He says it's been about the relationships.
After 41 years of service to the YMCA, Bob Brower, 67, is wrapping up his director's career in Carthage. It's been eight years since he first stepped into the doors at 2600 Grand Ave., Carthage, Mo. But Bob was only eight-years-old when he first became involved in the YMCA in his hometown of Kellogg, Idaho. It was there when he first learned of the ideals of the “Friends of the Y Campaign,” and benefitted from the generosity of a stranger.
And from that experience, Bob's life was never the same.
Bob Brower was the 10th of 14 children in a mining town called Kellogg, Idaho. His father worked in the silver, lead and zinc mines; however, he was forced to quit after he was injured on the job and diagnosed with cancer. Bob's mother went to work cooking at a restaurant and selling Avon to make ends meat for the family. Bob would go to the restaurant in the evenings when he was needed, and peel potatoes.
At the age of eight, Bob was invited to the YMCA by a close friend to exercise with the local boxing team. The coach, Kenny Clark, who was also an engineer at the mining company, invited Bob to return to the Y when he wanted.
“I knew my parents couldn't afford a membership,” Bob said, remembering asking his friend how much it was to join.
But the friend took Bob to meet Al Lauren, the director of the Y, to explain his situation. After only a short time, Mr. Lauren told Bob he was to be sponsored by a local businessman. But it wasn't a gift – he had to earn it.
Bob set up pins at the Y's bowling alley twice a week for the ladies' league, and it wasn't long before he fell in love with the Y.
"I did just about everything there was to do," Bob said. "I learned to play basketball, baseball, swim, gymnastics, and much more at the Y. I even sold soap to pay my way to summer camp for eight years … I helped teach gymnastics, was a swim instructor, camp counselor, refereed ball games, cut down trees for the annual Christmas tree sale drive and more."
He became part of the Y's youth leadership program called “Jr. High & High Y Leader's clubs.”
"I never got paid nor did it ever occur to me to get paid," he said. "Everything was done voluntarily."
A Career in the Y
Bob started college at North Idaho Junior College. He commuted 37 miles one-way each day and returned to work an eight-hour shift at the zinc plant for the local mining company. He continued to volunteer for the Y during his available time. He was even asked to be the interim director of the Y for a month and a half until the new director arrived. Following that experience, he went to Tacoma, Wash., to become assistant camp director at Camp Seymour for the remainder of the summer.
Page 2 of 3 - It was here when the camp director, Steve Wilson, suggested a career in the Y and that there were scholarships available through the National Y. Through this program, Bob also earned a master's degree from Brigham Young University.
After graduation, Bob started his career in Amarillo, Texas in 1972 as a youth and camp director. His career path took him to Montana, Washington, North Carolina and El Paso, Texas before coming to Carthage.
"It's not what I gave to the Y, but what it's given me personally," Bob said. "When I was young, I could have easily ended up in a lot of trouble, but thanks to the Y, my family and church, I didn't. "It's not always the programs that make a difference – it's relationships and associations that are important," he continued. "The most important things are my relationship with Lord, my family, and others including work like the Y."
During his career, Bob organized three capital campaigns for different Y locations, and was even asked to go to Temuco, Chile to train volunteers and staff on fundraising to establish a new Y. This experience, Bob said, was nothing short of amazing.
“These people were crying because it seemed as though we weren't going to build a Y,” Bob said. “They had poured their hearts and souls into this idea, and were just devastated. I said, 'sometimes the power behind us is greater than the problem before us,' - let's have a prayer.
“Today they are the second largest Y in Chile.”
Hopes in Carthage
Carthage was Bob's 10th location as a Y director. When he stepped in the door in September 2005, there were buckets in the hallway to catch the dripping water from the ceiling.
“I had several goals when I came here,” Bob said. “The executive director's position had become a revolving door – my goal was to outlast them all. And I have.”
Another goal was to turn the Y around financially and upgrade the facility.
“We have,” he said. “And that's not just Bob Brower – that took the volunteers, the staff and community to get that done. I played a small part, because it took a lot more than me to get that done.
“There isn't just one thing I'll remember about Carthage,” Bob said. “I'll remember the relationships. This place is a great place to end a career … Usually when you've been in a place you leave a mark on it – for good or bad – and I hope I've left it better than what I found it.”
Keeping his personal experience close to heart, Bob also made a goal of reaching out to more people who couldn't afford a Y membership. He achieved that goal as well.
Page 3 of 3 - Bob said he was leaving with confidence in the interim director, Jonathan Roberts. He, along with Tericia Mixon and Shane McGinnis, a supportive board of directors, staff and loyal volunteers, the Y will continue to play a thriving role in the Carthage community.
“To me, when it's done right, the Y is a strong-arm of the religious community,” Bob said. “It brings people together from all walks of life, the have's and the have-not's, can all mix and mingle and no one knows any different. Particularly, the staff and volunteers have the opportunity to impact lives. It's a great place to build relationships and friendships. The Y has been a great innovator – it's where organized sports and adult night school has started. Folks used to stay at the Y.
“And through the years, the Y has adapted. That's one of the beauties of it, to me,” Bob continued. “We may not be like the London Y in 1844, but we strive to keep those same Christian principles – and that's the driving force.”
Bob and the love of his life, Sue, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this year and are the parents of six children. They have nine grandchildren, with number 10 on the way.
All of the Brower children have been involved with the Y as well.