For many years, I substituted at the YWCA service desk when needed. I enjoy people and YWCA service desk employees interact with people of all ages and backgrounds. Our child enrichment center cares for youngsters six weeks to 12 years old. Teenagers and men and women well into their 90s use our pool and fitness center. Everyone looks the same in gym clothes or bathing suits, so the YWCA is also a place where people of all socioeconomic backgrounds converge as equals.

The front desk shift I covered most often was the early morning post. My love for people comes with an asterisk – after at least one, preferably two, cups of coffee. The 5:30 a.m. shift meant my first cup of coffee was enjoyed at work, and there was a possibility I would need to interact non-caffeinated.

The YW service desk used to have a very old dial safe with half of the numbers and lines faded. You had to precisely hit the appropriate number, or it would not open. Some mornings, I opened it on the first try. Other mornings, I had to make several attempts. Those mornings, I rarely finished my coffee before Don Thompson arrived to chat.

I and others referred to Don as “GI Joe” because the friendly man always talked about his life in the United States Army. Don was an extremely proud 21-year veteran who retired in 1975 as sergeant 1st class. He served in Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Guatemala, Italy and Iran.

I will be honest, there were mornings I saw Don walking down the hall and thought “oh crap, I don’t feel like chatting today” and I regret that because I won’t have the opportunity to talk to Don again and learn more of his story. Don died July 29.

We all knew Don loved the Army but what we did not know was how much he loved the YWCA. An obituary only scratches the surface of one’s life. The 558-word summary of Don’s 87 years on this planet included, “Donald enjoyed spending time with family and friends and going to the YWCA in Gettysburg; he was proud that he went to the YWCA every day from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. for the past 20 years.”

I and many others at the YWCA were touched by Don’s obit. I encourage new YWCA employees to walk through our buildings when they are having a rough day because they will instantly see why we are doing this often-challenging work. Seeing people enjoy our facilities at 909 Fairfield Road and the Adams Commerce Center is rewarding, but Don’s obit reminded me how important it is to hear people’s YWCA story.

Last summer, my wife and I started capturing YWCA stories. The video can be viewed on Community Media’s website, I hope you watch it.

The YWCA Gettysburg & Adams County’s 96-year history consists of thousands of stories. I would like to capture more of them and would appreciate you sharing yours. Email me at gro.grubsyttegacwy@seyaha or call 717-334-9171, ext. 116. People are often hesitant to try new things that could benefit their life. Hearing how the YWCA helped you might inspire others to take advantage of this great organization.

Alex J. Hayes is the YWCA Gettysburg & Adams County’s fund development director. Contact him at gro.grubsyttegacwy@seyaha or 717-334-9171, ext. 116.

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