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Y’s Unsung Heroes Celebrate Their Part in Its Survival
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Tuesday, October 19, 2021
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS BY KINGSLEY MURPHY AND KAREN BOSSICK

The late afternoon sun streamed through the yellow aspen trees flanking the Wood River Community YMCA as a steady stream of adults and children entered the doors bound for the climbing wall, the strength machines on the second floor and the swimming pool with its water slide.

Little did they realize that an important ceremony was taking place outside on the patio of Bonni’s Garden.

“This is an amazing moment and few people will know about it, but we know about it,” said the Y’s Executive Director Jason Shearer.

The moment that Shearer spoke of was the burning of the Y’s mortgage, which closed the books on a long, little-known saga in which the Wood River Valley nearly lost its YMCA shortly after it opened its doors.

“It’s a beautiful story of a local group that stepped up and helped the organization in its time of need,” said Dan Turner, who took his place among those assembled. “They took on a debt when the Y needed it. Today we make the last payment to be debt free. And the money that used to go to pay off the debt can now go to programming and maintenance.”

The Wood River Community YMCA still had that fresh paint smell, having opened in 2007, when the Great Recession of 2008 reverberated around the world, causing the most severe financial meltdown since the Great Depression. Many of those who had made financial commitments in 2004, 2005 and 2006 to fund the Y’s $19 million capital campaign could no longer cover their pledges.

At some point, the Y had to stop making payments because it ran out of money.

Bank of America—nervous about the debt—put the Y’s debt in a big bundle of debts, selling the note to a Denver group that buys distressed debt. And that group indicated that they were going to padlock the Y and repurpose the facility as something else.

Dan Turner looked around the group, celebrating the moment with wine, beer and hors d’oeuvres, and noted that the Y would not have survived if not for the people in his midst.

“I was told to give John Dondero a call and, when I did, I embarked on an incredible journey,” said Turner. “We started knocking on doors, and a lot more people said ‘No’ than ‘Yes.’ It was only a good idea if you were prepared to lose all your money. But, every time someone was skeptical about the Y’s future, it only doubled John’s resolve.” He’d say, ‘That’s not the way it’s going to be. The Y cannot fail and the Y will not fail.’ ”

In time Dondero and his sidekicks rallied a group of investors they called “allies” –investors with long ties to the community who were willing to put up their money with no guarantee they would see it again.

Randy Hall, who was the mayor of Ketchum at the time, got nose to nose with the Denver group.

“You’re not taking this from us after we did all this work. We’re going to keep this a YMCA,” he told them.

“It’s of no value to you,” he added. “All you can do with this building is operate it as a recreational facility—like a YMCA. And we have experts doing that and they’re struggling in this economy.”

Hall told the allies that he heard the investor hyperventilating on the other end of the phone—so much so that he was concerned about his health.

“But that ended up being one of the pivotal moments,” he said.

Hall noted that his 12-year-old daughter Addee, who attended the mortgage burning with his wife Angela, learned to swim at the Y, as has every Blaine County second-grader  for the past 13 years.

“The Y has been a generation of success and a great community asset. It’s changed the lives of thousands of people,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine the community without it. It’s going to be here long after I’m gone. I don’t know what could be a greater gift.”

The speeches done, the allies circled around as Fred M. Filoon signed his name to the check, officially signing off on the debt.

“I’m truly honored to put my name on this check,” he said.

“It really is ours,” said Shearer. “The building is paid for and it really is ours, it really does belong to the community and now we know as we look to the future that it’s here for our children.”

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