be overseas. I had actually applied to be in the Peace Corps and was accepted to go into the Peace Corps.
But back in those days, the military and obligations to be drafted or do something with that took priority, so I had to deal with that first. And Marcia had actually wanted to be an AFS student, and that just didn’t work out. So after being at the Northwest Y for four years and loving every day of it and she taught in Roseville, we reached out and applied to be World Service workers when back in our Movement day, back a few years when people young in their careers had a chance to work overseas.
And Jack Cole who, of course, still lives in the Twin Cities, came to our house, our apartment, actually, in Roseville to interview us to be World Service workers. And, Ryan, in all honesty, I think we had a fabulous interview. We did very well except for the last minute of our interview, at which time Jack said, “I think you’d do well, but we have hardly had a request for a couple to work overseas. So thank you for your interest. If something comes up, we’ll get back, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one.”
So we did the next best thing in our life. We bought a house. And within three months of buying a house, Jack called back. And he said, “Unbelievably, we’ve had a request for a couple to move to Nazareth, Israel. Would you and Marcia be willing to move over to Nazareth?” And of course, we didn’t have a dog. We didn’t have kids. We did have a house that we can rent, which we did.
And so within just three months, we transitioned and put everything into storage and we moved over to the Middle East. And the interesting thing about this -- along with working at Northwest Y, I was also going to Bethel Seminary. And I just decided to take a class, just to see if that might be something that might be something that would connect to my future also.
And I loved going to school, but I am a much better learner in practical -- and actually learning in Nazareth, Israel made more sense to me than going over to the Bethel campus. So it was great to do that. So we moved over to Nazareth. And my parents live in Washington, D.C., and when we flew from the Twin Cities, we flew out of Dulles Airport and spent some time with my parents. As they took us to the airport to make the flight to Tel Aviv, I bought a copy of the Washington Post to take on the plane.
The banner headlines on the paper were that 16 people had just been killed in Zion Square in Jerusalem. And it occurred to me we were going to be in Jerusalem the next day. And I think what it did was to -- you realize it’s not a casual journey into some part of the world where everything is safe and secure. But the reason you’re going is very significant, and it allowed -- I think the comfort level we had came from knowing we were going for the right reason.
And in some ways, we felt called to go there. It wasn’t something we were promoting for ourselves, and a series of things worked out for us to do this. So, we flew to Frankfurt, caught a flight to Tel Aviv, and the next day, Clarence Schmidt, who was the director of the YMCA at the time picked us up in Tel Aviv. And within 45 minutes, we were driving through Zion Square in Jerusalem.
Now were you aware -- had you and your wife discussed the geopolitical affairs of the area prior to going? Or was that newspaper the time it hit you in the head of connecting the dots?
No, I think we knew of the geopolitical -- and 1967 would have been the Six-Day War in Israel. And anybody that was in college or in careers at that time, you couldn’t miss the news of the time. But I have to say, it isn’t personalized. And you might read it.
You’re aware of it, but the fact that you actually are landing in Tel Aviv, and then you’re going to Jerusalem just shortly after that -- and in driving through Zion Square, every window was blown out. And the reflection of what had happened was so significant. And the irony of all this is some of the 16 people that were killed were actually Palestinians.
The explosion was caused by a Palestinian individual or individuals who had packed a refrigerator with explosives. The refrigerator was brought into Jerusalem for repair and set outside of a store in Zion Square, and then it exploded. And so it killed 16 people that were just nearby. One of the people that was killed was the father of Elias Khoury, who became a very good friend of mine and, actually, is the chairman of the Jerusalem YMCA board right now.
So his father was killed in Jerusalem in 1975. Tragically, his son, in 1999 or 2000, was running in Jerusalem. They’re from Nazareth. They’re Palestinian Christians. And a car drove up and shot and killed him. And the person that shot was thinking he was a Jew.
He was shot by one of his own people. So Elias Khoury, who is a good friend of ours, had both his father and his son killed in Jerusalem by his own people in a sense. And I can remember his message to me when he became the chairman of the YCMA board actually, his wife told me first. She said, “You’ll be pleased to know that Elias has joined the YMCA board in Jerusalem.” Because I’d known him on the school board. We served on the school board together.
And she said, “For us, now, it’s the only thing that can make a difference in Jerusalem.” But going back to our first connection to that part of the world, I think one of the really good learnings and one of the things that defines our future in the Y, in whatever we did, is that wherever there’s a YMCA, it’s amazingly powerful. And it has this ability to transform communities when it’s actually activated in an effective way.
And so to see the Jerusalem YMCA for the first time and to live in that part of the world for two years and to see the YMCA in Gaza and in Nazareth and in Jericho and in Tiberius and to be in Jordan and to go to Cyprus and travel into Egypt -- wherever you found YMCA communities or a YMCA, somehow, communities were different -- somehow being they were better. There was just peaceful coexistence, and people were able to find common ground.
So the Jerusalem YMCA, I think, really reflected that to the highest level. Now we lived up in Nazareth which is 100 miles north, and Nazareth was an Arab city that was half Christians and half Muslims. And the Y there does a great job. There’s 40,000 people in the community. And the Y has a summer camp and does all sorts of work. I was the sports director. I coached a basketball -- the only Arab basketball team in the whole Jewish Sports Federation.
Every Sunday we would travel to a different part of the country to play another team, always a Jewish kibbutz or something. I worked in their day camp. And part of what comes out of that is that -- I had directed a day camp in St. Paul, my first job. I felt like if I could connect to a day camp in Nazareth, it would be great. The only difference was there were more kids in Nazareth. And Fihed, the director of the Y as we arrived in Nazareth -- and the day came was going to start just in three or four days. We hardly had any time to get ready.
He said, “There’s 800 kids in this day camp that will come. And I said, “Well, how many sessions are there?” And he said, “Well, actually, they all come every day.” And I was thinking 800. That’s a lot. And he said, “Now what would you like to do in the day camp?” And before I could really come up with any answer, I said, “Whatever you need,” which I’ve never said again in any context.
