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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2004

Bedford: Long-held dream about to come true for supporters of new YMCA

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - It was a little over three years ago when the Bedford Board of Education signed off on what was then a controversial proposal to swap 10 acres of prime real estate along West Dean Road so a handful of local community supporters could have their dream come true.

That vote wasn't unanimous, but it was a significant first step down a bumpy road that should get a lot smoother when officials from the YMCA of Greater Toledo formally break ground on the 46,000-square-foot Francis Family YMCA.

"To be honest, I thought everything that could go wrong did go wrong,'' laughed Jon Whitman, who, like some local version of Sysiphus has spent the last several years pushing a very large rock up the fund-raising mountain, garnering support for the YMCA that will be named after his grandparents.

"You had a stock market fall. You had terrorists attacks. You had an economy in the shape it's been in. We fought with the township officials,'' Mr. Whitman said.

"You had everything that could go against you went against you, and all you could do was keep looking at each other around the table and say, let's keep going,'' he said.

The ceremonial ground-breaking, likely next month, will be an emotional event for Mr. Whitman and others who helped put together one of, if not the, most successful fund drive in local history, raising more than $5 million toward the eventual $6.9 million total cost of the state-of-the-art recreation and family center.

"Bedford has never raised over a million dollars for anything. The stadium was the biggest charitable thing we had ever done, so you face this $4 million or $6 million mountain, and you go in with a positive attitude hoping you can do it, facing it as a volunteer, as something you're committed to,'' he said.

The local auto dealer pointed to a number of local supporters - many of whom he is related to - who stepped to the plate early on with commitments for more

than $2.5 million in pledges in October, 2002 to make the facility a reality.

Those original contributors included the survivors of the late Raymond and Pauline Francis, who pledged $1 million; Mr. Whitman's parents, Paul and Virginia Whitman, who pledged $750,000; Paul and Patricia Swy, owners of MTS Seating, who pledged $500,000, Mr. Whitman and his wife, Laurie, who pledged $250,000, and $100,000 from Mike and Karen Fisher, who are the owners of Fisher Tool & Die.

Todd Tibbets, director of Francis Family YMCA, said enthusiasm for the project within the community has grown steadily since the campaign kickoff in October 2002.

YMCA officials are projecting that the center, which is being built on a soccer field just west of the high school, could get as many as 10,000 to 15,000 members, or between one third and one half of the township's population.

"I really believe that [the Francis Family YMCA] will be the most significant thing in our community,'' Mr. Tibbets said, "potentially even bigger than the schools.''

Mr. Whitman said that while the whole process of making a local YMCA a reality was difficult, the best decision that local supporters made was to allign themselves with the YMCA of Greater Toledo, which later developed the relationship that will allow ProMedica to open a physical rehabilitation center attached to the new YMCA.

"I think one of the key things was aligning these people in toledo who are very successful at running YMCAs.

"They penetrate, or sell, or have associations with more people per capita than anybody else in the country,'' he said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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