Recently, I sat down with the Carlisle Family YMCA’s first female program employee, Peg Owen.
1968 was a remarkable year in the history of the United States. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing, Apollo 8 orbited the moon for the first time, our military was fighting in the Vietnam War and the concept of gender equality was just taking hold in our country.
In our hometown of Carlisle, PA another significant event occurred that year. The first female program employee was hired by the Carlisle Family YMCA. Many of you know her, she is an icon at the Y, and has touched countless lives through her years of service. Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to sit down and talk with this amazing woman who has made such a marked difference in the history of the Y. She is none other than Peg Owen and here is a glimpse of her fascinating history.
JS: Peg, you are an integral part of the Carlisle Family YMCA’s history, an icon and an inspiration to others. This year you are celebrating the awesome milestone of 50 years of employment at the Y. Congratulations!
PO: Yes, I have been playing for 50 years! I love it! The Y is home to me. I have so many friends here. I love teaching classes and the people I teach. They are all so much fun! It’s been an incredible experience.
JS: When you were hired in 1968, you were the first female program employee at the Y. How did you come to find employment at an all-male establishment?
PO: I was a swim instructor in Chambersburg before my late husband, Jack, and I moved to Carlisle. I had been teaching since the age of 12 and wanted to continue to do so. I had heard that the Y wanted to begin offering swim lessons, so I approached administration and was hired.
JS: You were quite the trailblazer for women at the YMCA. I am certain the concept of females at the Y was stunning for many. Did you deal with a lot of resistance from the all-male membership?
PO: The men were not happy with my presence at the Y. When I was teaching they would come on deck with no clothes on. My students were very little children at the time and this was inappropriate and embarrassing for both me and the kids. I approached the men and told them they needed to wear swim suits when I was in the pool area. They listened to me but only after expressing displeasure and a little door slamming.
JS: I am curious, were any special accommodations made for you as a female employee in a predominately male environment?
PO: No, not that I recall. A women’s locker room was already there for me to use. Eventually they did post a sign outside the pool area letting the men and boys know when a female was on deck so that they could be dressed appropriately.
JS: 50 Years of service provides a great opportunity to enjoy many different employment experiences. Tell me a little about all the various roles you have held over the years.
PO: Oh my yes, I have had a few different jobs! (Peg giggles) I’ll try to remember them all. I began as a swim instructor and lifeguard. I taught swim lessons not only to the local kids but also for the Capital Area Intermediate Unit students. When the group fitness class craze began I became the first Aerobics Instructor for the Y. I thought it sounded like fun and was willing to give it a try. I helped to organize the first YMCA run, which had 70-75 runners, and assisted with many other races after that including the premieres of the Downtown Mile and the CenturyLink Turkey Trot, both of which are now popular traditions in the Carlisle community. I remember before computerized registration Jack would do all the paperwork for the races, it was a family affair. Registration was all by hand, numbering bibs, spreadsheet for results, etc. Times have changed! I served as the racquetball league coordinator, the fitness class coordinator and somewhere along the line I also became the baby-sitting room coordinator.
JS: Is there any job at the Y that you haven’t gotten to do that you think would be fun? Maybe accounting?
PO (laughing): No, that would not be fun. I can’t sit still long enough for a desk job. I have been moving, running and biking for as long as I can remember. I played outside all day when I was a kid and I am still playing today. I do take my job very seriously though and continuously monitor my class participants’ body positioning and mechanics to assure injury prevention. The Y has sent me to many workshops over the years to help me stay well educated on proper form and new techniques. I am very grateful to the Y for doing this.
JS: I can remember taking your step aerobics class with my mother almost 20 years ago. I could barely keep up with you! Some of the women that were in that class with me, I see leaving your classes today. How have you been able to keep it interesting for the same participants over the years?
PO: A lot of the ladies in my class have been joining me for years. We are a family. I even have retired fitness instructors who no longer teach taking my class. My classes have changed over the years depending on current trends. For example, I no longer teach Step Aerobics. It is too hard on the joints and no longer a recommended style of fitness. Some of the classes I have taught over the years have included Step, Slide, Fitness Frenzy, Spinning and Healthy Back. I designed my current classes; Fit Forever, Muscle Magic and Anything Goes.
JS: Working at the Y must have a very significant meaning to you since you have stayed for 50 years.
PO: It’s a second home. It doesn’t matter what you do when you get here, someone will always embrace you. People gather together and socialize and are very inviting. I love the fact that the staff all support each other and are willing to help anytime there is a job to be done.
JS: As you know the Y has been a part of the Carlisle community for over 150 years. Why do you think the Y is still such a vital part of our community?
PO: I believe it is because of leadership’s passion and belief in what they are doing. They believe in the mission, want to make a difference in the lives of others and have a strong vision for the future for the Y. I also believe that the Y is still around because it is available for everyone in the community. It brings the kids in off the streets and doing something constructive that will better them as they get older. Getting the kids into the Y was the best thing we started doing. The Y would not have survived if it was still a men’s only organization. The Y is also good at changing with the times and being flexible in their programming to respond to the changing needs of the community. The creativity of the staff and Leadership’s willingness to embrace new ideas has kept the Y relevant in our community over the years.
JS: You are an amazing role-model and have created a legacy that will be unmatched by those who follow! What an inspiration! When you started working at the Y did you have any idea you would be paving the way for future female employees and members of the Y, shattering the glass ceiling?
PO: I appreciate you telling me that and other people say that to me as well, but I look up to them too. Everyone does something for the Y. They come here with a purpose beyond exercising and leaving. Our members and employees have heart and a passion and desire to do good. That’s why they come to the Y instead of any other facility. It’s been a delightful journey! I am honored to be an employee here and will hopefully be here for many years to come.
-by Jeanna Som, Marketing Assistant