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Steve Jester, Altavista YMCA's executive director, ready for retirement after 50 years at the Y
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Steve Jester, Altavista YMCA's executive director, ready for retirement after 50 years at the Y

Steve Jester CVP

Steve Jester, executive director of the Altavista YMCA, poses for a portrait on the indoor track at the YMCA on Friday.

For most of the people who go to the Altavista YMCA, it's all about the gym experience. They hit the treadmill, the bikes, and the bench press.

But for Steve Jester, the last 50 years of coming to the Altavista Y has been about more than that. Of course, Jester still enjoys the amenities, always setting aside time once he gets off to hit the gym himself, but for most of his day at the Y, Jester wears the hat of executive director of the Altavista location, where he tries to "share the spirit of the Y" and make the experience great for everybody that comes through the door.

"If you were in a bigger city like Lynchburg, you would say, 'Oh well you've got Planet Fitness, you've got Gold's Gym... there are several options out there,'" Jester said. "But one of the things we have to do is be all things to all people."

The Altavista Y is a full-functioning one, which is unusual for a town of its size. Towns of similar size usually have an Express Y, which is just the workout portion of the gym as opposed to all the extras. Being a full-functioning Y means the Altavista location provides child care and has a junior Olympic swimming pool and basketball courts, among other amenities.

After 50 years in the role as executive director at the Y, Jester is ready to retire, with his last day coming in August.

Jester still remembers the day he pulled up to the Y for his interview.

"When I drove up for the job interview, I had never been here before. This building here," he said as he pointed to the building that houses the junior Olympic pool, "it wasn't even here yet."

The story of the pool at the Y has roots that go back further than even Jester's do.

"I came for the interview and saw the pool that was closed, and I asked, 'Well, what happened to that pool?'"

"Well, it was closed in the '60s for integration," Jester said the director told him. He knew right away that it would be a "challenge" to get a pool back up and running on the site.

But if anything, Jester feels like the opening of the new junior Olympic pool in 1973 was a sign of the fight the team was willing to put up in his early days at the Y.

"We've got a good history that we've overcome some obstacles," Jester said.

These days, if you walk into the building that holds the current pool, which is on the same property as the one that was shut down during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, you will see children from all different backgrounds enjoying the pool.

That's just another example of the "spirit of the Y" that Jester thinks makes the organization so special — that children can swim together on the grounds that once saw the impact of racial division.

But there are more programs than just the swimming program that have grown under Jester's direction. The child care building is filled with children trying to duck the summer heat for parts of their day. When they aren't inside, they play kickball or run around on the playground.

"What we do impacts a lot of different people," Jester said. "I think it's a good feeling to know that you are making a difference, and ... that you are doing it the right way."

As Jester strolls through the hallways of the Y, with the sound of weights clanging in the gym, nobody hesitates to make time to talk to him. That comes with the territory of having 50 years of experience.

"It's a lot of the same faces. The big boys don't get in here till about 5 o'clock," Jester said, standing in the free weights section of the gym.

And right behind them, about 5:15 p.m., Jester comes in for his workout, just not with the "big boys."

But just because he is retiring, that doesn't mean he's leaving the Y. "I'll still come to work out some," Jester said. "It might be earlier because my wife deserves to have me home a little earlier."

And he'll also stay pretty close to sports in his retirement too.

"I'm going to play some golf," Jester said with a big smile. He said also plans on going to a lot of basketball games in Salem, where his son is a coach.

The 50 years he spent at the Y will always stay with him, even beyond the athletic portion of the organization.

"It's more than just a fitness center," Jester said. "Socially, it corrected some things that needed to be corrected."

"What we do impacts a lot of different people. I think it's a good feeling to know that you are making a difference, and ... that you are doing it the right way." - Steve Jester, retiring executive director of the Altavista YMCA

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