Our Y's History


The YMCA was founded in London, England in 1844 as a strong moral and value-based organization that would increasingly meet the needs of a growing society. In Kankakee, the YMCA was organized fifty years later in 1894.

Since then, the Kankakee Area YMCA has responded to the ever-increasing needs of the surrounding communities. To address the challenges which often accompany population growth, the Kankakee Area YMCA has continually developed programs and facilities which meet human needs and potential. The YMCA has accepted the challenge to enhance the quality of life for all persons within Kankakee County.

At the heart of our programs is purpose. This involves instructors, coaches and group leaders capturing the magic of a teachable moment to instill enduring, core values that shape character and self-esteem. Lived-out acts demonstrating positive values by principled adults have long-term positive results on the children witnessing and receiving the values. This is achieved when staff and volunteers work together with this shared vision.

The following is a historical summary of the Kankakee Area YMCA:

  • 1894 - The Young Men’s Christian Association of Kankakee holds its first organizational meeting and moves into the Swannell Building at 232 E. Court Street.
  • 1896 - Thaddeus Stevens becomes the first General Secretary (Executive Director) of the Kankakee Area YMCA.
  • 1898 - The YMCA moves to the Babst Building at 221 E. Court Street. 1907 Presbyterian evangelist, William Ashley (known as Billy Sunday), holds a temperance revival to raise money for the Kankakee YMCA building fund. 
  • 1908 - Construction begins on the original YMCA building on the southeast corner of Court Street and Harrison Avenue.
  • 1909 - The new Kankakee YMCA opens at 110 S.Harrison Avenue.
  • 1941 - “Properly chaperoned” co-ed dances for high school students begin in the gymnasium.
  • 1942 - The “Shirt and Skirt Club” is started to organize a “soft drink nightclub for adolescent Y members.”
  • 1943 - The “Crow’s Nest,” managed entirely by teens, opens. Women are allowed to join the Kankakee YMCA.
  • 1959 - The Bethune Youth Center, located in northeast Kankakee, becomes the first Branch YMCA of the Kankakee YMCA. It was later named the North Side YMCA of the Kankakee YMCA and relocated to 713 N. Hobbie Avenue.
  • 1963 - Walter Hill succeeds S.O. “Bob” Swygert as Executive Director.
  • 1966 - A building fund drive is launched to construct “a new home” for the Kankakee YMCA.
  • 1967 - Construction begins at 1075 N. Kennedy Drive in Kankakee.
  • 1968 -  The “new” Kankakee Area YMCA opens.
  • 1970 -  Wes Walker becomes the Executive Director of the Kankakee Area YMCA. Introduces volunteer-led membership campaigns.
  • 1971 - Three tennis courts are added. 
  • 1972 - Extension Department located in Millie Proegler School. Outreach program with a focus on tutoring and fitness activities.
  • 1975 - Membership totals over 4,000.
  • 1976—Youth and government programs begin, including the NYPUM program. A building drive is launched to raise $1,300,000 for the facility's expansion.
  • 1979 - Payment by bank draft is introduced.
  • 1980 - Space Utilization campaign raises $700,000. ToastMasters become Charter members and begin meeting at the Kankakee Area YMCA.
  • 1987 - Membership reaches an all-time high of 10,094. 
  • 1995 - Wade Hampton becomes the Executive Director of the Kankakee Area YMCA.
  • 1997 - Kankakee Area YMCA “Skate Park” opens.
  • 1999 - The Momence Branch opens.
  • 2000 - Joe Giacchino becomes the Executive Director of the Kankakee Area YMCA.
  • 2001 - A Capital Improvement Campaign to raise $2.0 million in five-year pledges is launched. Building renovations begin.
  • 2002 - The goal of the Capital Improvement Campaign is exceeded. The new Wellness Center opens.Renovations are completed.
  • 2006 -  Dirk Langfoss becomes the Executive Director of the Kankakee Area YMCA.
  • 2007 - New Aerobic Studio and Wellness Center renovations completed. 
  • 2008 - New YMCA KidZone Opened.
  • 2009 - Adult Locker Rooms Renovated. Added Jerry Blitz Memorial Lounge, group cycling studio, gym divider curtain, and Wellness Center cardio equipment.
  • 2010 - For the first time in 43 years, the YMCA unveiled a new branding strategy. Awarded the Pioneering Healthier Communities grant to reduce childhood obesity. Awarded a three-year $87,000 PNC Grow Up Great Grant to deliver a top quality preschool program. Renovated the Men’s Adult Locker.
  • 2011 - The member satisfaction survey ranked our Y in the top 10% of YMCA’s in the country. New PNC Preschool officially opens in October. Renovated the AllPurpose Room.
  • 2012 - Y becomes 100% brand compliant. Charlton Kids’ Fit Zone opens. Renovated gym floor and facility. Installed new pool bleachers, state-of-the-art pool UV system, swim team scoreboard, ADA compliant pool lifts, and Wi-Fi installed throughout facility.