SIDNEY — CEO of the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA Ed Thomas has announced plans to retire in December 2020.
He began his work with the YMCA initially in 1980 for one year, and then returned to the Y in 1983 where he continued to work for the past 37 years. Thomas took on the leadership role in Sidney in January 2005 and has since led the organization through 15 years of growth, innovation and community impact.
After more than 35 years with the YMCA in various capacities, Thomas reflected on his time with the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA saying, “It has simply been an honor to have been part of the many programs, partnerships and facility improvements we’ve accomplished over the years, but the best part has been the countless individuals I have had the joy and privilege of serving and working with. There has been no greater reward than to have had an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in their lives or to have had a chance to help make our community a better place to live”.
The YMCA Board of Trustees will coordinate a national search for the next CEO. The hiring process is expected to take approximately four to five months. While the Board of Trustees focuses on the search process, Thomas will continue in his role as CEO, with a primary emphasis on continuing to foster the Y’s culture and core values.
“I look forward to working with our Board of Directors to create a seamless transition for the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA’s 6th CEO since 1968.”
Thomas’ rich history with the YMCA began in 1980 as a lifeguard and swim instructor while on a one year mission trip to Uruguay, South America. He later resumed his service with the Y as a part-time employee of the LaCrosse, Wisconsin, YMCA for two years while completing his Recreation Administration Degree. Upon graduating, he began his professional Y career in 1985 as the assistant camp director of YMCA Camp Manito-wish, one of the largest independent camps in the country, located in northern Wisconsin. Thomas was then hired as the director of YMCA Camp Winona, a Branch of the Daytona Beach, Florida, YMCA Association. He served five years there before joining the Central Florida (Orlando) YMCA Association as the branch director of the Lake Mary, Florida, YMCA. During his eight year tenure, Thomas spearheaded the expansion of the facility that resulted in doubling its size.
Thomas was then hired by the Greater Houston, Texas, YMCA, the third largest YMCA Association in the country, as the group vice president of camping services which included overseeing the management and supervision of three resident year-round camps.
After six years, he and his wife Edwinna, both having grown up in the Mid-west area, were interested in being closer to friends and family. Thomas was given the opportunity to either accept an opportunity with the Chicago Y Association or the position of CEO of the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA following the retirement of the late Dennis Ruble.
“Both my wife and I grew up in cities smaller than Sidney, so when we considered our options, the idea of coming to a place where everyone was so friendly and supported many of the same values we had, we knew Sidney was the right place for us. It’s hard to believe that it has been 15 years since making that decision,” said Thomas.
“Whether as a lifeguard in South America, or in charge of the Wet & Wild afterschool program at the LaCrosse YMCA, running summer sleep away camps for 300 campers, or leading capital campaigns and constructing buildings from Lake Mary to Houston Texas, my heart and working life have always been with the YMCA,” Thomas said.
In his many years with the YMCA, Thomas has left a major impact. In his current capacity in Sidney, he significantly grew the membership while achieving one of the highest retention rates in the country. One of the first major areas Thomas addressed was the conversion of the entire membership structure. Prior to his arrival, a multi-tier level membership system had been in place for 37 years, which was based on offering one option that allowed members full use of the facility, and another level that limited where members could go and what they could use.
Under Thomas’ leadership, the task force went about researching other Y’s that had made similar conversions and found that by going to a single-tier membership structure, where all members paid the same fee and were granted equal access to all areas, the Y’s flourished.
Thomas shared, “at the time, making this leap of faith seemed like such a big risk, but soon after this new system was implemented, the response from the community and growth in membership was overwhelmingly positive”. Other areas that made an immediate difference included the investment in new, modern fitness equipment and upgrading to state of the art technology throughout the entire facility. By securing a lease to purchase agreement, Thomas upgraded the Y’s wellness and fitness center every three years which resulted in creating one of the largest and most complete centers in the region. Other major upgrades included new computer systems and servers, security cameras throughout the facility, upgrading phone systems and installing Wi-Fi. “Our goal was to keep our Y as safe and user friendly as possible, but of all the improvements that were made, my personal favorite was converting our lobby area into a place where everyone could meet, sit a while and enjoy our complimentary coffee service. I pray for the day when we can get back to doing that again.”
Another area Thomas focused on was his commitment to the Y’s mission, “to put Christian values into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all/”
“One of the main reasons I chose the Y as a career was because of the strong Christian foundation the Y was built on, and the values it works to promote and share with others,” said Thomas. As a result, much effort was put into creating a culture and environment where the members came first, and where everyone felt welcomed,” said Thomas. “Like the old TV Cheers program, where everyone knows your name, our goal has been, and continues to be to create an inviting place, where everyone feels safe, and folks are friendly and caring toward one another.”
Over the years several ways of reinforcing the Y’s Christian emphasis were developed: starting each staff and board meeting with a word of prayer, holding Bible Studies and conducting Christian based events, and encouraging members and staff to post prayer requests, but mainly Thomas reflected “it’s about being the hands and feet of Christ and sharing His love with others every chance we can.”
Thomas led the Y toward a broader community impact and involvement by developing over 20 collaborations with other community partners and through personally volunteering for leadership positions with other organizations such as CASA, Gideons, Applefest, and Rotary. Under his leadership the Y has implemented life changing programs by being one of only a few Y’s in the country that offered a combination of chronic disease prevention initiatives such as diabetes prevention, Livestrong (for recovering cancer survivors), and Delay the Disease for those challenged by Parkinson’s. He also guided the process of growing and developing the Y’s Child Development Program into the largest and most comprehensive three-star Step Up To Quality rated program in the area.
Sidney-Shelby County’s Y Board President Rhonda Keister reflected on Thomas’ time with the YMCA, stating, “Ed’s impact on the YMCA will never be forgotten. He has spent the last 15 years in Sidney, and most of his life exemplifying the Y’s mission which is about creating a place where all people can enhance their lives through fitness, friendships, community and healthy living.”
Thomas’ deep belief in the YMCA was heartily expressed in his retirement announcement to the Board and staff.
“I think about the hundreds of community volunteers I have met and the fellow employees I’ve worked with, but most of all, I think about the people of all ages whose lives were changed for the better because they found the YMCA. This is a special place, filled with special people doing extraordinary things. It’s been an honor to serve not only this institution, but all of you as well,” said Thomas.
The national search for the next YMCA of Sidney-Shelby County YMCA CEO has commenced.