Because before I could even come up with a better answer, he said, “I need a tumbling instructor.” And I was trying to think -- I don’t even do somersaults, and this is not my thing. But he said, “Don’t worry. You only have six classes a day. There’s 30 or 40 kids per class, and you’ll have a translator -- an interpreter.” And so anyway, that’s what I was put into. So walking up to the Y the first day, it seemed like there were a lot of kids. And 800 can be a lot.
The interesting thing was 400 more kids had shown up on the first day of camp. We went from 800 to 1,200. And I had more kids in more classes to do tumbling with. And, but to connect to this YMCA presence was a really good learning experience for so many reasons. But part of it is because the Y just made a huge difference in people’s lives. And where it’s available, people come to it. And they wanted their kids to be at the Y.
So anyway, we spent two years in Nazareth. We traveled a lot. We learned Arabic. We spent a lot of time in Jerusalem. Actually, our kind of caretakers, to a higher degree, were Labib and Joyce Nasir who were the directors -- Labib was the director of the East Jerusalem YMCA. And he took very, very good care of us, and we had very good years there. Their son, Camille, became the director in East Jerusalem, and we actually served together when I was in Jerusalem in the ‘90s.
So anyway, I needed to come back and find a job. And World Service workers -- and I was actually a Young Professional Abroad. My wife was a World Service worker. You eventually come to the end of two years, and you need to find a place to come back to. And part of the awkwardness of going is that you resign from your position, and it’s not like you’re sent away and then come back and brought back. And you have to find a position.
When you’re 12,000 miles away and in Nazareth where there’s no phones or computers, it’s not so easy to connect. But I did, one time, get a phone call, and it was from Jim Gilbert, who was the president of the Minneapolis YMCA. Now I worked in St. Paul, but I’m from Minneapolis. And Jim Gilbert, to his credit -- and I will always be grateful for this -- he said, “I know you’re coming back to the Twin Cities, and I know that it’s a sensitive move back.”
He said, “Please know we will hire you. I don’t know what it’ll be, but we will assure that you have a job.” So that was such a huge relief to know that I would have something to come back to. But in the meantime, as that played out, the director’s position at Camp St. Croix opened up. And Jack Murdoch, who had been there 35 years was leaving, and I was interested in camping. It was part of the St. Paul YMCA, so I applied to be the director of St. Croix.
And they reached out and said, “We’d be happy to interview you if you can get to a phone.” Well, the interview was at 7:00 at night in St. Paul, which was 3:00 in the morning in Nazareth. We didn’t have a phone where we lived. We lived in a tiny little place. So I got up at 2:00 in the morning and walked three miles across town to the phone at the Y -- the only phone we had access to. And I got interviewed to be the director of Camp St. Croix. And unbelievably, they hired me.
And I don’t really -- I was only 29 at the time. I think they were probably taking a bit of a risk. But anyway, I came back and directed Camp St. Croix for six years. And it was such a great position. It’s something that I could actually see myself being in for my whole career. I loved camping. I thought this would be my last job in the Y. And my wife would say -- Marcia -- she has said occasionally that, “I know it was your favorite job. For me, it was your worst.”
And part of that was because the amount of time and commitment it takes to do that. I was at a phase of life and career where I thought I should be the first one up every day and the last one to bed. And we had about 100 people on our staff and 300 kids every day in camp. And there was so much going on, and I just was right in the midst of that. But anyway, Camp St. Croix was a fabulous place to work.
I will always be grateful for it. And one of the things that I really wanted to do was to lead through a lens of faith. And this comes out of the context of connecting to Bethel Seminary and being in the middle east and seeing how Christian presence can make a difference in a community. And it’s not that you’re evangelizing. When the first Christian missionaries went into the Middle East in the early 1800s, they did go to evangelize.
But in the 1850s, they found, after being there almost 50 years, they were completely rejected. And it wasn’t until American University of Beirut, which was actually a Syrian Orthodox college, was founded that Christian presence was reflected through education and through schools and through hospitals and through YMCAs. And the Jerusalem Y was founded in 1878 because of that presence.
I felt like Camp St. Croix would have its biggest impact on kids if it was a Christian community that accepted everybody, but somehow, we led through a lens of faith. And Camp St. Croix had really terrific years, and we had a fabulous group of board members and staff that connected to it. We actually ended up sending hundreds of kids to other camps that we couldn’t take.
What did that look like, leading through a lens of faith?
I think it looked like allowing people to – my take on it, the way I defined it is that I wanted people to feel comfortable in that community, to know that they were cared for and loved and that they were the most important reason that we were there as leaders. And that a lot of leaders, young people, were defining their own faith at the time.
So some of the tangible things that would happen, you might have devotions on the porch of the lodge, and every morning there were devotions in camp for the whole camp. It was back in a time when camps had chapel services and devotions. But I thought if you give time and attention to defining those in a healthy way, that stories become important.
Discussions that staff have among themselves in a devotional time are healthy, not that anybody’s required to come, but over a period of years, I think it attracted more people that felt comfortable in that environment, in that setting.
And I’ve often said that I didn’t necessarily care that if there’s, in a sense of a 1-to-10 scale of Christian faith, I didn’t really care where people were on the scale, but I was interested in encouraging them to go in the right direction, whether that would be kids or whatever.
And actually, in Jerusalem, you find, too, that the reflection of faith is so interesting because you have a lot of Jews and Muslims that connect to Christian communities because it offers what they want. And a Christian community can be very affirming to them also.
In a way, they become better Jews or better Muslims, better people because of their inter-activeness with a Christian community. So I think what happened was that over a period of years, that environment was an attractive environment for leaders to come to that felt comfortable in that.
