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Orokawa Y has had 'strong community connection' for 60 years in Towson

The Orokawa Y in Towson marked its 60th anniversary last week by unveiling of a historical timeline, which is now on display in the lobby of the facility.

A history of the Y revealed a longstanding local institution, Bradley Alston, who researched the Towson Y’s history for the timeline, said.

“[Towson’s Y] has longevity,” Alston said. “It has a strong connection to the community.”

The timeline was unveiled at a small ceremony Sept. 29 at the Y in Towson.

“We had a small celebration to thank everybody for keeping us going for all these years,” Ryan Gadow, senior director at the Y in Towson, said.

Gadow said the idea to research the institution’s history came about after a time capsule was discovered behind a cornerstone that was installed in 1958 but wasn’t labeled during construction of the new building, which opened in 2013. The capsule had relics of the Y’s past, such as original member handbook and lists from 1959, he said.

“It basically lead us down this pathway of: what do we do with this great history we have?” Gadow said. “We said, hey, why don’t we have somebody do a little more research.”

About six months ago, Alston, a retired director of community relations for the Y in Central Maryland, got to work. He searched old newspapers and library archives to compile the story of how the Y in Towson came to be.

Alston said the history of the Y actually goes back more than 60 years to the 1940s, when the Towson Towne Association asked the YMCA, which stands for Young Men’s Christian Association, the forerunner of the rebranded Y, to open a branch in Towson. The YMCA at the time was open exclusively to men.

The organization opened its first Towson office above a candy store on Delaware Avenue near where the Cinemark stands today, Alston said. Three years later, it moved to the former Passano Mansion, at the corner of York Road and Susquehanna Avenue.

Then 60 years ago, in 1958, the YMCA used a bequest from the estate of William H. Bosley to purchase the land it stands on today at 600 West Chesapeake Ave.

Janice MacGregor, 73, said her father, W. Gordon MacGregor, as general secretary of the Greater Baltimore YMCA, made the decision to purchase the nearly 16-acre property. He also made a decision that was revolutionary at the time, she said: to open the center to families, not just men.

“He had the foresight that families would want to be recreating together,” said Janice MacGregor, who has three sisters.

“I’m hoping it was because of our family,” MacGregor said. “He had all these daughters, and he could never take any of us to anything [at any YMCA].”

Two of MacGregor’s sisters came to the ceremony on Sept. 29, during which the historical timeline was unveiled. MacGregor said she and her sisters spoke about their father and about how the community benefits from the Y.

Alston said the Y in Towson was one of the first to offer daily aerobics and group exercise classes. He said that in 1995, the Towson location also pioneered the Turkey Trot 5K, a Thanksgiving fundraiser for the Y that has spread to Ys around the country. Also, the Y has helped the community through the years thought its childcare, summer and youth programs, Alston said.

Today, the Y offers dozens of classes, including yoga, swim and rock climbing. It also has programs for children, including a preschool and a summer camp.

The Towson location adopted its name in 2013 when the new facility opened. It is named for the Orokawa Foundation, a large donor to the Y in Central Maryland, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.

Today, the Y in Towson has about 19,000 members, and Alston said it has “one of the most active community advisory boards in the entire association.”

“What’s special about it is it has such strong ties to the community,” Alston said.

MacGregor has gone to the Towson Y four to five times a week to work out since 2016, she said, and has seen a direct benefit. She had a heart attack last month, and said doctors told her that without her regular workouts at the Y, it would have been much worse.

“Lose pounds, overall fitness and camaraderie with everybody who’s there — it’s just such a wonderful, charming place,” MacGregor said.

The best thing about the Y, she said, is that it reaches out to everyone in the community, across race, age, class and gender.

“We just think it’s wonderful because it’s so inclusive, which is what my father was all about,” MacGregor said.

asolomon@baltsun.com

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