The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) started back in 1844 and is found in 125 countries. The United States alone boasts more than 2,700 locations nationwide and engages 21 million people each and every year. With a goal to bolster “body, mind, and spirit”, the YMCA inspires communities to live better lives.
Today, YMCAs offer everything from child care to cooking classes to fitness programs. Children and teens can take advantage of summer camps, tutoring, and even mentoring programs while people of all ages can participate in community service and volunteer projects.
I have been fortunate to have the YMCA in my life. My kids go to summer camp at the Y, and they look forward to it all year long. Instead of being bound to screens, they spend time outdoors where they build self-esteem and confidence, where they are active and engaged in new skills and challenges. Better yet, they build lasting friendships and learn the value of teamwork.
The YMCA makes a difference.
It takes someone extra special to take an already great program and make it even greater. That apparently is no problem for Henry Coe who lies at the very heart of Camp Ingersoll in Portland, Connecticut.
Henry, born in 1935, has been involved with the YMCA since 1959. After years of experience with 4H and the Boy Scouts, he took his first camp director role with the Y after graduating from New Haven State Teachers College, now Southern Connecticut University. His years as the director of YMCA Camp Hacen in Chester, CT were no doubt memorable, but his legacy is marked by his contributions as YMCA Camp Ingersoll’s director starting in the 1970s.
At the time, Camp Ingersoll had separate camps for boys and girls, and he was tasked with uniting the camp into a co-ed program. In a transition year that challenged the traditions of the camp, Henry succeeded in bringing people together. It wouldn’t be the first time.
In the 1980s, state inspectors required CPR certification for the staff nurse and water-front directors only. Henry worked with his staff nurse, Eva States, and EMT’s Loraine Coe (his super awesome wife), Dusty Desmusis, and Maureen Turcotte to certify all camp staff in the life-saving resuscitation effort. Setting the standard for what could and should be accomplished, it was not long before all Connecticut state workers were required to be certified in CPR.
In the 1990s and beyond, Henry introduced novel ideas and programs that not only benefitted his own camp but YMCA camps nationwide. When enrollment appeared to be declining due to a birth of recreational and sports camps in the area, Camp Ingersoll initiated its own specialty camp program, offering half day programs in sports like soccer or golf in conjunction with a half day in traditional camp. Not only that, Henry established a reading program to promote literacy in his campers as well as a scholarship program for staff members working each year. Each of these program initiatives took to the national stage.
YMCA camps all around the country owe you one, Henry!
Enrolling 94 kids that first co-ed year to more than 600 kids this past year, Camp Ingersoll has grown leaps and bounds, and that could not have happened without the endearing support of its fearless leader. Henry retired as director in 2000, but he remains a staple at the camp. He assists camp directors and remains an active fund raiser volunteer.
It is no wonder that Henry has been honored for his contributions at YMCA Camp Ingersoll. The Henry W. Coe Amphitheater had its dedication ceremony on October 15, 2016, and stands as a tribute to all the good this dedicated teacher has done for children over 50+ years of service.
When I asked Henry what his greatest accomplishment is his quick wit answers “surviving” but then he laughs the reply away with his usual charm. Instead, he says “taking a camp that was very traditional almost to the point of never changing to becoming a state-wide premier YMCA camp for the state of Connecticut”.
One of his greatest joys is seeing how former campers and counselors have found success today. Whether they have become leaders in industry, inventors, teachers, you name it, he knows that camp builds character, that camp provides a foundation for growth and self-betterment. He is proud to have been a part of it.
Oddly enough, Henry almost seems uncomfortable with the accolades. “I was just doing my job. I wasn’t doing this for recognition. I saw a place with great potential and did what I could to expand it.” If I must say so, Henry, if everyone put half the time, effort, and energy you put into everything you do, the world would be a far better place.
Thank you for your service.
The YMCA offers financial aid programs so that kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds can go to summer camp. All children deserve the opportunity to grow and learn. Be sure to check them out!