And it made a big difference in how St. Croix -- what happened. And it not only made a difference in who came, but who gave. And Camp St. Croix -- I think if there’s any reason that there was a change made -- and Jack Murdoch’s a terrific person. I know him well. Somehow, they never figured out how to connect mission and money. And part of my interest was to make sure that people that had philanthropic capacity were invited to connect to things that were important to them.
So during our years at St. Croix, we raised a lot of money and did a capital campaign and were able to invest in young people to a higher level. And when there’s more resources to invest, you can bring more kids. You can be more proactive in bringing kids to camp rather than just being responsive to those who might call and say we’d like to enroll, but we can’t pay for it.
You can say yes to that. But you can also be very proactive if you’ve got resources and go out and connect to schools or to YMCAs and recruit kids to come that you know should be there that would benefit that wouldn’t even think about asking. So we had a lot of kids, and we invested a lot of resources into the community to both strengthen it with numbers and with kids but also physically to make it better. And so after four years of that, the YCMA Greater St. Paul needed to hire a development officer.
They were replacing Paul Schmidt who had been there for many years. And so I was asked to leave St. Croix in 1983 and go to the corporate office as a corporate officer -- a vice president -- and become their director of development. So in a sense, they were saying if you could take the same concepts that you used at St. Croix and use those in the Association,that would be great. So, I had from 1983 to 1990, for 7 years, I did development work in St. Paul.
And actually, for the last three years, I was also the operations director in St. Paul. Rick Shuffleman had left that position, moved over to the mid-America field, so I was doing development and operations. And I was also, at that time, director of the Middle East support unit, which was Y-USA.’s structure to support YMCAs in the Middle East. It used to be in Salem, Oregon with John Muskowie. It got moved to St. Paul, and I was the head of that initiative also.
But I loved working in development, and the part about it that made me connect to it more significantly, and I think forever -- I still do it -- is to realize how important it is for our work to be fully funded and how important it is for those who have the capacity to do it to make commitments to this work. They do it because they want to. And in most cases, if they don’t, it’s because they, perhaps, haven’t been asked or the stewardship hasn’t been good in that regard.
So we raised a lot of money in St. Paul. And I remember Phil Hall, who was the president of the Association at the time said to me after getting started, and back in those days, there wasn’t a whole team of people that worked in development. There was one position. And I was the vice president of development, and I had an administrative assistant. But now, there’s teams of people that work on this.
So I did the annual campaign for the Association, the capital campaign, the endowment development -- and I remember Phil Hall telling me at one time, he said, “Now, I just want to remind you that you’re also responsible for the endowment work of the Y and the Heritage Club.” To which I said, “I’m not even sure I know what a Heritage Club is.” But he said, “This is the way that we recognize and connect to those who have made commitments to our endowment fund.”
And he said, “As you get started this summer,” -- my first summer there, he said, “What I’d like to have you do is go out and visit with 30 Heritage Club members and just listen and say thank you.” He could tell I was a little bit cautious about this, and he said, “I’ll go on the first visit with you.” So we went to the St. Paul Athletic Club with Phil, and we met John and Dolores Holl -- H-O-L-L. And he was the owner -- the largest stockholder of Whirlpool stock.
And he owned a company called Cedar Refrigeration, which was bought by Whirlpool. And I was a part of a conversation with him where I heard a person that loved the Y, that wanted to be helpful, and had the capacity to do a lot. His wife, actually, he’d only married just recently. When he retired, he married his wife of 25 years who was his secretary. And her one condition to get married was that she never have to cook.
So they went out for dinner all the time. They asked Marcia and me to join them many, many times. But the visits with 30 people that loved the Y confirmed to me that this is a very good place to give time and attention to connect our important work with their intentions of wanting to be helpful. So I loved that work. I loved the operations of the Y. And during that time, when I was at St. Croix, the director’s position in Jerusalem had opened up.
I was a camp director. I applied for the job, and I actually was politely told, “I think we’re going to go a different direction.” At the time -- this was back in ’85 or so. I forget when it was. But I realized that they weren’t going to hire a camp director to go to Jerusalem. And not that I was determined to get there, but I thought moving in a career into a corporate position in the St. Paul Y was healthy for that regard, too.
So you had aims of going back to the Middle East even back then?
Sure. Yeah. And I’d been back many other times. We took groups back there. One summer, in 1984 or 5 -- I forget when it was, the World Alliance asked the Y-USA. to send someone to Jordan, actually, for the summer to work with their Y camping program.
They have a fabulous program working with orphan children from refugee camps. So they came to the St. Paul Y, and I was the Middle East support director, so I went back to Jordan for a whole summer and worked in refugee camps and worked with YMCA camping with the YMCA of Jordan.
Our church took groups. The St. Paul Y took groups. So I was going back and forth. We received many, many people here from the Middle East, and I’d had an interactive relationship with the Middle East. And it’s one of the good things, Ryan, that I think of my Y time and that is that relationships that you have become significant. And you carry them with you.
You may not connect to them every day as you once did, but I’m always grateful for really terrific relationships that go back decades. And many of them are in the Middle East. So anyway, the director’s job opened again in 1987, and I thought I would be interested in this. And actually, I got a call from the Y-USA. to actually invite me to apply for the job, which I did. And I was flown to Chicago and had an interview with Solon, and he as much as offered me the job.
He was asking where our kids would go to school and getting that set up. And I went home, and I told Marcia -- I said, “I think, actually, this is going to work out.” So we were kind of thinking we were going to Jerusalem until we got a phone call back from Y-USA. and they said, “Actually, we’ve had another applicant come into the process, and we’re going to really re-look at this.”
And what had happened was that David Dean, who was the CEO of the Y in Milwaukee, who was a good friend of Solon’s -- do you know David Dean?
A very distinguished man, and a Urban Group executive at the time, had gone to Solon and said he would like to spend his last three years directing the Jerusalem YMCA. To which Solon said, and Solon told me this because we connected on this later -- he said, “You’ve never been to the Middle East and haven’t spent time there. And plus that, I can’t even begin to pay you what you’re making in Milwaukee.”
