YMCA cornerstone

Mansfield Area Y President/CEO Cristen Gilbert and Vice President of Operations James Twedt look over items found inside the cornerstone of the former YMCA/YWCA. A local resident contacted the Y after obtaining the cornerstone and arranged to donate it back during a meeting Monday at Richland Source.

MANSFIELD -- It was the cornerstone of a historic moment in the city that likely would have been lost forever when the former Mansfield YMCA/YWCA was demolished earlier this year.

Ronnie D. Shafer Sr. didn't let that happen.

The 57-year-old Mansfield man knew he come into possession several weeks ago of something that would be of interest to the Mansfield Area Y. But even Shafer didn't know what he had for sure, thinking perhaps it was a time capsule left by a past generation.

Shafer contacted the Y a couple of weeks ago and spoke to James Twedt, vice president of operations for the 750 Scholl Road facility. Shafer sought to donate what he had, but he wanted it documented publicly. 

Twedt contacted Richland Source, which agreed to facilitate the transfer of the material at its 40 W. Fourth St. location, and possibly publish a story to inform the public.

Twedt and Cristen Gilbert, the president/CEO of the Mansfield Area YMCA, met this week at the media outlet with Shafer and his minister, William Cole.

CONTENTS REVEALED: After a brief discussion at Source offices inside Idea Works, Shafer brought in a large, cardboard box.

He sat it on the floor, opened it and revealed the remains of the cornerstone for the former Mansfield YMCA/YWCA, 455 Park Ave. East, a badly dilapidated structure the city razed this spring.

After Mansfield's YMCA moved to a new facility on Scholl Road in 2000, the building on Park Avenue was used as a school, and later sold to an individual who allegedly promised to transform the space into apartments. That scenario never took place.

Shafer said a friend found the metal box in the rubble and tried to sell it at a local recycling center, which declined it. At that point, the friend contacted Shafer, who he knew had an interest in collecting, and gave it to him.

Shafer, who asked his photo not be taken for this story, looked at the contents -- and knew he had something special from a special building in the city's history.

Ground was broken in April 1954 on the former Mansfield YMCA-YWCA. It was a huge, three-story facility that offered two heated swimming pools, a gymnasium, handball court, chapel, game rooms, social/meeting rooms, a dining room and 67 dormitory rooms.

groundbreaking

George Draffan is the first to break ground at the Mansfield YMCA-YWCA groundbreaking ceremony on April 28, 1954. The photo was recovered from the cornerstone of the building. Draffan was the president of the YMCA-YWCA Building Corporation Trustees, according to documents found recently in the cornerstone.

In 1956, both the YMCA and YWCA, operating independently, moved into the facility under a joint occupancy agreement.

The building was constructed after Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown and local author/conservationist Louis Bromfield helped raise $1.2 million in a 1953 fundraiser.

CORNERSTONE LAID: The cornerstone was laid on Sept. 26, 1954, before a crowd of around 300 people, according to research by Sheila York, a retired Y marketing staffer who prepared in 2017 a detailed brochure on the Y's then-150 year history in the city.

A program from the ceremony, found inside the cornerstone, offered special thanks to "LeRoy McGinty & Son for the gift of the Cornerstone of pink Westerly granite."

Pink Westerly Granite is a fairly typical granite with an even, phaneritic texture. It comes from southwestern Rhode Island. The container appears to have a copper lining.

"The highlight of the program was the placing of 50 items in the cornerstone, including a Bible and American flag," York wrote.

Inside, what was left of the cornerstone's shell that Shafer brought in, prominently revealed the very Bible and flag placed inside the cornerstone 65 years ago.

The container had audio tapes from the groundbreaking and cornerstone laying ceremonies. It had lots of photos from both events and also images from the construction process. It had documents detailing the events, replete with names of YMCA/YWCA members and those who drove the building process.

audio tape

An audio recording of the cornerstone laying ceremony was placed inside the cornerstone.

Shafer said he wanted his donation to be part of the ongoing resurgence in Mansfield.

"Immediately, when I saw it, I knew it had value. Not everything is junk. Our city has been through a lot of trauma and we have got to hold onto what we have. I have seen so much revival in our city and our county and I wanted to be a part of it," he said. "This is probably one of the favorite days of my life."

Gilbert and Twedt's eyes lit up as they went through the material. Gilbert said the Y still has donor tiles from the old building.

"What would be really cool is to incorporate the donor tiles from that building and this (material) somehow, someway, to kind of just put it all together," Gilbert said.

"First, we have to show our members. There is so much history with them. We still hear our members say they were members at the old Y. I am sure their family members are in this. They will love it," she said.

"This is pretty cool."

Contacted later, York said she had feared the cornerstone was lost forever when the building was torn down. She had mentioned it to city officials when she heard the building was going to be torn down, but the city didn't own the structure and recovering it didn't seem likely.

York's efforts documenting the Y's history shows it dates to 1867 when the Mansfield YMCA was founded with 77 charter members, a group led by Gen. Rolieff Brinkerhoff, J.H. Reed, L.J. Bonar, E.J. Davis, F.E. Tracy and Rufus Avery.

"I am so delighted and excited. I wanted the YMCA to have (the cornerstone). It's so historic," York said.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"