With a wide-ranging impact meant to help community members of all ages, the YMCA is there to support individuals at every stage of life. For many like Mr. Bruce White, that has meant life-altering experiences with the Y from youth through his golden years.
Like many young children and teenagers, Mr. White’s first experience with the YMCA started in the pool. It was the early 1940s and Mr. White—a teenager at time—was determined to learn how to swim. He would head down to his local YMCA in Hamilton, Ont., after school, get changed, and start his swimming practice.
One day, a YMCA staff member approached him and the two of them struck up a conversation. The gentleman asked Mr. White if he would be interested in being a leader at a boys’ camp for the summer.
“Next thing I knew, I was a counsellor at a YMCA camp!” Mr. White said with a laugh. “That was the YMCA’s first intervention in my life.”
Following that, Mr. White joined the navy for a five-year stint. When he was back on leave, he went to Windsor, Ont., where his father lived. Arriving still in uniform, he visited the local YM-YWCA and began speaking with a Program Director who realized that Mr. White had a passion for teaching. She promptly offered him a job to teach English to a group of German students who were part of their programs.
“So, suddenly, she puts me to work,” Mr. White said jokingly. “The YMCA is good that way!”
Eventually, Mr. White decided to go back to school to complete his high school diploma. That’s when he moved to British Columbia. Before leaving, the Program Director whom he worked with gave him a glowing letter of recommendation and advised him to go to the YMCA in Vancouver.
Following her advice, Mr. White got a job as a Fellowship Secretary in a YMCA outreach program that operated in a church in East Vancouver. When that summer ended, he moved on to working as a Program Assistant with Al Cook, who was the Program Director back then.
“That was a very good experience for me. I enjoyed that very much,” Mr. White said fondly. “They were good times.”
Later one spring, he connected with Lorne Bowering, then-Camp Director at YMCA Camp Elphinstone. During that time, Mr. White recalled that the camp “had sort of lost its shine.” Mr. White was offered a job at Camp Elphinstone—which, back then, was still a boys’ camp—and gladly accepted.
They worked together to build up registrations. They personally visited the parents of every camper that had previously signed up to speak about the benefits of camp and inspire them to return.
“Loren worked really hard to build up Elphinstone,” Mr. White said with admiration.
During his time at Camp Elphinstone, Mr. White made many memories. Naturally, he had many wonderful stories to share.
“It was a good time working at Camp Elphinstone. I learned so very much. That camp experience was unique and special,” he said.
“The neat thing about it is that the YMCA has...always been there for me and I haven’t gone seeking it. (I) found it (as) a place to rest, a place where I could sit down—and if I sat there long enough, someone would put me to work.”
The Y is Always There
After his many impactful contributions at the Y, Mr. White took on a new challenge of teaching at the University of British Columbia. He taught there for 25 years before moving on to teaching at the University of Lethbridge, a Distance Education role with the Government of Ontario, and a later position with the Commonwealth of Learning, travelling around for work.
“I guess I was away from the Y for some time,” Mr. White said.
When Mr. White retired from his extraordinary career in Education, he returned to British Columbia. He was in his seventies then and took on a job as a security officer.
One day, he was walking home from work and felt a pain in his wrist and despite not being overly concerned by it, decided to mention the discomfort to his doctor. After some investigation, it was discovered that Mr. White had an arterial blockage. He had to undergo open-heart surgery.
To aid in his recovery, Mr. White’s surgeon advised him about looking into the YMCA Healthy Heart program, which the doctor’s own father-in-law participated in as a cardiac patient.
“He said ‘I suggest that once the open-heart surgery is over, you look into it. It’s run by the YMCA,’” said Mr. White, adding how pleasantly surprised he was to learn Healthy Heart was a Y-led program. “Lo and behold, there they are!”
The Healthy Heart Program "Saved My Life"
Mr. White heeded his doctor’s advice and joined the Healthy Heart program after his surgery.
“I went there and that saved my life,” Mr. White said. “I’m alive at 91 now a lot of because of that program.”
He reminisced some more about Healthy Heart. “It was an amazing program. They even had a defibrillator in the wings because all of us were heart patients. We had an enthusiastic, delightful [Program Facilitator].”
Mr. White also recalled—after a gentle reminder from his wife, Donna—that the Healthy Heart team was there to help celebrate at his 80th birthday party. They even sang the “Y.M.C.A.” song by the Village People!
“It was beautiful!” Mr. White exclaimed with a huge smile.
Final Reflections on the Y’s Impact
From learning to swim, to embarking on a tremendous career path at the Y, to participating in a life-enhancing program, Mr. White’s Y story is certainly inspiring and endearing and one that spans decades. Now, he gives back to the YMCA Healthy Heart program to ensure it stays accessible to everyone.
“Well, the YMCA is a great story,” Mr. White said, laughing softly. “I used to say that it’s (waiting) in the wings. But I don’t think it’s in the wings. It’s standing there with its arms out, ready.”