PRESCOTT - In 1994, Allan Klinikowski abruptly resigned from a comfortable YMCA post in culturally diverse El Paso, Texas, to become executive director of the once-fledgling Y here.
At the time, the move might have been considered a step down professionally for Klinikowski, but the challenge of building a Y from the ground up intrigued him.
"I got a call one day (from a YMCA USA regional consultant) and they said they had an opening," Klinikowski said in reflection this past week from his office inside the Prescott YMCA, 750 Whipple St. "It was one of those deals where I have this huge Y with 113 room residents and all-men's handball and massage in downtown El Paso. So I came out here and looked, and it was like, 'Now, wait a minute. Why would I want to move?' "
Nonetheless, Klinikowski soon fell in love with Prescott and gathered the resources to establish the Y's now permanent footprint here.
He and his staff pulled together the $5 million-plus needed to build the Harold James YMCA Community Center, which opened in April 1998 and features a large indoor pool and fitness rooms. And he substantially increased the Y's membership, which ballooned from less than 500 members when he arrived to about 9,500 today.
Feeling his mission is complete, Klinikowski, 65, said he will retire from the Prescott YMCA at the end of December.
He will hand over the reins to Damon Olsen, the current district executive director at the Ross Farnsworth-East Valley YMCA in Mesa, who was hired earlier this month but will not start here until January.
Klinikowski said "it's time" to go, even though he still enjoys his work.
"It's a new world out there," he said. "The national Y is changing a lot of their focus - in the right direction and in a really good way. But having someone younger with that fire (is important)."
Klinikowski believes he accomplished what he set out to do: developing more sports and fitness programs for the Prescott YMCA while acquiring the money needed to build a new complex.
"When he started here we had an outdoor pool, which was falling apart, a small fitness center where gymnastics is now, and we had an aerobic room with tile flooring," said Fran Romero, the Prescott Y's health and fitness director. "So, we've come a long way, and it's because of Allan's leadership and that of the (Y's) board (of directors)."
Klinikowski credits former Prescott Y director Ty Hisatomi for laying the groundwork for the James center's fundraising campaign. Sixteen years ago, the Y had about 200 paid members, and most of them participated in programs such as childcare and gymnastics. These days, the Y offers fitness, aquatics, team sports, martial arts and scuba classes, among others, under the umbrella of a multi-million-dollar budget.
"The Prescott YMCA could not be the wonderful facility it is without Allan's involvement over the past several years," said Jim Atkinson, the Prescott Y's outgoing board of directors' president. "What makes him a great director is his caring for the members and all the people that work here."
Former Prescott Y board member Kevin Keighron said Klinikowski's strength is his ability to create popular programs while generating the money needed to keep them thriving.
Toward the beginning of Klinikowski's tenure, the Y took over operations of the Whiskey Row Marathon. The Y also strengthened its ties with the Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) by offering after-school care and bolstering its gymnastics and physical education programs for the district's students.
This fit directly into the Y's goal of nurturing young people toward healthy living and social responsibility.
"We are a membership organization, but we're inclusive, not exclusive," Klinikowski said. "We never turn anybody away because of an inability to pay."
Klinikowski added that he's most proud of hiring a solid staff that he gave the creative freedom to develop innovative programs. He provided staffers with the equipment and training they needed before loosening the strings.
Prescott Y associate director Diane Beneitone said Klinikowski is a visionary with a stalwart background in health, fitness and the outdoors.
"He really empowers his staff and wants them to say, 'Why can't I do this?'" she said. "He cares about the Y. Through the years, I've felt like he's always seen the purpose of the Y - that it's intergenerational and a gathering place."
In 2005, Klinikowski had thought about leaving Prescott when he accepted another YMCA management position in Kona, Hawaii. But he later backed out and decided to finish what he started here.
The following year, Klinikowski spearheaded another multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign. The money from that drive went to complete a new multipurpose building for youth and adult fitness programs and childcare as well as to create Lindquist Family Park on the YMCA complex's grounds.
In the immediate future, the greatest challenge for YMCAs across the country likely will be figuring out how to provide more recreational activities to cash-strapped school districts that are suffering in this economy. Klinikowski said the Prescott Y's collaboration with PUSD is growing stronger under new Superintendent Dave Smucker.
"We need to nurture the potential of our young people as much as we can," he said.
Ultimately, Klinikowski said he did not leave Prescott because he enjoyed managing the Y while being able to teach and participate in its programs. He remains an avid scuba diver and kayaker. After his retirement, Klinikowski will stay on as a member.
"One of our internal goals is always to be a great YMCA," he said. "We're a good YMCA, and maybe Damon will take us over the lid to being great."
The Prescott Y will play host to a farewell gathering for Klinikowski Jan. 22 at the Hassayampa Inn.