Tag Archives: Pat Riemersma

Mahackeno: An Old Camp For A New Age

Mahackeno — the Westport Weston Family YMCA camp just south of the Bedford Center — has a long, storied history.

It’s as old as the Merritt Parkway. And as new as the work currently be done there, not far from the Saugatuck River site.

The Y opened its camp in 1938. Six years later they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the present camp.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.

Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion:  $10,000.

In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property. That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.” One of the highlights: a rope swing, dangling from the nearby Merritt Parkway.

A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.” That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who in 1639 met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.

Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away the rope swing (and an enormous military-style float that it’s a miracle no one ever drowned underneath.

Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

This year, Mahackeno opened its new, now 34-acre facility. After a year of construction there’s a new amphitheater,  archery range, climbing walls, 2 slides and 5 rainy-day pavilions.

A counselor gives an assist at a new climbing wall.

The basketball court, Beck Lodge and swimming pool have been renovated (with a new splash pad too). Playing fields were leveled.

The refurbished pool. Y members can register to swim for one hour slots on weekends.

Every tree of 8 calipers or more has been replaced by 2 new trees. Oh, yeah: the port-a-potties are shielded too.

Westport Weston Family Y CEO Pat Riemersma checks out one of several new wood chip paths.

250 or so boys and girls attend one or more of 9 week-long sessions. This being a pandemic, they remain in strict groups of 10, with the same (masked) counselor all week.

Scroll down for some photos of Camp Mahackeno, 2020. It’s not 1938 — but then again, what is?

Between canoe sessions, a counselor sanitizes railings.

Gaga is a ground-level form of dodgeball.

Two new slides are a huge hit.

The new amphitheater seats 360 campers and staff members.

No camp is complete without an archery range.

The newly renovated basketball court gets plenty of action.

Rainy day pavilions: shelter from the storm.

The all-new playground.

A classic camp scene.

Positive Employment News: Westport Y Pays During Shutdown

The order came quickly on March 12: The Westport Weston Family YMCA must shut down, effective that night.

Just as quickly, the executive committee met. They voted to continue paying all employees, for the next 2 weeks.

The Y employs 210 people: program directors, lifeguards, personal trainers, mebership services, administrators, maintenance staff and more.

Ninetey are full-time; the rest work anywhere from 2 to 3 hours a week, to 30.

Patty Kondub is one of the Westport Y’s many part-time employees. Her AquaFit classes are very popular.

The decision was important — and easy, says CEO Pat Riemersma. “We feel privileged to have this staff. They make this place what it is.”

The original 2-week shutdown was quickly extended, by Governor Lamont. The executive committee extended all employees’ pay too: through the end of April.

“If you saw someone here before we closed, they’re still being paid,” Riemersma notes.

If — as is probable — the closure continues into May, the committee will meet again.

The staff is exhilarated. One man had just bought a house. He told Riemersma he no longer fears losing it.

She thanks her board for being “so open-minded.” They recognize, as she does, that Y employees “are family. We want them to all to be here, and ready, when we reopen our doors.”

Pat Riemersma

Another Y decision involves member dues. In the first days of the pandemic, the board asked everyone to consider continuing their regular payments despite the closure. In return — because the organization is a non-profit, and members are not receiving any benefits or services — any payments after April 10 will be treated as a tax-deductible donation.

Of course, Riemersma says, “we recognize that’s a financial hardship for some people.” They have the option to put their memberships on hold. About 25% of the 10,000-plus members are doing that.

The CEO looks forward to welcoming all members — and employees — back. Meanwhile, she says, the expansion remains on schedule.

Which means perhaps even more employment, when life returns to normal.

YMCA To Expand Bedford Facility, Enhance Camp Mahackeno

In 2014, the Westport Weston Family Y opened its new Bedford Family Center, off Wilton Road.

It was big, beautiful, modern, bright and airy.

It also lacked gymnastics, and a child care center.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center.

Four years later, the Y is ready to embark on a 2nd phase of construction. Highlights include bringing the gymnastics program back from Norwalk, increasing space for programs like yoga, and enhancing facilities and amenities at nearby Camp Mahackeno.

Today, the Y reveals the specifics in a series of member meetings in the Schine Room. Two were held this morning. One began a few minutes ago. A 4th is set for 6:30 tonight.

According to CEO Pat Riemersma, a 22,000-square foot, 2-story addition will connect to the current “Kids Club” part of the current building (facing the main parking lot).

