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Decision day for Waukegan YMCA’s future

Joe Stojak Waukegan exercises using tricep press Northern Lake YMCA located 2000 Western Avenue Waukegan. Stojak said 'I have been

Joe Stojak of Waukegan exercises using a tricep press at the Northern Lake YMCA located at 2000 Western Avenue in Waukegan. Stojak said "I have been a member of the YMCA for 3 years and exercise 4 days a week." | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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What could be the final Save the Y meeting will be held at 10 a.m. today, Friday, at Waukegan Township Park Place, 414 S. Lewis Ave. For more information on the Save the Y campaign, call (847) 996-6952 or visit

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Updated: February 26, 2013 2:39AM

When the Central Lake Family YMCA in Mundelein was in jeopardy of closing in 1986, the Waukegan Y stepped in to save it, organizing a merger into one, stronger, countywide YMCA.

But no such rescue is in the offing for the Waukegan Y, which barring some unforeseen infusion of cash, is set to close Dec. 31. An announcement on the fate of the Y will be made today, Dec. 28, according to Y interim CEO Hal Katz.

A $6 million debt, flagging membership and sluggish economy are to blame to the 100-year-old Waukegan Y’s impending demise, according to the board of the Lake County Family YMCA, which announced last fall its intention to close both Y facilities, the Central Lake Y in Vernon Hills and the Northern Lake Y in Waukegan, effective Oct. 31.

While the village of Vernon Hills struck a deal to purchase its Y for $2 million — it will turn over operation to the Vernon Hills Park District — the Waukegan Y has no such savior. During a two-month reprieve, supporters have raised an estimated $50,000, far short of the amount needed to satisfy mortgage holder, the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Katz said in October that Y leadership would work to find a “sustainable business model going forward.”

Retired Lake County Judge David Hall of Waukegan, a former Y board member, who has raised $8,700 since Dec. 1 when he undertook a Save the Y walkathon fund-raiser, is pushing for another extension.

“I have asked the board to give us three more months to do a formal organized campaign to raise the million it would take to really negotiate with the bank,” Hall said. “So far, they’ve said ‘no.’”

Hall, who helped lead the capital campaign that built the Waukegan Y at 2000 Western Ave., in 1987, pointed to the lack of representation from the Waukegan area on the current YMCA board. He stepped down from the board last summer after receiving a diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has affected his gait and speech.

“It’s ironic that without the Waukegan Y, the Vernon Hills Y never would have been built,” Hall said. “Despite the debt from that construction, the building will still be there for Vernon Hills to enjoy. In that way, we succeeded.

“I just wish they would give Waukegan a fighting chance to raise the money to rescue its Y,” he said. “Our city cannot afford to buy our Y. We have to do it the old fashioned way, raise it $1 at a time.”

Generations of the Hall family have supported the local YMCA. David Hall’s great-grandfather, John Hall, helped obtain a YMCA charter for Waukegan and its first building, located where the Genesee Theatre now stands in the city’s downtown, in 1912. Albert Hall, his grandfather, helped lead a community drive to establish the YMCA building at County and Clayton streets that opened in 1925 and still stands in downtown Waukegan.

Hall’s parents, Katy and Albert, both 86, will join with him today for what could prove to be one of his final fund-raising walks, a valiant effort that may prove too little, too late.

“A town like Waukegan needs help from surrounding corporations to be able to provide a service like the Y,” Hall said. “If we could present it to them properly, I know they would step-up and do their share.”

Hall estimates that the Y building, with indoor pool, is worth about $1.25 million, given the real estate market in Waukegan.

“I believe if we had a chance to raise that money and make an offer to the bank, the bank may take it,” Hall said. “They’re practical people. It’s all about the money.”

Other members are also working to keep the Y open. Mildred Leonard of Waukegan said she researched the giving habits of foundations and philanthropists and sent letters to 20 “who can grant emergency funds and who frankly have a lot of money,” she said.

“It’s a Hail Mary pass,” Leonard said. “I figured I had to at least try. I have my fingers crossed.”

The Lake County Family YMCA served about 7,000 members before the board first announced closure Sept. 28 and employed 132 people, most of them part-timers.

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