Over 500 people gathered Saturday  to celebrate and remember the Emerson Street Branch YMCA.

Emcee Karen Jordan, flanked by former mayor Morton and Mayor Tisdahl.

Over 500 people gathered Saturday  to celebrate and remember the Emerson Street Branch YMCA.

Emcee Karen Jordan, flanked by former mayor Morton and Mayor Tisdahl.

The sold-out event at the McGaw YMCA brought together former Emerson Street Branch YMCA participants from as far away as California along with friends, colleagues, and members of the community to honor the significance of the institution to Evanston and beyond.

Emcee for the event was Karen Jordan, weekend news anchor for ABC 7 Chicago, and among the guests were Dorothy Tate and Lucille Harris, members of founder Reverend James Talley’s family; Barbara Boyd, wife of Ted Boyd who was the head of the Emerson Street Branch Y from 1955-1962; Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl; former mayor Lorraine Morton, who met her husband at the Emerson Street Branch Y; Ulice Payne, Chair of the YMCA of the USA; and many others.

The evening featured the premiere showing of the film “Unforgettable: Memories of the Emerson Street Branch YMCA” by Evanston filmmaker Susan Hope Engel. Weaving historical information with personal reminiscences, the film captured the impact that the Emerson Y had on individuals, as well as its central role in the black community from 1909 to 1969. The joy and pride that the Emerson Y had engendered in so many youth and their families was vividly conveyed, as was the hurt and sense of loss caused when the building was closed.

Sidney Caselberry, member of the Emerson Street Branch YMCA Event Committee, said, “This was an evening filled with energy and excitement. Old and new friends joined together to celebrate the rich history of the Emerson Street YMCA.”

Bill Geiger, president of the McGaw YMCA, said “What a night! This evening of celebration and remembrance for the impact of the Emerson YMCA was truly powerful and historic. It has been long overdue that we recognize the Emerson leaders, role models, and the influence they had on so many generations of children and families.”

Geiger also announced the creation of a new community award for local middle-school youth. The Talley Reece Award has been named in honor of the Rev. James Talley and Robert Reece, co-chair of the event and of the whole 125th Anniversary celebration. The Reverend Talley was chosen for his trailblazing work in the foundation of the Emerson Street YMCA, and Robert Reece for his years of leadership and service in the Evanston community. Nominees for the award must have identified a community problem and worked to provide a solution for it with vision, empathy and leadership.

Robert Reece summed up the event as follows: “This was an historical, unforgettable evening for the Evanston community. It was a fabulous event that brought over 500 people from the African-American community, many who had never set foot in the McGaw YMCA, and the white community together to celebrate and honor the Emerson Street Y legacy. It was an opportunity to share with the entire community the inspirational, barely-told story of the historically significant Emerson Street Y and the impact it had on the African American community. It was an evening that we will never, never forget

Premier sponsors of this event and of the entire anniversary year’s activities are: Harris Bank; the Lewis-Sebring Foundation; Northwestern University; and Romano Brothers & Co. Additional event sponsors are: Gold Sponsors North Shore University Health System and Mammel Foundation Leon Robinson; Silver Sponsors Chase Hanson Roofing, Inc., and J. P. Flanagan Enterprises/Acquirent; and Bronze Sponsors John Cahill, Inc., Sam’s Club, Prairie Moon, Betsy and Dudley Brown, Ellen and Al Butkus and Teel and Willie Miller.

Copies of the film will be available to purchase from the McGaw YMCA website for $25 in two to three weeks, and will also be available for viewing there shortly.

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1 Comment

  1. Wow!

    Sounds like a great event, and important for the community.  Glad to hear it was a success!

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