Baker Youth Club Celebrates 90 Years In Warsaw

Robert “Coach” Lichtenwalter was born September 6, 1926, about a month after the Baker Youth Club was founded in Warsaw.

He went on to serve as the BYC’s executive director for 29 years, passing away July 15, 2015, after the BYC’s building was named The Lichtenwalter Center in his honor.

He was the second of only four men to serve as BYC’s executive directors. Pete Thorn was the first, serving 37 years; then Lichtenwalter; Scott Wiley served 11 years; and current Executive Director Tracy Furnivall is starting his 15th year in September.

On Tuesday, during an open house celebrating the BYC’s 90th anniversary, a memorial to Lichtenwalter was unveiled at the front of the Center.

“We just thought what better way to celebrate 90 years than to have an open house and try to show our new facilities off and try to recruit some new kids,” Furnivall said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

As for the unveiling of the memorial to Lichtenwalter, he said, “Coach Lichtenwalter passed away, it’s been just a little over a year ago, and we’ve been working on some things and we have a memorial out here in the front of the building. The building is named after him, and we got that done while he was still alive, which we’re very thankful for that so he could enjoy it. But when he passed we thought we wanted to do something else, so the board approved to purchase a bench with his name and picture on it. We’re going to call the little courtyard in front of the building Coach’s Corner.”

When Lichtenwalter did a newsletter, Furnivall said Lichtenwalter’s section of the newsletter was always called “Coach’s Corner” so naming that nook of the building seemed appropriate.

To help raise funds for BYC, Furnivall said they’re going to sell some memorial bricks.

“So anyone interested in having their name in the history of the Baker Youth Club with the man who impacted many lives, those can be purchased … and you can have a brick in Coach’s Corner,” he said.

There are two different-sized bricks. The 4-inch by 8-inch bricks are $150, and the 8-inch by 8-inch bricks are $200.

Furnivall said it’s really cool that an organization has been around for 90 years and survived a number of wars, stock market crashes and The Great Depression.

“In the research I’ve done, I think we’re the second oldest not-for-profit organization in Warsaw, Kosciusko County,” he said.

He said the only older local organization that he could find was the Salvation Army.

Furnivall explained how the BYC came into existence, saying, “In August of 1926 is when the doors above Sharp’s Hardware downtown Warsaw opened up for Baker Boys Club, founded by Bramwell Baker. He was an East Coast banker who summered on Winona and was a member of the Warsaw Rotary. He challenged the Rotary Club in the City of Warsaw. He would donate a $1,000 of his own money if they would match it to start a boys club in town. That’s how we got started in ’26.”

He said BYC continues to go strong and grow.

About eight or nine years ago BYC raised $2.2 million to construct a new facility down on West Market Street. The Club outgrew that in eight years, and just finished its first year in the former YMCA building, Furnivall said.

“Within six to eight weeks of opening up, in our after-school program last year, we went from 100 to 120 kids a night to 200 kids a night being served. So the growth continues and we are always looking for ways to better serve the kids in our community,” Furnivall stated.

Baker Youth Club also has satellite programs in Milford, Syracuse and North Webster elementaries and Wawasee Middle School.

“If you take all of our locations, we’re seeing over 330 kids a night, so times five. Close to over 1,500 kids a week. And then right here in Warsaw, you’re looking at over 1,000 kids being served,” Furnivall estimated.

He said BYC has certified teachers and teacher aides helping kids with homework. Last year the organization served over 12,000 to 13,000 free meals; passed out over 30,000 free juices and snacks; had 100 percent of third-graders that attend BYC pass the IREAD-3 test; and had 92 percent improve their reading comprehension.

“So the success in homework rooms is there, and the kids are getting fed and they’ve got a safe place to go with adult mentors,” he said.

For the future of the Club, Furnivall said he has a five-year plan. Long term, he sees BYC trying to have its own facility in the northern part of the county where kids up there have a place like Warsaw’s. Right now, the satellite clubs are ran at the schools for two hours. They don’t get dinners, just the juice, snacks and homework help. While that is great, Furnivall said they’re missing out on the physical activity, meals and a place to call home.

Until then, he said, “Right now it’s just continuing to improve the kids we’re serving now.”

On a more short-term goal in Warsaw, he said, “Last year was our first year of a real focus on seventh- and eighth-graders, and this year we took another step in that direction. We’ve hired a Lakeview (Middle School) teacher, Todd Braddock, to be our middle school coordinator. We’re partnering with Lakeview. They’ve received a big grant, and some of his salary, and they’re going to pre-pay for 100 memberships for Lakeview students. We’re hoping to maybe see the middle school program grow.”

Last year, Furnivall said they saw 25 middle school students a day. This year, he’d like to see twice that number utilizing the BYC programs.

Another teacher from the high school was hired to work with students on “a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) stuff,” he said, including projects.

The Club’s biggest need is monetary donations.

He said they do serve meals Monday through Thursday, and it has some church groups, service clubs, businesses, restaurants that provide a meal a month. They prepare a meal, bring it in and interact with the kids, and Furnivall said that’s always a need.

Volunteers also are always a need. He said they often have volunteers from high school groups like National Honor Society and The Octagon Club helping out. He also cited Tommy Breading and “Super Volunteer” Ronnie Shoemaker as individuals who often come out to BYC to help.

“Any other individual who is interested in hanging out with kids, interacting, mentoring them – if you have interest in kids, we’re always looking out (for volunteers),” he said.

“We’re really excited about the future and couldn’t be more excited about 90 years, and we hope to be here for another 90,” Furnivall concluded.