Gonzales retires after decades of helping others be healthy
SCOTTSBLUFF — One year at Christmas, Lupe Gonzales received a membership to the Scottsbluff Family YMCA as a gift from his employer. He told his wife, Lola, about the incredible gift. She was less than enthusiastic.
“I said to him, ‘Uh, that’s OK,’” she said. She admits she was a “hefty little gal,” and didn’t have time to go to the YMCA. He kept pestering her. One night she was making enchiladas in the kitchen when Lupe walked in and told her she needed to go to the YMCA. She didn’t want to go.
“He kept bugging me about it,” she said. “Then, he said, ‘You know, honey, I love you, but you’re fat.’”
She hit him. The words hurt her feelings and she was crying. She told him she didn’t think he loved her.
“He told me, ‘I love you, but there’s so much of you,’” she said. “So I said, OK, I will go and try.”
The first time she walked into the YMCA, she was scared. She joined an exercise class with five other women. The music turned on and Gonzales started exercising. It was the start of a career spanning five decades.
“That first day, I was doing windmills that I’m not supposed to be doing today because I’m old,” she said. “I went home sore, but I kept it up and started losing weight.”
One day in 1970, Gordon Schaub passed her class with 25 men who were running through the building. He stopped and saw Gonzales was teaching the class. She explained the instructor was sick, but no one wanted to stop exercising, so Gonzales took over. Schaub asked her if she would be wiling to teach a class. She didn’t know anything about teaching a class.
“I went to the library and looked up exercise stuff,” she said. “I got a bunch of songs together and organized my exercises.”
Soon, the class size went from five to 10 to 25. Eventually, 40 women were in one room with Gonzales leading them all. When Schaub saw what was happening, he asked Gonzales to come work for him.
“I said, ‘No, I can’t. I have four boys to take care of,’” she said. “He said I could teach classes and bring the boys with me.”
She began her career at the YMCA with one or two classes a day. Her sons would sit on a bench and watch while she taught class. They also joined programs such as swimming and basketball.
“Gordon told me, ‘We’ll take care of them while you teach,’” she said. “That’s what the Y is all about.”
Schaub, retired executive director, gave Gonzales her start in a storied career at the Scottsbluff Family YMCA.
“I saw someone that was a legitimate, happy, enthusiastic individual,” Schaub said.
By 1983, she was teaching two to three classes a day and training additional instructors to help with the increased class schedule. With continued training and education, Lola developed a group exercise second to none in the area.
Gonzales added youth programs, including tumbling, healthy kids, ballet, tap and jazz to her list of passions.
The next logical step for the self-described people person was membership. Gonzales educated local business leaders on the importance of health and well-being and expanded the YMCA Corporate Membership Program.
She then began co-chairing the YMCA’s annual support campaign. She recruited volunteers to tell their “Y story” to others in the community.
Gonzales spent her career looking out for the well-being of others, particularly children. She always made a point to let others know how the YMCA could help them.
“So many moms say, ‘This is wonderful there are programs here for my children,’” Gonzales said. “What makes me so happy is when I walk in and see a family walking in and the mom’s got three bambinos, and they’re at the desk asking can we get a membership.”
As Gonzales moved up the ranks, she became the face of the YMCA. Not only was she known within the YMCA, but she did programs at schools and libraries, and organized a variety of programs, including healthy kids days, special events at the YMCA camp and racquetball tournaments.
“I was always amazed at the passion she had for the Y and the kids and families,” retired Executive Director Dean Behling said.
There were times she would fill in for a class and, when she was done, they would ask why she couldn’t do it all the time.
“If the members had their way, they would have had her teaching every class there was,” Behling said. “She is what the YMCA is about.”
Schaub said Gonzales had a way of when people met her, they felt like they knew her.
“She started out through a ladies exercise class and she was much heavier than she is now, but she was motivated and loved the class,” Schaub said. “She exemplifies a lot of people who have a hard time exercising and I think that’s why so many people related to her.”
When Schaub hired her, she was a diamond in the rough. He saw how she came to work every day, regardless of what was going on personally. She had a positive, friendly attitude and always did what was best for the YMCA.
“You can’t measure the positive impact she has had on hundreds, maybe more,” Schaub said. “She can’t be replaced. There is only one Lola.”
Schaub said Gonzales has done so many things to make the YMCA stronger, but she always looked to give other people credit.
“She’s just one of those exceptional people that will not be forgotten,” Schaub said. “She’s left a beautiful legacy.”