In 1844, a young drapery clerk named George Williams launched the Young Men’s Christian Association in London, England, also known as the Young Men’s Missionary Society and the Young Men’s Improvement Society.

Williams and a group of fellow employees organized the first YMCA as an alternative to the corrupt and immoral life that was so much a part of their city. They developed a library and a reading room, conducted discussions and lectures, and held Bible study groups.

By 1851 there were 24 Ys in Great Britain with a combined membership of 2,700. That same year the Y arrived in North America. The Y was poplar everywhere and in 1853 the first Y developed for African Americans was started in Washington, DC. The next year, a national conference was started. At this time, there were 397 Ys in seven nations with 30,369 members.

The YMCA idea which started among evangelicals was unusual because it crossed the lines between churches as well as social classes. It was this openness that eventually led to including not only men and boys, but women and children, regardless of race or religion.

Over the years, the Y had a role in the formation of other organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. Youth camping was first started by the Y. In 1891, the Y’s James Naismith invented basketball, and in 1895 William Morgan, the Y Physical Director, invented volleyball.



Thomas Sullivan, a retired sea captain and lay missionary, saw the influence of the London group and decided to organize the first YMCA in the United States in Boston, Massachusetts. Organizations and societies for improving oneself were poplar during this era and by 1886 there was 205 YMCA associations with 25,000 members in the US.

Although the Y was started with great emphasis on religious understanding and relationships with Protestant churches, the Y evolved into an organization that met the changing needs of a growing nation, and played an important role in the Civil War as it provided social and moral support as well as aid to the wounded and prisoners of war.

By the end of the Civil War, only 59 Ys remained in the United States. After giving away over 2 million Bibles to servicemen and an endorsement by President Lincoln, the Y rapidly gained popularity and began to grow. By the 1880s, buildings began to be put up in large numbers. It was during this time that most associations decided that a full-time staff was needed in addition to the volunteers who staffed most Ys.

Today, the Y engages more than 10,000 neighborhoods across the US. As the nation’s leading nonprofit committed to helping people and communities to learn, grow and thrive, our contributions are both far-reaching and intimate—from influencing our nation’s culture during times of profound social change to the individual support we provide the social, emotional and healthful well-being.

By nurturing the potential of every child and teen, improving the nation’s health and well-being, and supporting and serving our neighbors, the Y ensures that everyone has the opportunity to become healthier, more confident, connected and secure.



During the 1860s many young men were coming to the Inland Pacific Northwest in search of new jobs created in the growing town of Walla Walla. Originally a town with log cabins, tin-covered buildings and tents, wealth from the Gold Rush years and the discovery that the fertile area could grow wheat transformed the Walla Walla Valley into a prosperous community. Social institutions such as the saloon grew, and played a vital part in young men’s lives. In the area, there were 26 saloons as well as five breweries and three liquor stores.

Saloons in the early history of the Valley provided a place for the men to cash checks, find work, and relax with their friends. This concerned the local temperance leaders, and they sought an alternative that would aid in developing a healthy and useful lifestyle.

William Parkhurst Winans, a local businessman, responded to this need by inviting anyone who had an interest in a Young Men’s Christian Association to meet at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on December 27, 1886. At this earliest recorded meeting, by-laws were adopted and officers were elected. Winans, the first president, as well as 4 other business leaders were elected as officers of the new association.

WP Winans served as president until 1904 when he was quoted as saying, “The YMCA is now firmly established and would be a part of Walla Walla for countless generations to come.”

In 1903, the Walla Walla Union of April 12th carried a story headlined, “Citizens Will Endeavor to Raise $40,000 for YMCA.” With the campaign a success in 1905, the YMCA constructed its first building at the Spokane Street location which opened in December of 1907.

FD Applegate

FD Applegate 1915-1947

The same year, Fred Applegate joined the YMCA staff bringing to Walla Walla the sport of basketball, and in 1915, he became the Executive Director. For over 40 years his untiring efforts on behalf of young men and boys significantly contributed to the success of the area athletic programs as well as to the lives of countless young people.


Don Monahan 1947-1976

Originally hired by Applegate as the Physical Director in 1944, Don Monahan became the Executive Director when Applegate retired in 1947. Under Don’s leadership the Y was to undergo several major renovations including a $225,000 remodel of the aging Spokane Street facility in 1949, and the construction of the FD Applegate Memorial Swimming Pool in 1960.

In 1976, Monahan along with ten other key community leaders, embarked on a campaign to build a new YMCA. They raised $1.7 million within a year and built the YMCA at its present Park Street location in 1979.

During Monahan’s term, an endowment was established by Robert and Elsie Moore. Started with a $13,000 donation from the Moore’s, the fund grew over the years. Until Monahan’s death in 1985, he worked to actively expand the endowment that would eventually reach almost $4 million.


Robert Moore


Elsie Moore

After Monahan retired in 1976, he was followed by an interim director until Ned Shafer was chosen in 1978 as the next Executive Director. Having been around the Y for years, he was a product of the Applegate-Monahan eras.





Ned Shafer

It was during Shafer’s term that a major upgrade was made to the existing facility. In 1995 under the co-direction of board members Jack Pelo and Tom Madsen, the Y successfully raised $2.6 million dollars for additions and renovations that remain as they are today.

With the larger building, new staff were hired and new programs were initiated to accommodate the membership growth in both young and adult members. Growth continued through Shafer’s years as director.



The Walla Walla YMCA continues its long-time policy of making the Y accessible to all kids. Each year several hundred youth receive program and member scholarships from funds donated to the Annual Campaign.

We believe that all kids deserve the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve. Through the Y, hundreds of youth in our valley are cultivating the values, skills and relationships that lead to positive behaviors, better health and educational achievement.
Programs offered include Afterschool and summer camps, daycare, Y’s Little Owls Preschool, swim lessons, water safety, lifeguard training, sports camps, education and leadership, Y’s Community Center for Youth, adult sports and recreation, health and wellness, senior programs, group fitness, personal training and other activities to promote healthy living.

As we look to the future, we are committed to the fulfillment of our Mission Statement: The Walla Walla YMCA is dedicated to the values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility and committed to building a community where all people, especially the young, are encouraged to develop their fullest potential in spirit, mind, and body.

Come and be part of our future!