David said, “I’ll do it as a volunteer.” I’ll retire and do it as a retirement commitment. And he was persuasive, and so he committed, Solon said okay. So they sent David to Jerusalem in 1987, and I stayed in St. Paul. One of my youngest kids, I have three boys, was only 2 years old at the time. I was actually relieved to stay in the Twin Cities. And I actually became,because of that, I became the national director of the World Camp in 1988. These were these big camping programs to celebrate YMCA camping.
And in 1988, Y-USA. asked if I would be their national coordinator, which I did. We did it from St. Paul. And Ryan, we raised all of the money to fund it nationally locally. I raised the money to fund the National Movement’s program. And so anyway, I enjoyed my time in St. Paul. I was so grateful to stay and work with World Camp, but I know that David wouldn’t stay long. He was already well along in his career, and as I found out later on, he was not so healthy.
He had heart problems, and his wife had diabetes. And Ryan -- this is interesting. He accepted the job to go to Jerusalem without asking his wife. He never conferred with her about this. So her first knowledge of his decision to do this was after he accepted the invitation to go from Solon. So Mary Alice heard from David that they were moving to Jerusalem, which was a bit of an awkward transition for her.
But they went to Jerusalem. I stayed in St. Paul. And in all honesty, the Middle East can either be very cruel to you or it can be very much of a blessing. And part of it is to understand culture and language and people and places because it’s a contentious place. There’s a lot of things that happen. In some ways, it’s familiar because it’s a Y, but in other ways, it’s a Middle Eastern culture. It’s an Eastern culture and we work in a Western mindset.
So David did a great job, but it wasn’t so easy, and he had serious issues with his health. And so eventually, three years later, he came back. The Y-USA. called back again, and Solon had me come to Chicago a second time. I sat on the same couch, the same conversation, and I can remember him saying, “This time, I think we’ll make this work.” So as Solon transitioned out of his position, he left in 1990, one of the last things he did was hire me to go to Jerusalem.
And so we moved to Jerusalem in the summer of 1990, and in some ways, it was comfortable. We had three kids now that were 12, 10, and 4. The Middle East wasn’t so settled at the time. Iraq had just invaded Kuwait. And as that was playing out, the Gulf War was on the horizon.
There was a lot of contentiousness in Jerusalem. And very honestly, quite a number of colleagues and friends said, “I think you should reconsider your commitment to go there.” But like in 1975, I think what allowed us to go with confidence is that we felt like we were going for the right reason to the right place. It was more of a calling rather than a forced decision. And in the context of faith, and I mentioned leading through faith, it just seemed like this was a secure decision for us.
So we moved to Jerusalem in the summer of 1990, and David came back to the U.S. And I was actually with him at a meeting in Chicago just before I was going to Jerusalem and just as he had returned. There was a very, very, very contentious meeting in Chicago. He was very upset with some issues at Y-USA. to the degree where there was screaming and profanity and yelling, which was my first meeting related to Jerusalem.
I thought I hope this isn’t how this is going to be going forward. As we left the meeting, David said, “Would you mind flying to Milwaukee this week? I want to make sure that we think through this a bit more before you return to Jerusalem.” So I was set to go to Milwaukee on that Friday, I think, and then Thursday, the day before, I got a phone call that David Dean had passed away. And he had actually come back to Milwaukee and reconnected to his doctors.
He had gone in to take a stress test, and he passed away in the medical center. So that was huge news. A man that I was counting on, that was committed to being helpful and to raising money and to connecting me to everything that he had worked with in the Middle East, which was significant, was all of a sudden gone. And so I went to Jerusalem, and the first two events that I connected to were memorial services for him.
One was at the Y, and one was at his church, the Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City. And I can remember at the Y service, his doctor came to find me, a Jewish doctor from Boston. His name was Ted Miller. And with tears in his eye -- the man was weeping. And he said, “I should have been more forceful. He said I told him many, many times to attend to his health. And David always said I’ll do it when I get back to Milwaukee.”
And Ted said, “I knew. I could see this coming. And yet, I didn’t insist on it.” So Ted Miller became a good friend of ours also, but he lived with the regret that he hadn’t done more. But anyway, to connect with the Jerusalem YMCA at a time -- it was in many ways like going home. I knew a lot of the people, the staff there connect for many decades. So many of the people that I’d known in the 70s and 80s were still there in the 90s. But it was healthy to come back.
Our three kids went to a British school. My wife took a Hebrew Ulpan and learned Hebrew, and eventually, she taught at the school. And eventually, she worked for the State Department in the US consulate in Jerusalem. But the Gulf War was the first big event that was geopolitical that was going to take place. And that, you might remember, started in January of 1991.
And it was one of those unusual wars where there was a date on a calendar that it was going to start. And January 15th was the date. And leading up to that, there was all sorts of tension. We were all issued gas masks to carry with us throughout the city because it wasn’t known if Iraq was going to use chemical and biological weapons. Our first PTA meeting we ever went to at the Anglican school, they had the U.S. Consul General as the speaker, and he had three things to talk about that night.
One was Iraq’s military capabilities -- if they had the missiles that could reach Israel and Jerusalem, and they did. And they used them. The second was the potential of using chemical and biological weapons and how that might play out. And then thirdly was how to protect yourself against the use of weapons like that and how to make a sealed room and how to set all this up.
So this was the agenda on our first PTA board meeting. So anyway, it does concern you. You have kids there. And the best news for me was that -- well, the awkward part about it was, and again, I say this with all due respect, I didn’t hear a lot from Y-USA. at the time. And eventually, I remember sitting with Risik, who was my colleague there.
And Risik said, “I’m surprised that Y-USA. hasn’t said something more.” Now Bob Masuda was the International Division director, and he actually was getting married, so he was off on something. But anyway, I said I’m going to call the Y-USA. and just let them know that I’m going to send my family back to Washington or someplace. But back in those days, there were no flights out of the country. Every flight was done. There were no airlines that were flying into the country. There were no boats.
