Hometown boy sets pace on new YMCA in Beckley

July 15, 2018

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — The YMCA of Southern West Virginia has given much over the years to its CEO.

The downtown Beckley facility is where Jay Rist learned how to swim. It’s where he played sports with some of the guys who have become lifelong friends. It’s where he met his wife, Bre. It’s where their four kids — Reagan, Ethan, Kelsey and Leighton — are learning, growing and making memories of their own.

Rist will always treasure his experiences at the downtown Y, but he’s thinking about his children’s children, and even their children, and the lasting impression of the YMCA on southern West Virginians for years to come.

With the recent announcement of the new $30 million facility, to be located on the upper grounds of the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex, Rist took time to reflect with The Register-Herald about the Y’s history, and to contemplate its future.

Chartered in June 1963, the organization was called the Young Men’s Christian Association of Beckley-Raleigh County. The Y operated in a couple different facilities, including programming at the then-armory (now Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center) and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building.

“In the early 1970s, under the guidance of Bob Bolen, Mel Hancock and a passionate committee of local leaders, the decision was made to build a brand new YMCA in downtown Beckley,” Rist said.

With the support of Warren Thornhill, a Beckley attorney, their dreams became reality. Rist said Thornhill, who took a six-month hiatus from his law practice to fundraise for the Y, was a driving force in the process.

After raising more than $3 million, construction began in the mid-70s, and the building opened just a few years later.

“At that time, I was just a little kid,” Rist said. “But the Y became the place to go. Generations of children passed through these halls, including me.”

His parents, John and Ramona Rist, have been members nearly since the building opened. They got memberships for Rist and his brother, Thomas, too.

Rist remembers the 1980s at the Y as “the golden era,” when the Y offered everything from Golden Gloves Boxing and martial arts to swimming and youth wrestling.

“I participated in a majority of the youth programs here. I learned to swim here. I got certified to be a lifeguard here. The Y, it impacts you as a child. It provides you with these great experiences. You make friends, lifelong friends here.”

Jason Logan, who grew up playing soccer with Rist, is now the sports and recreation director at the Y. The two often run into their friends and their kids at youth soccer events, and they pick up right where they left off.

Not only his peers, but his coaches left a lasting impact, too. They taught him about competition and the drive to excel. They also taught him a love of physical fitness.

“I can tell you all my coaches. I still remember every single name. Former Woodrow Wilson High School Coach Rockey Powell really stands out. He had us in the best shape of our lives. He ran us to death, and I still run just about every day, thanks in large part to him.”

Rist is hopeful the new facility, slated to open in 2020, will spur an interest for southern West Virginians to be more active.

West Virginia ranks No. 1 in the nation for a host of health-related issues, including adult obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

While Rist disagrees with Beckley’s ranking from 24/7 Wall Street as the unhealthiest city in the nation, he knows there’s room for improvement.

“We’re moving from a 55,000 square foot building into 120,000 square foot facility,” Rist said. “It will more than double our capacity to be able to serve people through different facets in the facility.”

The space promises something for everyone — an indoor aquatics center with a zero-depth entry play space with lazy river, a diving well with a meter ledge, two water slides and a rock-climbing wall modeled after a waterside cliff at Summersville Lake; a program pool, a competition pool, an outdoor sun deck, an indoor sun deck, a juice bar and party rooms; two full-size basketball courts, two outdoor sand volleyball courts; a two-story play place for kids; an indoor rock climbing wall; a turfed indoor soccer arena; a mezzanine level featuring free weights, strength, functional and cardio training equipment, an indoor track and three group exercise studios. The facility will also be fully ADA compliant.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities,” Rist said.

Throughout the years, youth programming at the Y shifted to primarily focus on basketball and soccer. But with the new facility, Rist is hopeful programming can be expanded, and special events can be added to the calendar.

“Leagues could be formed, or camps can be held. Those are the details we’ll get to. We have to develop the portfolio a little more — not just for sports and recreation, but across the board.”

Rist said he never dreamed he’d be working for the place that helped mold him as a child.

“I was always drawn back to the mountains, back to home,” he said. “But the fact that my life came full circle, leading the organization that gave so much to me is huge.”

While the downtown facility has held up well throughout the years, and has undergone a handful of renovations, some under Rist’s leadership, he said the time has come to move forward, to think about the legacy he’ll leave behind.

After a set of renovations completed in 2016, Rist said, “At the end of my career, I hope that I can leave the Y in a better place than when I took it over.” Now, he says, “I just hope I do our community proud the way Bob and Mel did their time around.”

To do that, “and to do it right,” it’s going to come with a hefty price tag. But Rist, with the help of some key players, has already secured $26 million toward the $30 million project.

Roughly $13 million in government funding has been or will be secured, including Abandoned Mine Land reclamation funds with the help of Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va. Chris Cline, a local philanthropist and coal tycoon, and his family made a multi-million dollar donation, and the Carter Family Foundation has pledged $1 million toward the project.

“We wanted to do a lot of the legwork before we made the announcement, so it didn’t seem like such a daunting task,” Rist said. “But we still need $4 million locally. We have to, as a community and as a membership base, say, ‘Yes, we want this facility.’”

At ymcaswv.com, folks can find the conceptual design for the new facility, along with a donation packet. He said no donation is too small.

“Everyone who donates will be recognized inside the building,” Rist said. “This is a real opportunity for the people in this area to leave a lasting legacy.”


Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com

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