A hub for African American community for over 100 years

During the past century many personal stories have been shared about the contributions made by individuals who attended, worked or volunteered at the Senate Avenue, Fall Creek, Pike and most recently the OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA. These contributions have helped to develop countless leaders in Indianapolis.

The stories will be shared on Friday, Feb. 1 at The Legacy Wall Unveiling at OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA.

“It is with great pleasure that we will unveil the Legacy Wall, our collective Y-history and remarkable stories of the many contributions that men and women of the YMCA have made,” said Dana Austin, Committee Chair of the Legacy Wall Committee.

Stanley Warren, Ed.D., author of “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys” and Legacy Wall Committee member writes, “With the formation of the Young Men’s Prayer Band in 1901 by Robert Gilliam, William Hill, Dr. H.L. Hummons, Dr. Joseph Ward, and Dr. Sumner Furniss the fund raising efforts for the Senate Avenue YMCA was begun.

Dedication of the Senate Avenue YMCA in 1913 - Legacy Wall
Dedication of the Senate Avenue YMCA in 1913

Influentials helped build Senate Ave. Y

Notables such as Julius Rosenwald, Sears Roebuck, Eli Lilly, and Mme. C.J. Walker were among the many involved, which included the local African American community. The Prayer Band wanted to provide a place for black men who were among the unemployed, the idle, and men living lives without purpose. Booker T. Washington spoke at the

dedication ceremony of the building in 1913.

Monster Meetings

According to Warren, under the new director of the Senate Avenue YMCA, Faburn DeFrantz, the building became the gathering place for Monster Meetings. These were information sessions that included African Americans from all walks of life and speakers such as Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others.

Senate Ave YMCA - Legacy Wall
Senate Avenue YMCA was a hub for social justice meetings.

“The Senate Avenue YMCA remained as a focal point for African Americans for nearly 50 years before its demise in the 1950s,” he said.

“Construction for the new Fall Creek YMCA began in 1958 on West 10th St. Dedicated on Sept. 13, 1959, the Fall Creek Y continued the mission and legacy begun at the Senate Avenue Y, providing cultural, educational, spiritual and physically enriching activities for African American youth and the community at large,” said Jan Clark, committee member of the Legacy Wall for OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA.

Chess, swimming & more

Clark gives her personal account of classes and training opportunities.

Fall Creek Y basketball league

“Youth and adults fine-tuned their sports expertise through programs offered in baseball, basketball, boxing, football, soccer, tennis and volleyball” she said. “Young chess champions were nurtured at the classes and matches with the aid of the Indy Y’s Men’s Club.”

According to Clark, at summer Day Camp young African-American boys grew from being novices at the shallow end of the pool at the session’s start to being able to dive, swim the length of the pool, and have their yellow ribbon with the round metal sinker cut off, (symbolizing their achievement), at ceremonies attended by the entire family.

A temporary home to out-of-towners

Fall Creek YMCA

The Monster Meetings continued at Fall Creek and featured local and nationally recognized speakers.

“Fall Creek Y was also a place that offered a residential facility, a temporary home to visiting out-of-towners who sometimes could not find lodging in local hotels due to racial segregationist practices of the late 50’s and early 60’s,” she said.

Unfortunately with the growth and shift in the city’s population and sundry repairs needed the Fall Creek YMCA, the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis had to make the difficult decision to close in 2002.

Good Friday Breakfasts

Good Friday Breakfast | Signature Event | YMCA of Greater Indianapolis
Good Friday Breakfast at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in 2018

According to Nancy Shaw, Legacy Wall Committee Member, Board of Trustees for the YMCA and Indianapolis YMCA Foundation, not all traditions were lost with the demise of the former two YMCAs, for instance the Good Friday Prayer Breakfast that originated at the Fall Creek YMCA by the Y’s Men. “This event has been institutionalized by the Greater Indianapolis YMCA and has become an annual, city-wide event,” she said.

After the close of the Fall Creek YMCA, Norris Lineweaver, former president of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, made a promise to one day open another YMCA on the west side of Indianapolis.

Pike Y fills the gap

In 2005, a Pike YMCA was opened as a 22,000-square-feet workout facility in Park 100 Office Complex until funds could be raised and a new facility built. Y membership increased considerably. Eric Ellsworth, who became CEO of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis in 2005, made it a priority to include opening a YMCA on the west side of Indianapolis as part of the Y’s expansion efforts.

Pike YMCA Camp kids
Pike YMCA Camp

According to Monic Hill, executive director of the OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA, along the way, many other factors contributed to the realization of a new YMCA in Pike Township, including the donation of 12 acres of land by the School Board of the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, the partnership established with the Veteran’s Affairs, and the contributions of Dr. John Dietz, former surgeon for the US Army and chair of naming partner OrthoIndy Foundation.

“Many great leaders offered their time and talents to make sure that the dream was never lost nor forgotten,” said Hill.

OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA opens

On December 3, 2018, OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA opened its doors on Lafayette Rd. The state-of-the-art facility is 56,000 square-feet and services a diverse population including veterans.

“The Legacy Wall is a dedication to the many individuals who refused to allow the promise (of a new facility) go extinct,” said Hill.

Special thanks to contributing writers Dana Austin, Jan Clark, Tonya Ellis, Monic Hill, Nancy H. Shaw and Stanley Warren, Ed.D.

Exterior at OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA | YMCA of Greater Indianapolis
OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA