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YMCA dates to 1878 in Keokuk

The first Young Men’s Christian Association in Keokuk, organized about the year 1878, continued for about 3 years. Unfortunately, the record of this organization have been lost, so complete accuracy is not possible.

This group used a front room on the second floor over a store at 520 Main St. In its early days, the Y was primarily a religious organization. Daily half-hour prayer meetings were held here at noon. Each Sunday and for two summers, religious meetings were held in the 500 block of Main Street. These street revivals, consisting of son, scripture reading and addresses by ministers and laymen, were well attended.

Hoerner YMCA dedication program
Dedication program, 1975



Prior to 1893, the interests of the YMCA were looked after by O.E. King, corresponding secretary. In February 1892, the state convention was held in Burlington. R.B. Horsburg attended as representative of one of the societies of the First Westminster Presbyterian Church. He reported the convention events to the society. At the request of W.J. Fulton, the report also was given in the Bank Street Sunday School.

During the summer of 1892, discussions were held about starting a YMCA, but nothing definite came of the discussions. On Nov. 14, 1892, the executive committee of the YPSCE of the Westminster Presbyterian Church resolved that “some action be taken toward helping the neglected young men of the city.” A committee was appointed by this group. The committee reported that whatever action was taken, concentration on the establishment of a YMCA should be foremost.

Other groups and individuals were contacted. Some were enthusiastic. Others were not opposed to the movement, but said, “It’s been tried and failed, and there is no use to try again.”


YMCA incorporates in 1893

The matter was put off until Jan. 17, 1893, when representatives of each of the Evangelical churches held a clandestine meeting, as some opposition to a Y had developed. Churches represented at the meeting were: Presbyterian, Baptist, Chatham Square M.E., Congregational, United Presbyterian, Episcopal, Disciples, First M.E., St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran, Swedish Lutheran and Swedish Mission.

At this meeting, a committee was appointed to canvass the churches and report whether further action should be taken. Subsequent meetings were held with 125 and 175 men present.

On March 15, the committee reported a membership of 400 and subscriptions of over $900. On March 20, an organizational meeting was held, a constitution was adopted and a board of directors was elected. The Keokuk YMCA was on its way. Some familiar names on that board were C.R. Joy, E.S. Baker and F.M. Fuller. Articles of incorporation were filed on March 23, 1893.

First home includes bowling alley, two baths

The first home of the new organization was the Horne Building, located between 7th and 8th streets on Main Street. F.W. Jones of Marion, Iowa, was called to be the first general secretary. He started work on July 25, 1893, and on that evening, a public reception was held. The first facilities included a bowling alley and two bath tubs on the ground floor and two meeting rooms on the second floor.

An old report says, “Everything was done that could be done to make the rooms attractive and to bring men in. Special services were held, conducted by C.C. Michiner of Des Moines, Mr. McClure of Marshalltown and others, and number of young men were brought to Christ.”

Between 1893 and 1895, the Y increased its general activities, and several general secretaries came and went. H.M. Lourie was elected president in 1893 and succeeded in getting the State Y Convention to be held in Keokuk in February 1896. That same year, Mr. Lourie asked to be relieved of his duties, and C.R. Joy was elected to the job, a position he held for many years. By this time, the YMCA had a Women’s Auxiliary. Spanish-American soldiers were given many favors by the YMCA.

In 1896, a meeting was held to decide whether or not a Young Men’s Christian Association building should  be erected in Keokuk. A building committee was appointed; some of the familiar names on this committee are: H.W. Huiskamp, W.J. Fulton, J.C. Hubinger and A.E. Matless. The committee raised $20,000 for the building by spring. It was decided to wait until fall to continue the fund-raising. However, in the fall, the business condition of the entire country was in such bad circumstance, it was decided to wait longer before continuing the drive.

First dedicated YMCA building opens in 1899

Mother Nature took a hand, and on Jan. 20, 1898, fire almost destroyed the rooms occupied by the Y. The building committee met that afternoon and decided a new building would be built.
By April 1, the needed $30,000 had been raised. The building, located at the corner of Fifth and Blondeau streets, was dedicated on Nov. 30, 1899, the first YMCA building in the state of Iowa to be debt free at its opening.

The great evangelist, Billy Sunday, had exceptional influence in Keokuk. His meetings here and classes conducted by Mrs. Sunday induced Miss Bess Hagens and Mrs. Birdwell Sutlive, Sr., to organize a meeting in December 1904 to establish a YWCA in Keokuk. This idea met with such enthusiasm that on Jan. 5, 1905, the first meeting of the YWCA was held. Mrs. T.R. Board was elected president. In June 1905, a lease was signed for facilities over a downtown jewelry store. The first home of the YWCA included a large room used as a gymnasium, plus three smaller rooms. Late in September, another room was occupied, and the first YWCA cafeteria was opened.

YWCA building opens in 1913

On April 12, 1912, the board launched a campaign for a new building, which was so successful that the present YWCA building was built and occupied in 1913.

Due to a fire in 1919, the YMCA building had to be rebuilt. It was at this time that the dormitory was added. The two organizations with their separate facilities served Keokuk until 1954, when they merged their staff and board of directors and became known as the Keokuk YM-YWCA. In the late ’50s, the Friendly House and the YM-YWCA began working together, particularly at the Friend House Camp Poqotce, to which many new facilities have been added since the affiliation.

In 1963, the YMCA benefited from several improvements, including the addition of a second handball court.

Hoerner YMCA building opens in 1975

In 1971, R.N. (Dick) Hoerner, Sr., who had served as president of the Keokuk YM-YWCA for 17 years, realized the desperate need for a new Y building. He issued a challenge to the community, offering one dollar of his own money to match every two dollars pledged by the community for a new building.

Tragically, Mr. Hoerner died in August 1972 during the Keokuk YM-YWCA Meeting the Challenge Fund campaign. However, his family carried out his dream of a new Y building with a large contribution. In total, $1.4 million was raised and the challenge was met.

The new building, located at 2126 Plank Rd., opened on Jan. 20, 1975, and the  building was dedicated on June 8, 1975. In his memory, the board of directors of the YM-YWCA voted unanimously to name the facility the Hoerner Y Civic and Recreation Center.

— Taken from the dedication program for the Hoerner Y Civic and Recreation Center, June 1975