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Genoa women research history of YMCA and George Williams College

Published: Monday, July 21, 2014 4:48 p.m. CST
Caption
(Provided photo by Roger Kyler)
Rita Yerkes (left) and Wilma Miranda spent nearly three years researching and writing their history of George Williams College.

GENOA Rita Yerkes and Wilma Miranda wanted to discover the history of a noted college and explore the role the YMCA played in the college's development and in American life.

The book the Genoa women co-authored, "Enduring Vision: From an Encampment to a Distinctive College," was published in March. The 273-page book traces the story of George Williams College from its founding as the Western Secretarial Institute In Williams Bay, Wisconsin, in 1885 through 1961, and follows the college through both Chicago and Downers Grove.

The women said George Williams formed the Young Men's Christian Association, later the YMCA, in a bleak section of industrialized London in 1844. It was originally intended as a refuge for young men to study the Bible and pray in an effort to escape their conditions.

"They worked 18-hour days and had nothing to do," Yerkes said.

The concept caught on, and by 1851 the YMCA had extended to New York City. As the movement expanded into the Midwest, three businessmen sitting by a campfire in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, agreed to establish a permanent professional YMCA training school.

The men purchased land in Williams Bay in 1886 and literally held their first classes in tents. Eventually, as the movement developed, the school moved towards the Chicago suburbs.

"They saw democracy as an outgrowth of Christian tradition," Miranda said.

The book was commissioned at the request of the president of Aurora University in 2009. The women shared researching duties, which they said was probably more enjoyable than the actual writing. Miranda said they took a "pragmatic approach" to the book to keep it from getting too long. Despite some disagreements, Yerkes said they shared the same focus for the book.

Although there was much more history to go, the women said they stopped at 1961 because that’s what they were instructed to do.

“There is some interest in a sequel,” Yerkes said.

Miranda said she might pursue similar projects, such as examining contributions by the wives of the college's leaders.

The 273-page book, which is not available in bookstores, can be purchased at gwc.aurora.edu/enduringvision. Kindle editions are available at Amazon.com.

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