Monday, June 20, 2011

The Y is My Connection: Mr. Lou

The Y is an important part of people's lives. Just ask Mr. Lou, a longtime A.E. Finley Y member. Hear Mr. Lou talk about his extraordinary experiences during World War II during the Finley Freedom Festival on June 26. His presentation will be in the main building at 6 p.m. Come early to get seat!

Mr. Lou
It all started when “Mr. Lou” was 11 and started swimming at the Lincoln Branch YMCA in Chicago. During the Depression, it was a safe haven where kids could get off the streets. By 14, he was handing out towels and baskets at the fitness desk in lieu of dues and playing sports. A stand-out, he brought the Y relay swim team out front with his strong freestyle stroke. And in 1940, he took home the Chicago Tribune Golden Gloves Welterweight championship.

Enlisting in the U.S. Navy at 18 right after high school, he did a 4 ½-year stint during World War II repairing aircraft in the South Pacific. Between 1942 and 1946, he served aboard a naval carrier and helped American forces police the skies. Even far from home, Mr. Lou always found a YMCA. “No matter what location, when I was in the service in the states, I always went to the Y,” he recalls. “I knew that I could leave on a break, get a fresh shower, always. That’s just one thing you could count on.”
Y Swim Team (Mr. Lou 3rd from left)

While he was training at a U.S. Navy school in Dearborn, Michigan he met his wife, Ruth at a Valentine’s Day dance. They were so smitten with each other (and he couldn’t dance anyway) that they spent the whole time talking. One thing led to another and they got engaged. While biding time before their wedding day, he rented a room briefly at the local Y near her home in Detroit. “That’s just what single men did back then,” said Mr. Lou.

Mr. Lou quickly landed a job in automotive advertising. The Y in Detroit was in a “high-rent” district. This meant an “executive” locker room and a “regular” locker room. And it was the same for the hot tubs. “It was just men and boys back then,” said Mr. Lou. “No ladies. They couldn’t even come in to wash the towels,” he adds with a laugh. Youth sports were played like intramurals with their major external rival being the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Here, Mr. Lou became a part-time swim instructor and that’s where the name “Mr. Lou” first took.
Golden Glove Mr. Lou

Now retired and working part-time at Finley’s fitness desk, he lives in Raleigh near his daughter (he also has a son in Michigan) and five grandchildren. Mr. Lou still marvels over the differences between the “men-only” Y and the present-day Y. Back then it was truly a “young men’s” association. Today, it has grown to an all-encompassing organization that serves both genders, all ages and all socioeconomic classes. What has stayed the same, though, is the social interaction.

“This job is my connection with people. It’s my connection with the young and the old. It inspires me and gives me energy. I’m not here for the money. I need this. It’s an important part of a great life in retirement.” – Mr. Lou Brandau

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