What a year, eh? The RiverTown newsroom looked back on 2020 to compile lists of the most important news and sports stories covered by the Star-Observer and Republican Eagle. Check back to Top 10 Stories of 2020 over the next few days to see what made the cut.

RED WING -- Returning 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment volunteers came home and soon mobilized again, this time with church leaders to start a local YMCA because they’d benefited from services the YMCA provided in Civil War camps.

They rented two rooms in the Gladstone Building, started a library and reading room and brought in speakers to encourage good moral, physical and spiritual development in young men. They also led recreation and fitness programs in the parks and gyms throughout town.

“Their aim was to keep young men from hanging out in saloons and brothels and to guide their development into productive citizens and fathers. They also had a strong focus on helping immigrants adjust to the new land,” said Mike Melstad, who retired this week after leading the Red Wing Family YMCA since 2008.

He took that legacy seriously.

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“The shape and appearance of the Y has changed in a century and a half – but the mission and focus has not wavered much. We’ve certainly broadened – women now make up most of our membership and staff -- but the focus on helping people develop in useful and productive directions hasn’t wavered,” he said.

In January, the Y kicked off what was to be a yearlong sesquicentennial celebration. The pandemic put a halt to that, closed the building at times and disrupted Camp Pepin, but didn’t stop the 21 board members, 15 trustees, staff and volunteers who make up the Y from working with schools and civic organizations to address people’s needs.

“The YMCA is known as a place of community, the building and the members. The Y has a long history of working together to better each other's lives,” Board Chair Janie Farrar noted.

One of the biggest plans for the next 150 years is re-envisioning Camp Pepin beyond a summer facility. Beyond plans to open the camp year-round to adults and families, the YMCA also is positioning Camp Pepin to become a venue for weddings, reunions, Scout gatherings, retreats and other regional events for both members and people looking to rent facilities.

Camp Pepin added an amphitheater in the summer of 2017. Built by Red Wing Shoe and Foot Tanning employees, it sits behind the flagpole, which bears the flags representing every nationality at camp; staff workers are hired from many countries. YMCA photo
Camp Pepin added an amphitheater in the summer of 2017. Built by Red Wing Shoe and Foot Tanning employees, it sits behind the flagpole, which bears the flags representing every nationality at camp; staff workers are hired from many countries. YMCA photo

“We want to position the camp as a regional resource,” Melstad said as 2020 began. He noted that as the community has changed and grown, so has the Y.

John Kern has been an active volunteer for many years.

“When we moved to Red Wing 41 years ago as a young couple, with no children, we mostly appreciated the Y as a great place to work out. Only as our kids, and now our grandkids, grew up in the Y have we come to appreciate what an amazing and important part of the fabric of the community the Y really is,” Kern said. “I also am humbled and grateful for the generosity and commitment of many people over many generations to sustain and support this wonderful institution.”

David Anderson moved to Red Wing to work at the Y in December 1981. He was on the staff for 30-plus years and today coordinates Live Well Goodhue County.

“The Red Wing Family YMCA is very special because of all the support it receives from the community, all the programs it has offered, the members, the great staff and wonderful facility. Having served as camp director, program director, associate executive director and interim executive director, I’ve made great friendships, built many connections and loved working with all the kids,” Anderson said. “For many years during my time at the Y, we said, ‘We build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities.’ I think that says it all.”