If you ever doubt that one person can make a difference in the community, let us remind you of the work that Jim Asleson did in Albany.
Asleson quietly retired as the executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Family YMCA at the end of the year, wrapping up a 25-year career with the local chapter. His last day in the office was spent in a $17 million complex that opened three years ago.
Compare that to his first days at the Albany Y, when the organization was based in what had been the site of a farm implement dealership. The building was already 15 years old when the board of the Y bought it for $200,000 in 1959. By the time Asleson started work in 1994, 25 years later, it must have been obvious that for the organization to thrive, it would need new digs.
Asleson, whose experience includes stints with YMCAs in Charlotte, North Carolina, Colorado Springs and Portland, had tackled big building projects before; in fact, he had helped to complete a major project in Charlotte. That certainly was one of the reasons why he must have been attractive to the people who hired him for the job in Albany.
“I interviewed with the board and really liked them and the community,” Asleson told reporter Alex Paul in a recent Democrat-Herald story. “But the facility wasn’t much. We stood outside the building and my wife (Elke) asked me if that was really what I wanted to do. I said the potential was here and I have never been sorry.”
In 2002, the YMCA went public with its plans for a capital campaign to replace that old building. The timing could have been better: The Great Recession officially began five years later, in December 2007, although its full effects weren't felt in Oregon until later. The recession officially ended nationally in June 2009, after 18 months, but — again — Oregon arrived late at the recovery and some parts of the state recovered faster than others.
For our purposes today, let's just say that capital campaigns aren't easy to run in the first place — and keeping them focused during dark economic times can be particularly challenging.
But Asleson and the YMCA's other supporters didn't lose faith. They stayed focused on the goal, even if that goal took a bit longer than originally expected: The new building opened in 2015, some 13 years after the capital campaign went public. (Albany — to its credit — has a soft spot for these long-running campaigns; the Historic Albany Carousel and Museum went through a similarly lengthy fundraising effort.)
The mid-valley responded enthusiastically to the new facility: The first year it was open, membership boomed from 2,900 to 6,800, considerably besting expectations. And it was particularly gratifying to Asleson and YMCA staff members to see families with young children flocking to the facility.
He's justifiably proud that the YMCA will be a positive magnet for families for generations to come.
“I know we are leaving this organization in better shape than we found it for our staff, our volunteers, donors and our community,” he said.
Kristal Dufour, the chair of the YMCA's current board, put it well: "Without his vision and persistence we would not have the beautiful new facility that we enjoy today."
The YMCA's board has launched a search for a new executive director, with hopes that the organization's new leader can be in place by the fall.
That new director likely will face a new set of challenges, including competition from a surfeit of fitness-based businesses that have sprung up over the last few years.
But that new director also will be working from a strong foundation — and Jim Asleson, swimming against the tide during some dark economic times, helped to build that foundation. (mm)