Unofficial historian: Y gave YSU its start

The YMCA’s first recorded
educational course started in 1888.



YOUNGSTOWN — Al Leonhart firmly believes that, if it weren’t for the YMCA, there might not by a YSU.

Leafing through a stack of old newspaper clippings and historical documents, he pointed out that Youngstown State University got its start from educational programs launched by the YMCA.

Leonhart is the assistant building superintendent and unofficial historian for the Youngstown YMCA.

YSU is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2008 and traces its history to a YMCA program that began offering law degree classes in Youngstown in 1908. Those were the first college-level courses offered by the YMCA.

“If not for the Y, there might not be a YSU,” Leonhart said.

The Youngstown YMCA is proud of its historic early role in the development of college education here, Leonhart said, noting that its educational offerings go back at least another 20 years beyond 1908.

It began offering its first recorded educational class — mechanical drawing — in 1888.

Jones Hall was actually built by the YMCA in 1931 as its educational programs were expanding and additional space was needed, Leonhart said. It boasted 34 rooms and could serve 4,000 students, he said.

It was built completely out of Indiana limestone at a cost of $350,000, and 300 local men were hired to build it as the country sought to recover from the Great Depression, he said.

It was known as Main Building Hall at the time, Leonhart said, adding that it was later renamed Jones Hall in honor of Howard Jones, the first president of Youngstown College.

Jones was initially hired by the YMCA in 1931 as its assistant general secretary in charge of all educational activities, Leonhart said.

The educational programs began under the Youngstown Association School banner and, by 1920, had added a four-year business administration course of study.

The YMCA trustees changed the name to the Youngstown Institute of Technology in 1921 as programs expanded.

“We were referred to as ‘The Working Man’s University,’” Leonhart said, explaining that early programs were designed for men and boys who had to work during the day and could only go to classes at night.

The YMCA school awarded its first degrees — bachelors of laws — in 1922.

The school began to admit women in the late 1920s, one of the first YMCA schools in the country to do so.

It also claimed to have the lowest tuition of any YMCA school, Leonhart said.

The ever-growing list of programs resulted in the YMCA trustees again changing the name, with the institution becoming Youngstown College in 1928 but remaining a YMCA program.

Classes were initially all offered in the YMCA building, but, as space demands grew, the institution began looking for more room and bought a house in the 300 block of Wick Avenue around 1924 to hold its college-level classes.

In 1926, the YMCA bought the John C. Wick mansion on Wick Avenue for $125,000 to house classes. It was later razed to make way for Main Building (now Jones Hall) in 1931.

Youngstown College gained a large measure of independence from the YMCA in 1944, Leonhart said, explaining that the trustees transferred full responsibility and all school properties to the board of governors of Youngstown College Corp.

However, the newly independent college was required to have YMCA board members serving on its board of governors.

The college was fully accredited the nest year by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

Full independence was realized when the board membership requirement was dropped when Youngstown College became Youngstown University in 1955, Leonhart said.

The name became Youngstown State University when the university joined the state system of higher education in 1967.

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