Pat Riemersma likes to tell stories.
There’s the one about the 300-pound woman in Minnesota. She came into the YMCA where Riemersma was a top executive, and could not even stand up to fill out forms.
Riemersma connected her with a good personal trainer. The woman lost 180 pounds. Now — in her 70s — she leads a life she never dreamed of.
Or the story about the father whose wife had just entered a psychiatric hospital. Riemersma quickly found Y after-school programs for his 3 children, so the man could concentrate on his work during the day.
“I know there are tons of stories about positive impact in Westport too,” Riemersma. “I just don’t know them yet.”
She will. The new Westport Weston Family Y CEO is still settling into her job. But she does not seem like the type of person who spends much time behind a desk.
Riemersma (pronounced REE-mers-mah) is a Midwesterner. Born in Iowa, she entered Central College with the idea of teaching elementary school phys. ed., and coaching high school sports.
But teaching jobs were scarce in 1982. After working at a Girl Scout camp, she got a job as program director at the Siouxland YMCAs. She’s been with Ys ever since.
Much of her work has been in Minnesota. Riemersma has served in a variety of capacities, including vice president of youth development, vice president of operations, and executive director.
From 1989 to 1994 she came east, as program and executive director of the YMCA of Greater Hartford.
“I enjoyed exploring a new part of the country,” she says of her Hartford days. “I met so many wonderful people, and had a chance to help change lives.”
Now — 21 years later — she’s back in Connecticut. She was ready to advance in her career. CEO seemed the next logical step.
She jumped at the Westport opening, and never looked back.
“The stars are aligned,” Riemersma says. “My house in Minnesota sold before it went on the market. I found a house in Southport in 1 day. I know I’m in the right place here.”
Her welcome so far has been warm. Y members and Southport neighbors are very friendly. She attended Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis’ retirement sendoff earlier this month, and met a ton of people.
She made 2 trips to Westport before accepting the position. Driving around, she was struck by the area’s beauty. She also is thankful for GPS. “The roads are a lot straighter” in the Midwest, she laughs.
But she knows that this town — and its Y — present challenges.
She spoke with former CEO Helene Weir, who described the back story involving the long process of moving from downtown to the Mahackeno site.
“I’m aware of the past,” Riemersma says. “But I don’t want it to bog me down moving forward.”
So what does “moving forward” mean?
Riemersma will examine programs and internal processes, to see what needs expansion, revision or tweaking. She plans no immediate major overhauls, but she knows that small changes can yield big results.
“Right now I’m focusing on the positive,” she says. “I’m excited about working with this staff, and this community. In 6 months I’ll have a better understanding of the challenges.”
One final question: What’s the new CEO’s own Y workout routine?
“Cardio and weights in the fitness center,” she says. “And I like to work out once a week with a personal trainer.”