This week, YMCA members, staff, and volunteers gathered together at the Galowich Family YMCA to celebrate Bill Lauer’s 80th anniversary of Y membership. Bill, a Joliet native, turned 88 in 2022 and, in addition to being our longest active member, has provided an invaluable service to the Y as a volunteer. Bill is currently an emeritus member of the Greater Joliet Area YMCA’s Board of Directors, having assisted the association in various capacities for more than 60 years. Learn more about Bill in the Q & A below.
What are some of your earliest memories of the Y?
Bill: One of the things my parents considered the most important for their children was to learn how to swim. At the time, you had to be 8 years old to join the Y. So in 1942 they enrolled me in a Saturday morning swim class. Every Saturday was the same. My dad would bring us to the Y at 8 a.m. and we’d have an hour long lesson. But, it was more than just swimming. After class, we went upstairs to the small gym and did physical exercise. After that, we’d do arts and crafts for an hour. All of the sudden it would get close to noon and we’d go up to the dining room for lunch. We’d eat and then they would take us down to watch the war news. I remember singing the songs of the five armed branches: Army, Navy Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. When that wrapped up, we took the bus home.
What kept you connected to the Y?
Bill: When I got out of college, I started in the life insurance business with my father. My dad said ‘If you’re going to be earning your living in this town, you have an obligation to give something back. How are you going to do it?’ He mentioned a number of nonprofits and, since I was familiar with the Y, I figured I’d see if they needed help. I was able to start volunteering as a member of the membership club, which was called the City Club. These were members who were responsible for selling Y memberships. But it wasn’t just about selling memberships, we would bring in people and help them get started. We’d play basketball, have lunch, just do things to help encourage them.
What are some of your favorite Y moments?
Bill: The Y had a membership drive every year. I remember working as a team leader in 1962 when we sold over 600 memberships in three weeks. It was the most we had ever sold. That’s when it dawned on me that we were affecting a lot of people. It felt like what we were doing was meaningful. And then every year on the weekend of Thanksgiving there would be this event called the World of Fun. There would be a bunch of games and activities that would raise funds for YMCA World Service.
How has the Y helped you stay active over the last 80 years
Bill: I haven’t been able to do as much in recent years but swimming and running have always been the things I did the most at the Y. For years on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I would swim three quarters of a mile, sometimes up to a mile. Then on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, I would do two miles on the track.
What are some recent Y accomplishments you are proud of?
Bill: Being able to stay impactful during COVID was the most significant thing the Y has done in recent years. We were able to keep our Ys going.
Why are you proud to be a Y member?
Bill: The Y has been everything to me. There are so many things I can tell people. I just believe so strongly in what the Y does.
We are so proud to have Bill in our Y community and thank him for his incredible support across the last eight decades. He has set an amazing example of stewardship and community engagement, and we wish him well in the years to come!