New Portrait in Linwood YMCA Gym Honors Harold Mezile
When Harold Mezile was a child going to swim, gym and summer day camp programs at the Paseo YMCA, it didn’t cross his mind that he would work at the Y someday.
He went on to become a key figure in the history of the Linwood YMCA and have a successful 40-year career at YMCAs across the country. As the first executive director of the Linwood YMCA when it opened in 1975 at Linwood and Cleveland, he paved the way for future generations here in Kansas City and was known for his dedication to youth.
To recognize Mezile for his leadership, the Y unveiled his portrait in the gym of the renovated and expanded Linwood YMCA/James B. Nutter, Sr. Community Center when it opened to the community on February 20, 2017. Mezile and his wife Peggye attended the ceremony as part of the ribbon cutting celebration.
Since the original building opened in 1975, notable Y and community leaders have been recognized with their portraits at the top of the gym walls, painted by local artist Lucky Eastwood. Other portraits include Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver, Lawrence A. Jones, G.L. Blankinship, Rev. Earl Able, Lucille Bluford, Alvin Brooks, Ollie Gates and Winnie Ayers.
To have the opportunity to come back for the ribbon cutting of the new center and see the Linwood YMCA still thriving was especially meaningful for Mezile.
“What I wanted to do was create an institutionalized way to have services and make sure they are ongoing,” Mezile said. “It wasn’t just about the time I was there, but to plant some seeds to grow. Here it is, almost 40 years later, still going strong. To see the Y renew to continue serving the community is tremendous.”
Mezile began volunteering for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City in the 1960s, as a Board member for the Department of Urban Concerns, and also became a member of the Metropolitan Board of Directors (now known as the YMCA of Greater Kansas City Association Board).
In his volunteer roles, he worked to build programs to bring racial understanding during a time of tension in the community.
He was hired as the executive director of the Linwood YMCA in 1973. He came in with a new vision, new ideas and a passion for the community, and rallied supporters around the common goal of providing quality opportunities for youth.
He helped raise the needed funds to construct the original Linwood YMCA building that opened in September 1975.
The center attracted people from both middle class and urban areas around the city. Mezile began a child care program there. He also focused on education, leadership and job opportunities for youth.
“The commitment to serving lower income communities and giving prestige to that work is something my life vision has always been about,” Mezile said.
Mezile went on to serve a successful 40-year career with YMCAs across the country, retiring in 2013 as the CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis (now the Twin Cities YMCA).