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History of the YWCA Pekin

by Ms. Phil H. Siffle

 

Writing the history of the Pekin Young Women's Christian Association is like dipping into the archives of the past and pulling up memories that are not completely forgotten, yet are so vague that bits of information had to be gathered from here and there and pieced together to make the whole.

 

The story of the Pekin Young women's Christian Association is one of very small beginnings. In fact, it was just a dream at first.  Some say, "Dreams never do come true" but this dream did come true.

Mrs. Martha Steinmetz was the dreamer - the woman with the vision! She was one of the most outstanding women of her day in our city - the first to promote civic improvements and, at that time, it was not too popular for women to take a hand in public affairs.  The dream of her life was to have a YWCA in Pekin. She saw the great need for it and promptly and persistently went about making her dream come true.

The first gleam of the dawning of a YWCA for Pekin was way back in 1923 when a group of Camp Fire girls disbanded, and through the influence of the Peoria YWCA, formed a high school Girl Reserve group. This group continued until their graduation in 1925, but because of their interest and enjoyable time spent together, they wanted to stay together. So Mrs. Steinmetz prevailed upon them to join forces, and they would form the nucleus for her dream project. She sponsored them for two years, until they had become a well-organized group in every sense of the word, attending meetings of the Peoria YWCA. When the building at 616 Broadway was available, they entered as the first full-fledged YWCA group.  They chose the name "The Blue Triangle Club" in honor of the YWCA emblem.

It was not until March 17, 1927, when a large group of women gathered at the Pekin Community High School, that the final steps were taken for the temporary organization of a YWCA in Pekin.

Mrs. H. M. Pindell, President of the Peoria YWCA at the time, and Miss Goldanna Cook, then General Secretary of the Peoria "Y.W.", were present and helped organize the Pekin organization to be a branch of the Peoria "Y.W." and would then be under their jurisdiction.  During this period of temporary organization, the necessary business was transacted through committees and by appointed officers.

Becoming an Independent Organization

It was in October 1928 that we were re-organized into an independent organization to be called "A Town YWCA", and then the first official Board of Directors was chosen. These pioneers were Mrs. G.A. Steinmetz, Mrs. C.E. Schneider, Mrs. C.F. Grimmer, Mrs. H.J. Churchill, Mrs. W.A. Gray, Dr. Lydia Holmes, Mrs. Walter E. Frey, and Miss Frances Prettyman for a three-year term. For a two-year term, Mrs. John T. Elliff, Mrs. Phil H. Sipfle, Mrs. Louis Moschel, Mrs. Henry Herget, Mrs. D.F. Velde, Mrs. V.P. Turner, and Miss Minnie Balcke were chosen.  For the one-year term, Mrs. H.M. Ehrilicher, Mrs. W.R. Ricketts, Mrs. O.D. Ehrlicher, Mrs. D.D. Velde, Mrs. George Behrens, Mrs. George Ehrlicher, and Miss Fredericka Block were chosen. Then followed the election of officers: President, Mrs. G.A. Steinmetz; Vice President, Mrs. C.E. Schneider; Recording Secretary, Mrs. C.F. Grimmer; Treasurer, Mrs. H.J. Churchill; and General Secretary, Mrs. Howard Watt.

At this time Miss Huckin, of the National Board of the YWCA, was here helping organize the newly formed group. She recommended that they affiliate immediately with the National organization.  his was done in April 1929. The Pekin YWCA held its first official meeting as a full-fledged Young Women's Christian Association. It was at this time that the Pekin Young Women's Christian Association was incorporated as a not-for-profit Christian organization.  At that time the objective for which it was founded was stated in these words:

 

"The purpose of the organization shall be to associate young women in personal loyalty to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; to lead them into membership and service in the Christian church, to promote growth in Christian character and service through physical, social, mental and spiritual training to become a social force for the extension of the Kingdom of God."

In 1930, Miss Huldah Harmel (now Mrs. Walter Wehmer) was employed as General Secretary, the position now known as Executive Director. She served faithfully for nine years and was very helpful in putting the YWCA on a firm basis during its formative years.

The First Building

 

One of the first things needed after the temporary organization was formed was a place to meet. We were as poor as the proverbial "church mouse." But where there's a will, there's a way... and a way was found. The house known as the old Stolz home, located at 616 Broadway, was purchased for $6,000 with friends underwriting the mortgage.

 

Early Financing

Early records show that there were some dark days. How to make both ends meet was the burning question at many of the committee meetings. The question was solved first by the rigid economy (and only the pioneer leaders knew how "rigid"); second, by approximately 400 members paying membership dues of $1.00 per member; and third, by an annual maintenance drive, with loyal workers going from door to door asking for donations. The first maintenance drive in 1929 resulted in donations totaling $8,329.25 and a friend donated $679.75 in Home and Loan shares, making the grand total $9,009.00. Out of this fund the house was cleared of indebtedness.

Becoming An Agency in the United Fund

Finally, in 1956, the responsibility for approximately 76% of the cost of maintenance and operation of the current program was undertaken by the Pekin United Fund. We were one of the first of five agencies to become an affiliate agency of the Fund, and its members worked with other citizens to raise the money to help their own as well as other agencies in the community.

The Tea Room

One of the first things the early YWCA did was to establish a Tea Room. In those days, there was a scarcity of nice dining places in Pekin and in no time the YWCA Tea Room did a booming business! The records say "delicious meals were served for 50 cents." No wonder it was patronized by service clubs, church organizations, families, and individuals! Many times the Tea Room Committee found themselves in the red. However, it was such a popular place and such a convenience for the public, that in spite of its ups and downs, it was continued until 1933, when the high cost of food and the scarcity of kitchen help, plus need for the space for the increasing activities of the YWCA, made it advisable to discontinue it.

Growing Pains

The YWCA soon became popular as a meeting place for women and girls. As it began to become overcrowded, it was soon evident that a larger place must be provided. The old house and lot was sold to the Catholic Diocese and the ground became a part of the site of St. Joseph School. The roomy residence know as the Otto Koch home at 310 S. Fourth St. was then purchased, and in October 1931 the first meeting was held there. This home served the YWCA Pekin for 28 years. Our current home at 315 Buena Vista was dedicated on April 3, 1959, and subsequently expanded in September 2001.