And the only airline carrier was El Al, which was the national carrier of Israel, and that was the only plane that was operating. And the reason that Israel has a national carrier is because they don’t ever want to be left without air connections. So anyway, I called Chris Mould, who was the General Counsel and a good colleague. And I said, “Chris, I just want you to know, I’m going to probably send Marcia to some place, wherever I can get them to, maybe just to Cyprus or to Egypt or someplace.”
He said, “I can’t believe this hasn’t been taken care of.” I said, “Well, I’ll take care of it.” So anyway, I was trying to figure out how to get my family out of Israel. And it turned out -- I called Wassef Daher, who was a board member at the East Jerusalem Y who was a travel agent. And I said, “Wassef, if there’s any place or way for Marcia and our three kids to leave, would you look for that for me?”
He called me back the next day, and he said, “Unbelievably, the State Department has just added a flight, and they’re sending a Pan Am 747 into Tel Aviv to take out all of the U.S. Consulate families that were there and taking out non-essential personnel.” He said, “I have Marcia and your three kids on that flight.” So anyway -- and the flight was leaving that night. So within just a few hours, they packed up, and I drove the to the airport.
And they flew to Washington, D.C. where my parents lived, and I stayed in Jerusalem. And in order to make it work, I moved to the YMCA -- we released all of our staff to go home, and there’s a whole bunch of stories related to this. But I think the one thing that it did for me, personally and professionally is that it affirmed that -- you know when you’re in the right place at the right time, even though conditions aren’t the best.
And it also affirmed to others that the Y has a significant role there. And it actually gave me the credibility in relationships with Palestinians and with Jews and with Christians and Muslims that in tough times, you’re willing to stay there, as the Y has done. And so even though it was very contentious -- and I went in to sealed rooms 39 times.
We carried gas masks with us. It was a very, very contentious time. But on the other hand, if you know you’re there for the right reason, it seems to make sense. So anyway, that eventually played out. We stayed in Jerusalem for eight more years. It was supposed to be two to three years. We stayed for eight. My kids were coming back to college. And in all honesty, Y-USA. was trying, I think, to get disengaged to some degree.
And so I came back in 1999 to Chicago. And it was to have been just one year in Chicago. I think they needed to reprogram a year, figure out where I could land going beyond that. But it turned out I lived in Chicago for 16 years and stayed with Y-USA. until 2008. And for those first two years, I worked on the International Division staff as an associate director, which was a comfortable place to land.
But eventually, the Y-USA. was making a bigger commitment to national philanthropy. And they were setting up a team of people to work with local associations in developing philanthropic cultures and capacities. So I took a job and worked on the National Development Team, and I was a national consultant for Y-USA. There were four of us. And so my area were the 14 states in the Midwest.
There were 367 Ys, I think, in that area, all of whom have your name and number. Not all of whom do you see, but over the course of eight years, our job was to promote philanthropic growth. So through a lot of training and consulting and work with leadership, and so almost every week my week would start either at O’Hare Airport or at a rental agency.
My kids were in college. My wife was a high school math teacher. It worked out. It was the perfect combination. But I traveled all over the 14 states every week, and I loved doing that. And part of it was just the impact of basic things that you’d think we would know or that Y leaders would know that they just -- there’s kind of a combination of attitudes and action steps that define how Ys do philanthropically.
You can’t not avoid using the right action steps. If you make up something new, chances are it’s not going to go too far too fast. So there’s proven practices that go with it. But as important was the whole idea of having the right attitude for this, so a lot of times the actual teaching of or encouraging good practices was the easiest. The harder part was helping people good about how they would say raising money or asking people for money. So, but anyway, that worked out great.
What was that attitude that you were trying to have them adopt?
The attitude is that, I was sitting with a group of Y leaders -- the whole staff. It was actually in Sioux City, Sioux Falls. And I was asking them how they felt about fundraising, and this is an example of how honest, when you ask the question, they hated it.
They basically would say somebody else should do that. We’re busy teaching swimming or running camps. Somebody else can ask for money. And even to connect to an annual campaign was a stretch for them to go beyond their comfort zone and ask somebody to make a contribution. So the attitude change, I think, is that to help people understand that, actually, by inviting people to be supportive, you’re doing them a favor.
And there’s all sorts of research -- you an approach this academically or any number of ways. But academically, you can say that we know that people that are philanthropic are healthier people physically and mentally and spiritually. There’s a direct connection between faith and giving.
Were’re called as people of faith to give and to promote and be generous. We know that you feel better about yourself as you give rather than receive. And very honestly, there’s actual studies that show that if you are philanthropic, you have healthier lifestyles.
So part of it was just helping people change their attitude and feel better about giving. It wasn’t like you could do it in one session, but if you could actually work through that, you found that you would empower people to go out and do things they never thought they were going to do. So an annual campaign that might be raising 1 or 2 percent of their association’s budget would go to 10 percent or 12 percent.
Just with that mind shift.
Just a mind shift. And the fun part about it was that it wasn’t like you’re twisting arms. You literally were doing people favors by allowing them to support what they believe in. And research -- Seer Analytics and a whole lot of other people have done research to say that in any YMCA community, about a third of Y members or program participants will make a contribution to the Y if they’re asked. All you have to do is ask. You don’t even have to even present a huge case.
They’re ready. They love the Y. Actually, I was on a exercise bike at the Woodbury Y the other day. And a woman, out of the blue, I talked to her, she said, “You can’t believe what my husband and I just did. We were at our attorney, and we just made a commitment to the Y in our estate plans.” She just said it, but she did it. Nobody even asked her to do it. But the fact is, a lot of people are inclined to do it on their own accord, and it doesn’t take much encouragement. About a third of people need to be invited.
