In his office, Ted Wenta keeps a framed drawing his wife Teresa made as a girl.
It’s a second-grader’s sketch of the YMCA in downtown Everett, a century-old brick building that’s not quite as off-kilter in real life as it is on paper. But the building does have its quirks.
It’s a patchwork of pieces built when the president was Warren G. Harding or John F. Kennedy. Higher floors are closed off to people with disabilities. Yet the building is engrained in the memories of locals: swimming lessons, basketball games, the birthplace of friendships. It has outlasted many lives.
Wenta, vice president of operations for Snohomish County’s YMCA, knows how it feels to be attached to this place. His family has grown up here, too. As a staffer in charge of capital development, he has been one of the key people working to build a new, much bigger Everett Y that can serve up to 32,000 people. It’s scheduled to open late next year at 4730 Colby Ave.
“It’s fantastic, and it’s bittersweet,” Wenta said. “We’ve been on the same block for almost 120 years.”
Everett’s first YMCA burned in March 1920. Local lore says members hatched a successful plan, while the building was still on fire, to build a new downtown Y.
Over the past century, the center of the city’s population has shifted well south of 2720 Rockefeller Ave., where Wenta has worked for two decades. Leaving behind the constraints of the old building should allow the YMCA to double or triple the number of people it serves, by moving the community hub into the heart of its clientele.
The Marysville Y was brand new and the Mukilteo Y was in a trailer when Wenta moved from California to Snohomish County in 1995. Since then new branches have sprouted up in Mill Creek and Stanwood. Wenta is finally seeing construction on the $33 million project, at one of the most trying times in his life. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in Sept. 2016.
He can sum up his health these days in one word.
“Stable,” he said. “There’s been fits and starts, I’m not going to lie. My wife and I have chosen to be very public about that, because we believe there’s a story to be told.”
Amid treatment, he made painful choices to cut back on commitments. He stepped down from his role as a member of the Everett School Board in July. He’s cut back hours at his day job. Wenta, a member of Bethany Christian Assembly, has been carried by his faith in God, he said.
And he’s still fired up about doing meaningful work.
The thing that keeps him up at night, he said, is trying to figure out how kids from Everett High School and North Middle School will adjust, when their community hub is no longer a short walk from class. There will be a need for volunteers to help with transportation.
Over 2,000 people volunteer at the YMCA each year in the county — from camp counselors to workout instructors to board members.
“I believe it comes down to, ‘What is your passion?’” Wenta said. “And that’s going to direct your path.”
Many of them are like Wenta when he was younger. His first camping trip was with the YMCA. So was his first job. When he looks around at others in leadership roles today at the Y, he sees similar stories.
“They grew into that, because someone invited them,” Wenta said. “Someone asked them if they wanted to be involved. And they stepped forward and said, ‘I’m available and I want to help.’”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.
To learn more about volunteering at the YMCA, visit ymca-snoco.org/support-the-y/volunteer.