A look back at our local YMCA History: Part 1

We are excited to present you with a guest blog by Lafayette YMCA member Brent Clary. Brent is an attorney with Bennett Boehning & Clary LLP and a former member of the Board of Directors at the Lafayette YMCA. Today, he will discuss the rich history of the YMCA and how the Y came to be in our beloved Lafayette community.

The Mold of Stanley Coulter

The Young Men’s Christian Association, known usually as the YMCA, was originally founded in London, England on June 6, 1844.  Shortly after the first facility was founded, local YMCAs emerged throughout much of the world. The first “Y” appeared in the United States in 1851, and a first attempt at a Lafayette YMCA was in 1866. Unfortunately, after a few years the local attempt failed. But, in the late 1880s demand was rekindled and in 1889 the Lafayette YMCA was born.

Not surprisingly, several distinguished local citizens played a role in getting the YMCA off the ground. Dr. Stanley Coulter, later to become Dean Emeritus at Purdue, was the first president of the Lafayette YMCA and served during the critical formation period.

Stanley CoulterAny person who assumes the duties as the Executive Director of the Lafayette YMCA must display strong abilities in such areas as team-building and persistence in order to coordinate the many volunteers and staff comprised of any successful Y. “But,” you might ask, “How can so many YMCA directors, many very young, fill such a demanding role?”

The above-mentioned Stanley Coulter, served as a great example. Back in the 1880s, when Purdue University existed as little more than a strong “trade school” and the local YMCA was yet to be founded, the Purdue Trustees actively searched for outstanding faculty members. One man who captured the Trustees’ attention was Coulter (1855-1943), who had completed undergraduate study as a botanist and went on to become a practicing attorney in Cass County.

In 1887, Mr. Coulter, while on vacation at Lake Maxinkuckee, was in the middle of the lake fishing when a young man rowed a small boat from shore to deliver a telegram offering Stan a zoology professor position at Purdue. Coulter, in predictable fashion, read the message, stuck it in his pocket, lit up his pipe and went back to fishing.

A Successful Purdue Career-man

Coulter wasn’t certain of the direction he wished to follow. But soon, this lively, young 32-year-old took Purdue’s offer, and went on to have an incredibly successful career with the university. In fact, Coulter became the first Dean of the School of Science in 1907, the first Dean of Men in 1919 and was a long-time chairman of the faculty.

Stanley Coulter HallEventually, Coulter became Dean Emeritus, a position he enjoyed for the rest of his life. The term “renaissance man” must have been created to fit Dean Coulter, and the phrase probably was repeated often during dedication of Stanley Coulter Hall, a building that still stands on Purdue’s campus, since May 17, 1917.

But, again, what does all of this conversation about Stanley Coulter have to do with the YMCA?




Stanley Coulter and the YMCA

In 1889 Coulter, a young man with well-directed energy, got a call about founding a YMCA in Lafayette, and took the reins as its first president. It’s because of his leadership that from the beginning, Lafayette’s Y has distinguished itself as an organization where youth and community members could spend their time in constructive character-building activities.

Today, Stanley Coulter’s face would beam to observe the hundreds of children and other members participating regularly in a huge array of activities and programs, while being guided and overseen by both YMCA staff and volunteers. So the next time someone mentions Stanley Coulter, close your eyes and picture his smile.


By: Brent E. Clary, with research assistance regarding Dr. Stanley Coulter provided by custodians of Purdue Archives


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