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YMCA members angered by branches closing after Friday

Updated: 2013-04-13T03:57:08Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

With their branches closing, YMCA members in Independence and Raytown said Friday it will be much harder for them to get the exercise their health needs.

That included Jackie Davis of Independence, who was at the Independence branch.

“Now I’m just going to sit at home and wait for my rear end to get broader,” she said.

Davis was among many members in both Independence and Raytown who paid their last visits to their respective branches Friday.

Both facilities were scheduled to be shut down permanently as YMCA of Greater Kansas City officials go forward with their plan, announced last month, to build a new downtown facility while closing three “challenged” branches in Raytown, Independence and downtown Kansas City, Kan.

At the Raytown branch, 10301 E. Missouri 350, members visited, helped themselves to a potluck buffet and read personal memories of the branch, many written by children, posted on a wall.

At the Independence branch, 14001 E. 32nd St., members visited but also were greeted by about 25 demonstrators, waving protest signs and venting their frustrations outside the building.

“The YMCA is turning its back on the whole eastern Jackson County corridor,” said Kathlene Kech Meyer of Independence, who first joined the branch when it opened in the mid-1960s.

Trish Gillette of Independence, a mother of four with a fifth child on the way, credited the branch’s staff for helping her with post-partum depression and for keeping her active during her current pregnancy.

But she was angered, she added, by advice that she now use the YMCA branch in Blue Springs.

“I’ve done the math,” Gillette said. “Driving to Blue Springs will cost my family an additional $780 a year in driving costs. My husband gets a raise and it all goes for gasoline.”

Since the organization’s announcement, Unified Government officials have stepped forward with a plan to keep the downtown Kansas City, Kan., facility open.

But no last-minute reprieves were in place Friday for the other two locations.

YMCA officials have met with Raytown and Independence representatives, but city officials have said a variety of factors, including significant costs in addressing deferred maintenance, have complicated efforts to keep the buildings open.

A YMCA spokeswoman said Friday that the organization recognized that the closings represented “challenging decisions.”

She added that more than one-third of all members from both closing branches had transferred memberships to a neighboring YMCA.

“We continue to work to balance the financial realities of the organization with our mission to serve the community,” said Paula Oxler.

In Raytown on Friday, several members described emotions ranging from sadness to resentment.

“This has been my happy place,” said Mary Alice Kelly, a branch member for 14 years. “If I was upset about something going on in my life, I would always leave here feeling better.

“But the last five weeks I haven’t felt that way.”

Nancy Young, Raytown High School girls swimming and diving coach, said YMCA officials had “mismanaged and neglected Raytown.” The Raytown branch, she added, was built on donated land and constructed in part with community donations.

“Now the YMCA is pulling out of the community that needs it,” said Young. “I’m angry.”

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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