Montebello-Commerce YMCA Looks To Next Hundred Years

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Josie Zamorano had her heart broken at the Montebello-Commerce YMCA.

The culprit was a good-looking aqua aerobics instructor. “When I came and started swimming, I had a crush on him,” she said.

Read this story IN SPANISH: YMCA de Montebello-Commerce Hace Planes para Los Próximos 100 Años

However it was not meant to be, said Zamora, recalling how one day the instructor picked up and left, apparently to teach in La Crescenta.

But her broken heart did not keep the 72-year old from returning to the YMCA for her daily swim – and now it seems the local branch of this iconic, cultural institution has found another way to her heart.

“Anytime they say, ‘come and eat,’ I’m here,” she says. And lately, there have been many events catering to members’ stomachs, not the least of which was the Montebello-Commerce YMCA’s 100th birthday celebration potluck held last week.

In this day and age of Internet interactions, the YMCA members, many of them long-time friends who first met at the “Y,” and others with their hair still slick from the pool, instead enjoyed each other’s company over fried chicken, Chinese food, homemade jello and brownies.

Well before it became associated with swimming and fitness, the YMCA was seen as a social gathering place that revolved around a kitchen and open space area, says Mike Newton, executive director of the Montebello-Commerce YMCA.

With this in mind, the YMCA’s board of directors has launched a Centennial Campaign to raise $475,000 to fund their vision for the “next hundred years,” which includes an 800 square foot cafe area as well as a 1,200 square foot cardiovascular conditioning center, Newton said.

The YMCA currently serves 7,000 people; the improvements will allow them to serve 1,100 more families from the surrounding community. So far they’ve raised $22,000 toward their goal.

Many of the people they surveyed in the surrounding area want a “third place” that is not their work or home, and a café could serve as that space where people gather to have a healthy bite to eat with their workout buddies, says Newton.

The survey also found that most people in the area were unaware of the facility, despite its long-time presence in Montebello. The facility is not especially visible from the street, so Newton says they plan on placing new cardiovascular exercise equipment along windows overlooking Beverly Boulevard to give the center more exposure.

Newton gave a historical overview to members at last Thursday’s potluck, flipping through a booklet of old photos and describing the many changes and upgrades this branch has gone through in the last century.

The Montebello-Commerce YMCA got its start in 1911 as the LA Athletic Field on Whittier Boulevard in Boyle Heights, six miles from its current location on Beverly Boulevard in Montebello, which opened in 1967, according to Newton.

The center which grew from just a field into a fitness center with a swimming pool, and even a garden, was called the Boyle Heights YMCA, the Hollenbeck YMCA, the Montebello East Los Angeles YMCA, and the Montebello Family YMCA before it was finally named the Montebello-Commerce YMCA in 2006. It was not long after they began working with the City of Commerce to set up a preschool on the Rosewood Park School campus.

Members like Zamorano are passionate about their community gathering place, where they come to sweat it out in line dancing and zumba classes, test their strength in the weightlifting gym, and tend to their fruit trees in the YMCA garden.

YMCA directors often like to tell the story of Warren Krunkle, who lost 160 pounds since joining and ran three marathons, one for each of his sons. He first came to the YMCA while looking for a swim class for his autistic son.

Members at the potluck talked about their own personal connection to the YMCA. Agnes Fukumoto, 67, stepped in to lead a line-dancing class when the last instructor told them, “This is our last day.”

She says she felt comfortable doing it because she is a teacher, but “it’s a little hard” at times to lead the class in the various Cha Cha, Merengue and waltz dance steps. “You have to be able to speak and walk at the same time. The sad part is we’re concentrating so hard we can’t even smile. We hardly ever talk because we’re thinking so hard,” Fukumoto says.

But as they struggle through the moves together, they start forming bonds with the person next to them. “I didn’t know any of these people before,” says Harriet Taguchi, 66, of the group of people around her.

For other members, the YMCA is a convenient part of their daily routine. They live nearby, the parking lot is easy to navigate, and it is an ideal place to bring their children.

Timothy Lemus, 34, has been bringing his children to the YMCA for youth baseball for the past seven years. “The staff is real hospitable and real welcoming. I didn’t feel out of place,” he says.

Compared to regular gyms, which he calls “meat markets,” the YMCA is good for “couples, husband and wife,” and families that want to bring their children. Even the music they play is more family friendly, he says, looking over at the sound system, which is blaring cheerful rock and surf tunes from the 1950s.

Zamorano says when she is no longer able to go to the YMCA “because of age,” she will think back on her “life experiences at the Y, and it’s going to put a big smile on my face.”

For more information about the Montebello-Commerce YMCA, call (323) 887-9622.

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August 4, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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