YMCA Branch Name

For Youth Development
For Healthy Living
For Social Development

KEARNEY — On a cold, windy day last December, Denny Placzek, executive director of the Kearney Family YMCA, huddled under blankets in the thrashing wind and cold on the roof of the Y at 4500 Sixth Ave. to inspire Y donations for the Give Where You Live event sponsored by the Kearney Area Community Foundation.

Thursday afternoon, with his feet firmly on the ground, Placzek will celebrate the YMCA building’s 20th anniversary at an open house. Guests will enjoy free food, games, activities and a kids soccer clinic. It will be the Y’s way of thanking the community for its unwavering support.

“I think of the Y as a large indoor neighborhood,” Placzek said. “Building relationships is what the Y is all about. We continue to change every year. If we see a need, we take a look and move forward.”

The Y’s membership is 6,000, nearly 20 percent of Kearney’s 33,000 people. In addition, 2,300 nonmembers participate in programs and classes. This year, 560 children took swimming lessons, and in the past year, 384 volunteers have contributed 4,500 hours of service.

“We’ve given $120,000 back to the community in programs and memberships so everybody is able to participate. No one is ever denied a membership due to inability to pay,” Placzek said.

The Y serves people of all ages. Its child care starts at age 18 months. Some 400 kids between kindergarten and seventh grade played flag football this fall. For adults, there is swimming, yoga, Zumba, indoor cycling, basketball, volleyball, yoga and more, along with health-related programs in diabetes prevention and a new Tabata fitness boot camp. The annual Turkey Trot run will take place Thanksgiving morning.

“We develop small neighborhoods inside these four walls,” Placzek said. “People come here and feel like they belong.”

The YMCA was founded as a Bible study group in London on June 6, 1844. The first Y in the United States opened in Boston in 1851. By the 1920s, Kearney city officials were interested in the concept, but it was another 60 years before the city’s first YMCA opened in downtown space known as “The Storefront,” donated by Scott Morris. Kearney’s Y quickly sprouted and outgrew the space.

In 1994, after an extensive capital campaign, the YMCA opened its Kearney building on a 10.3-acre site at 4500 Sixth Ave. on land donated by Calvin Johnson of Hastings. Six of those acres were transformed into outdoor fields for flag football, soccer and T-ball.

Seven years later, again cramped for space, the Y raised money to add the family center, the super gym, the Ron and Carol Cope Child Development Center, a board room and restrooms. The front entrance was relocated.

Placzek’s tenure parallels that of the building. In 1994, Placzek, a volunteer soccer coach for the YMCA, was hired as the business manager. He was part owner of a store but decided he could work at the Y while getting his master’s degree in counseling.

He settled in at the downtown office at an 8-foot-long table with plastic storage bins underneath. That Y consisted of a large multipurpose room and a few offices and offered everything from youth camps to step classes. “I knew nothing about the YMCA, but I learned a lot and worked hard,” he said.

A few months later, Placzek, now 55, moved into the new building and never left. He was named director of business operations in 1996 and was promoted to CEO/executive director in 2007. In 2010, he created the Kearney Family YMCA Foundation.

As the Y celebrates Thursday, Placzek is looking ahead, far beyond the YMCA walls. In collaboration with the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the youth sports program is now called the Junior Loper Program. Kids wear the Junior Loper logo on their Family Y shirts, and get free admission to UNK games that they attend with their parents.

The Y’s 25-member board of directors is compiling results of its spring feasibility study. From that, more new concepts are expected.

“We impact 1,500 kids, not counting the adults of all ages who come here,” Placzek said. “I want the Y to continue to impact the community for the next 20 years and beyond. The best thing for me has been the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people and to know we make a difference.

The Y is committed to providing programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. We make every effort to ensure that no one is turned away due to inability to pay. Click to read more about our financial assistance.