May 21, 2023 - Culture

Community mourns the impending closure of the Johnston Y in NoDa

Upon hearing Johnston YMCA on North Davidson will close at the end of the year, comments from readers poured in about their experience at the longstanding North Davidson family facility.

What’s happening: The Y has decided to sell the prominent property to a developer.

Why it matters: The Johnston Y is a community gathering place, one where people have come for years to work out, gather for games of pick-up basketball, drop their kids off for camps and daycare, and gather for all sorts of classes. In a fast-changing city, community institutions like the Johnston Y are increasingly hard to find.

  • The nonprofit’s own website describes the North Davidson property, built in 1951, as “the Heart of NoDa.”

We asked readers about their memories at the Johnston Y. Here’s what a few of you said:

“While others likely will mention Coach Franke Bell, the legendary swim coach who must have taught thousands of us at the Johnston Y, swimming never became my forte. So, my fondest memory is of the summer day camp named Camp Jo-Riety. Not only were the 1960s well before Charlotte started combining names into “catchy” acronyms, it also was a time when kids summer camps were far fewer in availability and less specialized than today. As its name implies, Camp Jo-Riety had arts and crafts, BB gun shooting, and of course swimming among other activities; but my fondest memory is of archery since it was my first experience with non-toy bows-and-arrows. It saddens me to see this institution go by the wayside, but at least my memories of Camp Jo-Riety will linger a little longer.” — Richard D.

Photo courtesy of reader Richard D.

“Over the last year or two, I’ve been playing pick-up basketball every Monday with the same mix of guys at the Johnston Y. None of us knew each other, but over time we’ve become homies. I haven’t used the rest of the facility much, but I’m going to be bummed when the Monday evening games go away. I’m sure we will find somewhere else to play, but the Johnston will always be a fond memory to me. Until it’s gone though, definitely going to continue to rack up hours.” — Brent S.

“I taught yoga at the Johnston Y for almost a decade. It was a place that anyone could come into a yoga class and have a practice. I taught yoga to blind people with service dogs, to people using mobility devices, senior citizens, pregnant people, people with chronic illnesses, people in recovery, people who had never done yoga before and people who came to yoga almost every day at the Y and had been practicing for 20 years. It was a complete hodgepodge and I loved teaching in such an eclectic environment. I felt lucky to be a teacher in an place that made me learn how to teach and serve *anyone* who came through the door. And at the Johnston, it was always a whole swath of humanity that showed up! My last class there was the Wednesday before lockdown, when we all jokingly wondered if we would be there the next week. Little did we know… it was a beautiful part of my journey as a teacher and human and I miss it.” — Sarah H.

Photo courtesy of Sarah H.

“Around 1960 my mother took me to the Y for swim lessons. Franke Bell who would eventually start her own swim team was the teacher. She told the parents if they wanted her to teach us they would have to leave. Could you imagine how that would go over today? We also played little league baseball there as well.” — John S.

My thought bubble: My dad learned how to swim at the Johnston Y. He grew up in the Chantilly area, and in the late 1950s, his parents would take him to the Y for swim lessons with Franke Bell, the legendary coach other readers have mentioned. “The place is losing its soul,” my dad said of NoDa upon learning that the Y will close at the end of the year.


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