In 1887, Frank Harwood and other prominent community leaders were concerned with the number of saloons in Appleton and decided to convince area businessmen that a YMCA would benefit the community. On February 23, 1888, those community leaders voted to establish the YMCA of Appleton. It was organized with F.J. Harwood as president and was located at 112 E. College Avenue over what was known as Pardee’s Grocery Store. This original YMCA consisted of a reading room, small gymnasium, parlor and game room, and had 158 members in the first year of existence.
After occupying several locations in downtown Appleton, ground was broken at the current location, 218 E. Lawrence St., Appleton on April 17, 1914. The doors opened in August of 1915 to a state-of-the-art facility, which included the first pool and youth center in the city of Appleton. Even in the early years of operation, the Y prided itself on being a community partner, as archives share that 302 different groups used the Y facility in 1938. This location has gone through additions and renovations in 1968, 1987, 1992, 1995, 2003 and the most recent being in 2016.
What is now known as the Neenah-Menasha YMCA began in 1911 as the Young Women’s Club in a modest home providing rooms for rent and holding classes for women. In 1929, the group voted to affiliate with the YWCA and in 1934 they acquired the S.A. Cook house at 138 North Commercial Street in Neenah.
The current location at 110 West North Water Street, Neenah, was built in 1967 and included two pools, a gym, meeting rooms, a youth area, a fitness area and locker rooms. Over the years, many additions and renovations have occurred including the addition of another pool, an indoor track and a full childcare facility.
In 1969, in an effort to serve more families, the Neenah-Menasha YWCA became affiliated with the YMCA and became the Y Community Center of Neenah-Menasha. On January 1, 1977, the Neenah-Menasha Community Center affiliated solely with the YMCA to provide a second presence in the Fox Cities.
In 1964, the YMCA founded Camp Nan A Bo Sho, a 40 acre overnight camp on the shores of Waubee Lake near Lakewood, Wisconsin, which offers programs to develop self-esteem, appreciation of a healthy spirit, mind and body and a respect and appreciation for nature and the environment. Thousands of children have attended Camp Nan A Bo Sho in its 50+ years of operation.
On May 25, 2000 the Boards of Directors for the Appleton and Neenah-Menasha YMCAs voted to consolidate under the corporate name of YMCA of the Fox Cities. The Appleton YMCA members voted to approve the merger on December 20, 2001 and the Neenah-Menasha YMCA membership approved the merger on May 14, 2002. Over the next 7 years the YMCA of the Fox Cities would open three new locations.
On September 23, 2002, the Heart of the Valley YMCA opened their doors at 225 West Kennedy Avenue, Kimberly. This 80,000 square-foot facility was complete with a Lifestyle Center, gymnasium, gymnastics center, locker rooms, swimming pool, Kids Corner and a walking/running track. Since opening they have had multiple renovations and additions including a second gymnasium and added programing space.
On October 28, 2002 the Fox West YMCA opened on W6931 School Road, Greenville. This 15,000 square-foot facility includes a Lifestyle Center, fitness testing lab, locker rooms, program area, preschool area, dance room, Kids Corner and a multipurpose space. In 2009 this facility expanded to include a pool with 4 lap lanes and instructional area, a new second floor Lifestyle Center and expanded multipurpose and Kids Corner spaces. In 2016 the Fox West YMCA add a gymnasium, expanded Wellness Center, new dance studio and updated Member Services area.
In 2005 the Bruce and Barbara Purdy family donated two parcels of land valued at $4.6 million and additional $3.7 million cash gift for the development of the Bruce B. Purdy Nature Preserve and construction of the Apple Creek YMCA Program Center.
The Apple Creek YMCA Program Center opened in June 2009 and features three levels totaling 26,000 square-feet and has a strong environmental education emphasis. The facility includes the 105-acre Bruce B. Purdy Nature preserve, nearly 3 miles of wooded hiking trails, nature study classroom, preschool, Play and Learn licensed child care, wellness center, group exercise studio, gardens and confidence course.
Today, the YMCA of the Fox Cities has over 46,000 members and provides program opportunities to nearly 69,000 people in hundreds of programs from Arts to Zumba.