The ABCs of Lowell History: Y is for YMCA

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at the establishment and evolution of the Lowell YMCA. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of when Lowell became one of the smallest towns in the country to have a YMCA. The beginning was only possible because of one woman, Florence King. While trying to preserve the name and legacy of her father, Frank Twining King, she left a lasting mark here in Lowell.

Who was Frank Twining King? He came to Lowell at age 7 in 1863. At age 15, he worked as bookkeeper in a pine lumber camp near Cadillac. In 1879, he became a partner in King, Quick and King Sawmill on the east side of the Flat River and on the islands in the river. When the white pine was exhausted in 1888, King bought the Lowell flouring mills and organized King Milling Co. in 1890 with the help of others. Mr. King reached beyond Lowell – he was appointed by Pres Herbert Hoover to the National Food Administration. Florence was his only child.

In her will, Florence King created the King Memorial Fund. Her will also included a generous gift to the Lowell Congregational Church, but the bulk of the estate was for the King Memorial fund, the income to be used exclusively for the establishment of a YMCA in Lowell. The office was originally located in the East half of the Robert Graham home, now home to the Lowell Area Historical Museum. This space was donated by the city of Lowell. A director was hired from the Fund and board members were appointed from the community.

It was determined quite early by the Lowell Y board that a community swimming pool, to be owned by the city and operated by the Y, would be of high priority among uses for the King fund. Part of the funding for the pool was to come from the city’s Lee Fund which had been given to benefit parks, and the largest portion from the King Fund. As stipulated in Miss King’s will, the building and pool were given Mr. King’s name-King Memorial Pool and today the King Building .

The pool opened in July of 1961. The day was 90 degrees, and over 300 people delighted in its use that first day. The crowd had to be divided in order to give everyone a chance to plunge into the only outdoor public pool in Eastern Kent County. The pool was home to competitive swim teams and synchronized swim lessons and competitions.

By 1969 the YMCA had a baseball program, with 317 participants on 28 teams. They also boasted day camps, tennis, trip programs, clinics and horseback riding, and of course, the pool, which had an attendance of over 27,000 that summer!

Through the years it hasn’t been just the young people who benefited from the YMCA. The Lowell YMCA hosted a Senior Citizens’ group that had monthly meetings in the ‘Y’ Lounge.

The YMCA has partnered with others over the years. The pool was accomplished by working with the City of Lowell. Many businesses in town have participated in Y fund raising campaigns. In 1971, the YMCA began a partnership with the Lowell Area Schools to provide Community Education classes. High school credit classes and leisure time classes were offered during the winter semester with over 60 adults registered. The goals were to help adults get the high school credit needed to receive a diploma, and the recreation and enrichment courses were a way to learn new interests and hobbies. Babysitting was offered for those in class.

The King Memorial Fund is still providing income for the Y, and recently the YMCA of Lowell purchased the old Impact Church site with the help of the fund. They look forward to continuing to grow to better serve the Lowell Community.

Photograph shows the Lowell YMCA swimming pool with Fred and Joy Althaus and children. (If you are viewing this article in an email or in WordPress, please click the article link to see the photo on the website.)

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