And they say, basically, we’ll think through it. And it’s kind of a, “Let us think what we’re going to do, and we need to give this some thought.” And then there’s about a third of Y communities that aren’t going to do it. They’re in it for another reason. They have other priorities, which is great.
But if you’ve got 33 percent of a community that all you have to do is ask and invite and be a good steward of that relationship, and you’ve got another third that if you have another third that if you have a healthy conversation, they’re going to consider it, that’s a pretty good reason to do this.
But if you don’t do it, it’s an untapped resource. So part of my thinking is that you just have to allow people to be comfortable. And you can coach it in a lot of ways. We just say consider it friendraising rather than fundraising, and allow people to understand your vision for what you’re doing and see the bigger picture of the Y. A lot of Y members, especially in the Twin Cities, they consider it classes or fitness or whatever.
And so their context of what the Y is is pretty small. But I think if you can allow people to see it in a bigger picture and have a big vision for it’s going, that makes a big difference. So anyway, I had great work doing that. And then kind of ironically, I’ve often though, in 2008, Neil Nicoll decided to reorganize the national office. So his plan for this was to eliminate groups. And so our whole consulting group got eliminated.
The fundraising --
The fundraising group. Yeah. And honestly, I feel guilty about this, but it is what it is. They Y-USA. said your group is being released. Your job is not going to be there, but you can apply for another job at Y-USA. if you’d like.
You can certainly reach out to local associations and apply for jobs there. Or if you choose to leave, we’ll pay you. Ryan, it occurred to me that after 37 years, I’d never had a sabbatical, not that I deserved one and not that Ys give them, but I thought I wouldn’t mind taking the summer off, and I’ll come back. And what I’ve learned over the years that anybody that can connect mission and money will find a job. So I said I’m going to leave.
And it took about a nanosecond to think through this, and so I was paid to leave the Y-USA. and paid a significant amount of money. And the part about this that disappoints me is that as grateful as I was to be released in a way that was healthy, I know how hard it is to earn money and to make budgets work. And that’s a huge challenge. And for Y-USA. to give me a lot of money to leave was awkward.
But nonetheless, that was the conditions under which we worked. So I took the summer off, and during -- this was the summer of 2008 -- during that summer, I had about 10 offers from local Ys, from consulting firms. And I decided that during my work with Y-USA. in development, I’d crisscrossed the nation a lot with Donor by Design. And Bruce Berglund is a terrific leader.
He’s a very faithful leader, and he had a small company called Donor by Design. He said, “I’d like to invite you to join us in September.” And I said I’d like to do that, so I was all set during the summer of 2008 to join Donor by Design. In August, the last part of August, Jim Miller called, who is the CFO of Y-USA. And he said, “Would you have even just 10 minutes for me to think through with you a situation that’s come up in Jerusalem?”
I said with pleasure. So 90 minutes later, he said, “I know this sounds strange, but,” he said, “Would you consider going back to Jerusalem for another year?” And the issue was that Norris Lineweaver was coming back under a little bit awkward circumstances. It just wasn’t a match for him. He’s a terrific person. His wife had already come back on her own. She wasn’t going to go back to Jerusalem.
And there was a governance issue there. So Jim said, “Would you mind going back for a year and reestablishing the governance and the operation of the Y with the right structure of the Y, and then hire a director to follow you there?” So I told Bruce Berglund that I would be happy to join him, but it would have to be a year. And this is so strange.
The Y-USA. felt a little bit awkward about this, so they paid Donor by Design $15,000 to release me from my contract with Donor by Design. Bruce Berglund took the money and donated it to the Jerusalem Y. So anyway, I went back to Jerusalem, and that was for all of 2008 and ’09 and eventually found -- and it, for me -- and I had to release over 30 staff, which was the big issue.
They were overstaffed. To the Jerusalem Y’ credit, they had a lot of staff that they had retained during the war and the Intifadas that were there. And they weren’t raising enough money to really cover their expenses and a whole number of things, so their budget was out of wack.Y-USA. had said that the only way to fix this is to release -- we had, I think, 200 people. We had to release 15 percent of our staff.
And to their credit, they gave me $1.2 million to actually do that with -- they set up a voluntary retirement program. So I actually worked through that. For me, I think it was easier than others. I knew all the people that were there, and a lot of people could choose to take the offer to retire. Some people, I had to talk into leaving, and some we had to impose. But in the end, in worked out well, and so the Y ended up hiring a new executive and has had some good years.
So I came back in 2009 and picked up with Donor by Design. So now I do national consulting with Ys around the country, but I do it, I don’t work full-time. I can do it on my own schedule. I founded the Friends of the Jerusalem International YMCA as I mentioned. That was a couple of years ago. And now this project with the Harold Smith Foundation is a big deal also. So I’m having fun.
Do you consider yourself retired?
No. No. And this is an interesting concept, and actually, it relates to how people might think here in Western cultures and into the Middle East. Here, there’s kind of a finite definition of a career that starts theoretically when you’re out of college, and you work until you’re 65 or something. And then we define a career as ending at that time, and then you retire.
And however you define retirement is up to you. Some people completely disengage and go off and do something entirely different, whatever it is. In the Middle East, it’s an infinite, the definition of how you connect has more of an infinite description to it. It’s actually how they define time and politics and process. And then here we want time is money and calendars and deadlines all defined when and how we relate and what we do and how decisions are made.
In the Middle East, they play chess while we’re playing checkers. And it’s a volatile combination if you don’t understand the transition between the two. I feel more comfortable operating in an infinite commitment to life and to ministry. So I’m very comfortable even after leaving Y-USA. to connect into consulting. I still work with Ys. We do amazing work with YMCAs, and it’s stunning what we can do with a Y group.
And I have fun doing it. We have 20 people that work with us. All of us do it because we love doing it. We work together because we like each other, and so I do that. I’m on my college board, so I have plenty to do. And I have five grandchildren, but I’m able to define when and how things fit together that, I think, probably in the long term have the best impact.
