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By Jac Chambliss
In 1871, our first YMCA was located in a rented room at 735 Market St. over Frye & Williams Store. At that time, T.H. McCallie was pastor of the Presbyterian Church. In 1908, the YMCA made a contract for a new building to be built on the east side of Georgia Avenue just south of Eighth Street. John A. Patten laid the cornerstone, and in 1909 the completed building was dedicated. Dr. Raymond Wallace, then president of the YMCA, led the service, and Fred Ferger, chairman of the building committee, made the presentation. Bishop Thomas F. Gailor, then bishop of the Episcopal Church of Tennessee, delivered the dedication address.
In 1914, Glenn W. Ellis came to the "Y" staff to work with boys. W.E. Brock was president that year. In 1918, that same W.E. Brock led a campaign that significantly reduced the heavy debt incurred by the building program.
In 1929, after an untimely separation from VMI in the early spring, I came home to spend the rest of the spring and summer. I studied art at the University of Chattanooga under Frank Baisden, and started going to the Y, where I was interested in the boxing program and in weightlifting. I returned to school the following fall at Southwestern in Memphis for two years, then finished law school at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., in 1932, and began practice with the family firm of Sizer, Chambliss & Kefauver.
I have been part of the Y ever since.
In the depths of the Great Depression, the Y was a place of refuge for many, and a tower of comfort. The dormitory rooms were filled because the rates were affordable. Its cafeteria on the first floor served a good, well-balanced meal for a quarter. If you weren't a Y member, you paid a nickel for a towel and soap and could use the facilities. The exercise rooms, handball courts, swimming pool and indoor track were all extremely popular.
Doc Knight ran the health club, where Joe Sadler and Charlie Evans helped with the "rubs." Mr. Tapp had succeeded Mr. Schrock in the boys work. Mr. Pennybacker was general secretary and Glenn "Chick" Ellis was one of the most popular of the staff members.
Dawson Hall coached the wrestlers, who included Johnny Couch and Dick Selzer. Dawson had been middleweight champion of the Southern Conference at Washington & Lee.
Among the members who came most faithfully were Alfred Mynders, editor of the Chattanooga Times, Walter Johnson, Raleigh Crumbliss, J.B. Irvine Sr., Bartow Strang, Creed Bates, R.E. Biggers, John Carriger and Dr. E.F. Huckaby. Among the younger ones were my friends Bill Spears, Alex Guerry Jr., Pat Williams, Walter Forbes, Alvin Moore, Louis Harris, Coyel Ricketts and Paul Campbell Jr. The volleyball crowd included Estes Kefauver, Don Swingle, Corry Smith and the Reverend T.B. Cowan.
The health club was a sort of subterranean cave in the basement of the Y building, reached by stairs that descended directly from the sidewalk on the east side of Georgia Avenue.
It reeked of the smell of wintergreen, stale sweat, fresh sweat and the eucalyptus oil that was in the steam room. The swimming pool was on the same level. On the next floor above were the basketball and volleyball courts, and, hanging alongside the walls above these courts, was the wooden indoor running track. An antique elevator known as "Old Creaky" lurched slowly between the basement where the health club was located to the top floor where the badminton court was. From there a stairway led up to the rooftop, where there were benches for sunbathers and a single showerhead to cool one off when the heat became intolerable.
After WorId War II, the younger crowd began to become involved in the operation of the Y. Harry Large had become general secretary, following the death in 1945 of Mr. Pennybacker. His salary was, I believe, $150 to $200 per month. Hugh Wasson was president of the Y, and a group of us younger men who were interested in politics persuaded him to run for Mayor of Chattanooga, which he did, and was elected. Then, Jim McCall, one of my close friends, became president of the Y. He was followed by me, and then by J.P.W. Brown. Dr. James F. Fowle, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, was on the board. Howard Moreland succeeded Harry Large, who retired as general secretary, and later Moreland was succeeded by Moss Causey.
Meantime, the Y had deteriorated as buildings and people must do in the course of time. It seemed impossible to find anyone who would agree to be president, so I took it on again on the promise that Dr. Fowle would do something to solve the problem.
He did. As my term neared its end, Dr. Fowle got our board together and announced that we were going to have a multimillion-dollar campaign to build a new YMCA.
We sat there in a state of shock. He then proceeded to put his plan in action. He called to his church office some of the outstanding young talent in the city: Joe Davenport Jr., Scotty Probasco, Alex Guerry Jr., plus the current board, and laid his plan on the line. He said that if they would take the top positions, he would be campaign manager. So it was that Joe Davenport became president, the campaign began, the money was raised, and the present Y was built.
Sam Parry, one of my very closest friends, whose engineering background and common sense were uniquely effective, did much to see that things went right.
Scotty Probasco then became president, and his enthusiasm and energy were most effective. Alex Guerry succeeded him, and then DeSales Harrison. Our parade of superstars continued. Dick Thatcher, Jim Irvine, Forrest Tugman, Spencer Wright, Jim Robinson, John Guerry, Bob Thomas and, following in the footsteps of his illustrious grandfather, Frank Brock.
In conclusion, I would only add that it has taken me years to get used to the new Y. It has never had quite the same smell as the old one!
Jac Chambliss is of counsel with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, a Chattanooga law firm. This article appeared in Volume 9, No. 2 of the Chattanooga Regional Historical Journal.