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Y So Long

Ed Backus learned to swim there, in the 1930s.  Wini Balboni brought her kids there every Sunday.  Miggs Burroughs remembers meeting a few of the original Mickey Mouse Club members there.

“There” is the Westport YMCA.  It’s been a local institution for over 85 years.  And — no offense — a few Westporters have been members almost as long.

In 2009, Aqua Fitness classes are some of the Westport Y's most popular offerings

As it looks ahead to a new building, the Y is honoring all those who have stuck with the old one — any Y anywhere, for that matter — for at least 25 years.  Quarter-century members are eligible for the Ambassador Club, and will be honored at a ceremony September 17.

Ed Backus is not quite as old as the Westport Y — he’s pushing 80 — but he’s been a member for over 70 years.

“I think you had to be 8 to join,” he says.  As soon as he became a member, Ed learned to swim.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Ed says, “I used everything.  Back then it was probably the finest Y in the country, for the size of the town.  The pool was only 60 yards, but not many towns had a pool at all.  The Y was the center of activity for Westport.”

Athletic banquets were held upstairs, in what was then an auditorium with an adjacent kitchen.  There was bowling downstairs, with constant pickup basketball games in the gym.

Wini Balboni, a 50-year member, recalls throwing a hockey puck into the pool every Sunday.  Her 3 boys loved diving for it.  At night they’d be so exhausted, they went right to bed.

In the mid-1950s, Wini’s kids went to the Y’s Camp Mahackeno.  They swam in the Saugatuck River, dove underneath the enormous “Moby Dick” life raft, and swung from the Merritt Parkway bridge rope.

These days Wini uses the pool, and enjoys Aqua Fitness classes.  “It helps old ladies like me stay limber,” she says.

She tried the cardio machines, but hasn’t gone back.  “There are mirrors everywhere,” she says.  “I don’t like looking at myself when I exercise.”

Phyllis McCoy — whose 4 children became lifeguards after learning to swim at the Y — still does laps every morning, at 6:45.  She also takes an exercise class for seniors.

“The staff is the most caring group I can think of,” says Phyllis.  “With the slightest problem, they bend over backwards.”

Camp Mahackeno campers, back in the day. Some may still be Y members.

As for Miggs Burroughs — a member for 53 years — his 1st memory is when Jimmy and Darlene of the Mickey Mouse Club (and maybe Annette) came to the Y.  “We all gathered in the gym.  I think they showed a movie, and then they danced or sang.”  Miggs has “no idea” how the Westport Y rated a visit from those megastars.

These days, Miggs goes to the fitness center a few days a week at 5:45 a.m.  He also uses the pool.

Miggs says he’s remained a member for so long because the Y is “such a great community resource and center of activities.  It hasn’t yet lost its hometown personality and charm.  Going to the Y today feels exactly like it felt 50 years ago.”

Ahem.  The Y — as great as it is, and despite the 1970s addition — is showing its age.  How do the Ambassador Club members feel about the proposed move to Mahackeno?

“The people I speak with — families with children — are about 50 percent not in favor,” Phyllis says.  “I don’t know if they can get the financial support.”

As for the location:  “I don’t know how I could have survived all that taxiing of several kids, if I had had to go all the way out on Wilton Road,” Phyllis adds.

Miggs feels differently:  “Some things will change with the new Y, in terms of the building itself.  But if they can transfer the same spirit of community inside the walls, then I’m all for it.”

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