That’s wonderful. I’m framing questions here. Drawing on your experience, what is something you think YMCA staff or someone new to the YMCA should know?
That’s an interesting question. And I do think through a lot of this -- and I have used this in consulting and training. I did hundreds of training sessions for Y-USA. in financial development, and I got kind of on the speaker's circuit for annual meetings and Heritage Club dinners and conferences and whatever.
I think what’s important to know is how amazingly powerful a YMCA presence is in a community. You can be very close to something that’s very, very powerful and not know it and take it for granted and not activate it. And I see that in quite a number of Ys that I used to work with and still do that people are quite casual about the Y.
And for them, it’s a swimming lesson or something. Not that swimming lessons aren’t critical. It’s a great tactical skill set to learn or whatever, but I think it’s important to realize how amazingly powerful a YMCA presence can be and how it’s very, very important to think big and to really understand what are the issues and opportunities to which a YMCA can connect.
I love the idea of what is a grander vision for your Y or for your organization so that, in a way, as you think big and connect to the biggest potential impact, that’s where you migrate. I was talking to a Y board one time in a Illinois town, and we were just talking about the vision for their Y. And I remember their board chair saying our vision is to replace the roof of the Y, which is good.
That was the most immediate thing that they needed. And even if you put it in Jesus’s ministry, and he ministered to people that needed food or healing first. But then you push it further -- and the fun part of that conversation was after you fix that, what’s your dream for your Y. What would be the biggest most exciting thing you could do? And I think when you allow people to think in those terms -- and especially young staff and volunteers and give them endorsement or encouragement to move in that direction.
It makes a huge difference. The Y in Jerusalem has a great story in this regard because the Y started in 1878. It operated in the back room of a bookstore. It was not a big deal. I have a picture of one of the first YMCAs in Jerusalem. People are sitting around reading newspapers. And it wasn’t until after the first World War -- and the Y had shut down during the times the Turkish authorities thought it was a threat to their security because it was British in origin, so they shut the Y down.
But it was in 1920 that the leadership in Jerusalem and came to John Mott and asked if he would send a leader to Jerusalem to help them get reestablished. And that’s when Archie Harte with to Jerusalem. And the best story about Dr. Harte in my mind is related to the time he met James Jarvie. And the two men were sitting on the Mount of Olives one day and the Y is modest.
It’s a bookstore backroom, whatever. James Jarvie is a very successful coffee merchant from Mount Claire. And Y directors, I often feel, can be persistent and they should be and think big. And James Jarvie, as they were overlooking the city of Jerusalem, said to Dr. Hart, “What’s your vision for the Y in the Holy Land?” Dr. Archie Harte said, and I’m so grateful he didn’t say we need more space for childcare, or we need to expand our backroom of our bookstore.
He said my vision for the Y in the Holy Land is that first of all, the Y should be enshrined into the context of the Holy Land. In other words, it needs to have a permanent location. You can’t rent space. But that was his way of saying it. But then he said also that it should bring peace to the land. That’s the biggest issue in that part of the world.
It’s finding common ground and peace. He knew that. It’s the biggest, most difficult thing to have take place here. We struggle with it today. And then he said finally that the Y will bring glory to God.
And I just thought somehow, he was able to capture the biggest, most impressive -- not impressive, but the biggest, most impactful YMCA presence in the Holy Land. And he made it happen. And he made it happen because he was able to connect a huge vision with philanthropic capacity, one of whom was James Jarvie.
In 1924, you probably know, he gave a million dollars to start the Y. So going back to the question, I think it’s important that we encourage leaders to think big and to be freed up to know that the Y mission and impact is perhaps bigger than what they’ve defined it as in their community.
Running with that theme of defining the YMCA, what does the C in the YMCA mean to you?
To me, it means Christianity and a Christian presence. This is an interesting concept, too. It gets a lot of time and attention. Here’s how I define it. I’m a Christian. I actually considered or wondered if my future wouldn’t be in the church. I mentioned I went to Bethel Seminary.
I learned that that wasn’t where I would flourish in terms of how I felt with connecting Christianity to my work. The Y has given me the environment and the structure to allow me to express myself. And the way that I choose to do that isn’t necessarily to evangelize and to stand on a street corner although Y people have done that. Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, I’m aware of all that. This is a huge part of our history.
But I would define that I think there’s a ministry of presence. And the ministry of presence basically, to me, says as a Christian presence, it’s more who you are and how you connect and how you relate that will eventually allow people to connect to faith. In Jerusalem, there’s a young woman that worked in our restaurant who is Jewish. And she was fabulous on our staff.
And young women, after they serve in the military, and young men in Israel -- Israelis -- it’s their first time they can leave the country. And she left for a year. And she came back a year later, and we hired her back, and I’d seen her in the restaurant. And I asked her where she’d been. And she said she traveled with her boyfriend.
And I said, “Where did you go?” And she said, “Well, we went to South America.” And I said, “Actually, I’ve been in South America several times. Where did you go?” And she said, “Well, I went to Brazil.”
And I said, “Well, actually, I was there.” And I said, “Did you go to any other countries?” And she said she went to Bolivia. And I said, “Actually, I’ve been in Bolivia.” I said, “Where did you go in Bolivia?” And she said, “I went to Cochabamba.” I said, “I’ve been in Cochabamba.” I said, “Why did you go to Cochabamba?”
She said, “I went to see the missionaries.” My aunt is a missionary for the New Tribes Mission. She lived in Bolivia 50 years, and Cochabamba was her mission headquarters although she worked in the interior, the Amazon River basin.
I said, “I don’t fully get it.” We were continuing on. I said, “Why did you want to see the missionaries?” She said, “I wanted to find out more about Christianity.” I said, “But you live in Jerusalem.” And she said, “But in Jerusalem, as an Israeli and as a Jew, Christianity is not presented well to us in our schools and in our culture.”
