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Dan Hust | Democrat

IN THE DISTANCE, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Monticello School District Superintendent Patrick Michel make their way down the Wellness Center at the newly-opened YMCA facility in Monticello. In photo above, weight equipment lies waiting for fitness buffs of all ages.

After Years of Waiting, YMCA Comes to Monticello

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — November 27, 2007 — Walter Rhulen’s dream to bring the YMCA to Sullivan County finally materialized Saturday as the Middletown branch unveiled a wellness center and dance studio inside Monticello High School.
“It’s thrilling to have his family here,” remarked YMCA Development Director Linda Cellini shortly after the ribbon cutting ceremony.
The late founder of Frontier Insurance in Rock Hill, Rhulen and others had advocated for a local YMCA presence for three decades.
“He tried for years,” Rhulen’s widow, Judy, recalled. “But everything was an obstacle.”
Thanks to a slew of people and funds, those obstacles were removed, piece by piece, year by year, till the long-awaited day arrived this past weekend.
The results impressed a crowd of nearly 100 who crammed into the foyer and the narrow walkway that now serves as the newborn YMCA of Monticello’s Wellness Center.
Middletown YMCA CEO Randy Grant, whose staff is overseeing the creation and continuation of the Monticello version, said that people like Joe Todora and Rick Schwartz continued Rhulen’s vision – one very much in need of completion.
“The population warrants a presence in Sullivan County and Orange County,” he remarked.
Monticello Central School District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel proved to be the cornerstone of the effort, and not just because he serves on the YMCA’s board.
The school leader recalled that Monticello CS won a SHAPE grant several years back that provided monies for mountain bikes, skiis and snowshoes and the activities that went with them.
But the grant also offered funds for a wellness center that had to be available to the public. Not wanting to make taxpayers foot the bill for such a center’s operation and maintenance, he cast around for a group that would be up to the task.
The YMCA said it was – even agreeing to fix the expensive fitness machines, hire the personnel to operate them and pay all utilities – and soon an unused high school walkway and the former wood shop were converted into a fitness center and dance studio, respectively.
“Their philosophy fits very well into what we’re trying to do here with the Boys and Girls Club,” said Michel, referencing another brand new initiative based at the school.
“We’re talking about community service here,” agreed Grant.
And since Michel’s training is in community organizing, the YMCA’s new digs are just the latest step in his effort to involve the community in raising children, not just the school.
“Because of these initiatives we’re starting to see a critical mass building to support kids outside of school,” he said.
But unlike the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA will be open to adults as well as children (though for security purposes, adults will only be allowed to utilize the facilities after 4 p.m., when few children remain on campus).
Fitness and dance classes will be offered using state-of-the-art equipment, and a children’s summer camp is in the works. There’s even talk of a pool in the far-off future.
In the meantime, a community advisory committee is being formed to give the Middletown board some knowledge and direction of how to proceed, and well-known county resident Linda Cellini will be leading fund-raising efforts.
Various one-time fees and membership dues will be part of these programs, but financial assistance is available.
“The YMCA . . . is for all, not for the rich, not for the poor,” said Grant, grinning as young and old climbed the stairs to try out the exercise equipment overlooking the high school’s courtyard.
“It’s open to everyone.”
For more information on the new YMCA, call Ross Miceli at 344-9622, ext. 246, Monticello Central School at 794-7700, ext. 10975, or log on to

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