The upper level will include space for gymnastics, and a bigger “Kid’s Club.”

An architect’s drawing of the proposed Bedford Family Center upper level expansion.

The lower level will allow expansion of popular programs like group exercise, spinning, dance and youth services.

The addition is within the previously approved 107,000-square foot footprint, Riemersma says.

The project includes 70 more parking spaces. However, the Y will not seek a change to its current membership cap, or increase the day camp cap of 360 children.

Camp Mahackeno — just south of the Bedford Family Center — will see a new pool and splash pad; new poolhouse; re-grading of the athletic field; relocated archery range; 2 new giant slides (tucked into existing grading and vegetation); expanded playground, with equipment for older children; improvements to the outdoor amphitheater, and a refurbished and winterized Beck Lodge.

Plans for the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center expansion, and renovations at Camp Mahackeno. New construction and areas of enhancement are marked in yellow.

The facility addition and camp improvements are slated to begin in September 2019. Camp Mahackeno is expected to open on time in June 2020. The building addition is planned for completion in September 2020.

Total cost of the project is $25 million. Funding will come from various sources, including the capital campaign, endowment and bank financing, Riemersma says.

Seniors, Y Tussle Over Silver Sneakers

Silver Sneakers is an insurance benefit included in more than 65 Medicare health plans. For a fee to a for-profit company called Healthways, seniors can visit fitness and wellness centers. Medicare and private insurers call it “preventive medicine.”

Silver Sneakers logoOver 13,000 participating locations nationwide offer all basic amenities, plus group exercise classes geared specifically toward “active older adults.”

The Westport Weston Family Y is not one of those locations. According to alert — and angry — “06880” reader David Meth, every other Y in Fairfield County is.

Meth provided the names of over a dozen seniors who would like our Y to include Silver Sneakers as part of its membership program, and introduce more  programs specifically for seniors.

Meth believes the Westport Y views older members as not a good business model.

He says that CEO Pat Riemersma told him a program like Silver Sneakers would bring in too many seniors. Part of the reason, he says, is that Riemersma told him of an agreement with the Planning and Zoning Commission that limits the total number of members. Meth says that Riemersma said the Y “needs to understand the trend before signing this type of agreement” (like Silver Sneakers).

A "First Friday" koffee klatch, organized by the Y's Aqua Fitness group.

A “First Friday” koffee klatch, organized by the Y’s Aqua Fitness group.

Feeling that seniors are less valued than younger families, Meth combed the Y’s website looking for senior programs. He found a “gratuitous” photo on the mission statement page, of seniors having lunch. There also is a senior aquatics program.

Of course, Riemersma told him, seniors are invited to participate in classes and programs open to all Y members.

“Yes, get on the same floor with 20-30-year-olds and try to keep up,” Meth replies.

“That’s it. Not another program dedicated to seniors: no fitness programs, no yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, walks in the beautiful woods, etc., just to name a few that are absent. Not even a link or page for seniors to direct them to the one program available.”

Meth is upset too about the special monthly fee of $57 for seniors. He says that is “double the price of any other local fitness center.”

YMCA logoRiemersma replies: “Silver Sneakers is not a business model recognized by the national YMCA. It’s run by a for-profit entity. Seniors pay a fee to Healthways, and Ys get reimbursed based on the number of visits by an individual. We are a cost-driven organization.”

Regarding Meth’s assertion about the P&Z stipulation, Riemersma says, “We are limited to the number of members, but it has nothing to do with seniors. We want to stay within the agreement.”

She says that financial assistance is available to everyone — including seniors who cannot afford the reduced rate.

A seated yoga class, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

A seated yoga class, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Riemersma vigorously denies Meth’s assertion that the Y does not value seniors.

“We serve all members, regardless of age,” she says. She cites programs like Senior Fridays, pickleball and chair aerobics, while pledging to do a better job of publicizing senior offerings on the website.

And, she says, “many members are actually offended by the phrase ‘active older seniors.'”

She says she would love to have a face-to-face or phone conversation about this with Meth.

He counters that he will communicate only by email.

New Y CEO: A “People Person” Moves Forward

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.”

Pat Riemersma

Pat Riemersma

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.

Pat Riemersma, a few days into her new job as CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y.

Pat Riemersma, a few days into her new job as CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y.

“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?

YMCA logoRiemersma 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.”