And she’s right. And there are only 2 to 3 percent Christians that still live in the Holy Land. And in many ways, Christians are a threat to Israeli interests in many ways, especially Messianic Jews -- Jews that become Christians. And so, but I realized what she had done. In Cochabamba, the New Tribes Mission station has a couple,,,,,,,, a man and a woman, husband and wife, all they do is receive Israelis.
And Israelis travel there by the thousands to go to this place, and they present the gospel. They give them a place to stay, and they give them a meal, and then they travel on. So she had come back from this, and I said, “Why did you take this journey?” And she said because, “It wasn’t until I came to the YMCA that I realized that there was something significant and special about Christianity that I wanted to learn about.”
And she said, “As a Jew, I didn’t think I could find it in my country.” So she went to Cochabamba. But it was the YMCA’s Christian presence that allowed a young Jewish girl to connect to how she perceives Christianity. If you talk to staff in Jerusalem, many of whom are Muslims, their commitment to that presence a Christian presence, far, far exceeds anything you can believe.
People there will literally give their life for the Y. I was in Gaza one time, and I took Dave Mercer and Ed Kelly and a bunch of people, Barbara Roper, you might remember her. And Gaza is such a difficult place, and the Y operates in such trying conditions.
But I remember talking to their leaders there, and they were saying in the midst of the most contentious issues where Christians are only counted in thousands -- it’s 99 percent Muslim, he said a Christian presence has a huge impact on the quality of life for literally tens of thousands of people in Gaza, most of whom are not Christians. So I think I would take that same concept and put it in the context of any community, whether it’s Camp St. Croix or working on a corporate staff or any place.
I think a Christian presence is actually powerful to allow people to find quality of life physically, mentally, and spiritually. They’re all on different journeys. I don’t need to push faster than they need to go. And it’s one of the reasons that I’ve committed to working with Harold’s foundation to promote international development center in Jerusalem. Because our goal there is to promote a capacity for people to lead through the lens of faith.
And as the Y- USA said, if we were to define it, it would be through a secular lens. And I guess to the degree that I can, I’d love to push back against that and allow in our Movement and there are 150 Ys in the country today that have churches, and there’s a significant Christian movement. I give them all sorts of credit, but my actual piece of that journey for our Movement is to strengthen Christian presence and to reflect it in my own life but also to allow it to flourish within communities.
That’s great. So reflecting on everything you shared, and you said this in many different ways, but just an opportunity to lay it out cleanly -- what does the YMCA mean to you?
Well, I think all of us. I’m thinking for myself, but I do feel like, in life, all of us have a chance to connect to something very significant and to make a difference.
How you define success, and we all do it different ways, and some might define success by the amount of money that they earn or positions that they hold. I chose at an early age, at Camp Christmas Tree, to define success in making a commitment to a better quality of life for a kid that couldn’t go near the water.
That same kind of definition of success gets redefined as you go forward. And at the Northwest Y, it was working with community programs and with Y Guides and Princesses and that. In Nazareth, Israel, it was working in the Middle East. But I think the concept of a commitment to helping quality of life be better.
The Y has given me the chance to do that, and it’s given me a chance in every place that I’ve gone to connect with the Y in its presence, whatever it might be, if it’s a camp or a international Y in Jerusalem, to really define success as I’ve wanted to in my life. So I’m always grateful for that
Is there anything else you’d like to share while we have this time?
Well, I guess I would just end it by saying that you come to a stage of life where you reflect back on more years than you project ahead. I’m in that stage, actually. Actually, today’s my birthday so it’s even another year where you kind of do this.
But I look back, and I am so grateful for the YMCA’s presence in the world and in local communities and for leaders and for all others that have affected how it’s been positioned and what it’s meant to me. And I think of Y leaders that have been amazing mentors for me, that, John O’Melia being one. I noticed you have his plate up this plate. He gave me one of these plates from 1951.
But John O’Melia and a group of others that were so inspirational and allowed me to connect to people that had big ideas and were encouragers -- not that life is always easy. I had one time when I was in Jerusalem. I had taken the national board chair -- it was Dan Emerson at the time and his wife and Bob Masuda out for a -- they had been there for meetings in Jerusalem. And on a Friday night, I’d taken them to a dinner at a board member’s home. It was a Muslim member’s home.
We were driving back to the Y, and unbelievably, our car was shot, and we were hit with rifle shots. And Jim Ashley, who was sitting in the back of my van had just leaned forward to listen to a conversation. They wondered what they’d had for dinner. So he was there with his wife Joan, and then Bob and Jane Masuda were there. Marcia was there and two of my kids.
And at the same time, a great big boulder hit the front of the car and smashed the windshield and ripped off the mirror. And Jim had just leaned forward, and this rifle or this shot went right behind his head. Had he not leaned forward, he would have been hit in the head. And it was a time and place where you don’t stop. It’s Friday night. There’s no Israeli security around. It was in a time of contentiousness. It was in East Jerusalem. It was an Arab part of town, but it’s a part of town we were in often.
But I remember we got back to the Y. Jim Ashley got out of the car. And all of us were shocked, and you’re just dealing with something that doesn’t happen hardly ever. Jim Ashley, his first word was, “ I need a drink.” And he went in, and he had several drinks. But the next morning, he was flying back to his mountaintop retreat in Vermont -- to New York and on to Vermont.
And I remember he flew back, and as soon as he got back, he sent me a fax. And he said, “Finally I understand the importance of our work, your work there. And I understand the pressures under which you work. And he said, “Now I support you.” But the reason I come to this as an ending conclusion -- I think there are times when journeys through the Y become not so easy.
And it’s been important to have people that encourage and help you lift up your vision and make it bigger, as good as it can. And I feel like now, I’m probably in a phase of life where I understand where I understand that even better, and it’s a privilege to be able to share that or be a part of a conversation for my kids and for others that I connect to in my work to be a good cheerleader as they connect with something that’s important.
Well, Mike, thank you for sharing your story and happy birthday.
You’re welcome. Thank you.