Dan Powell feeling welcomed as new CEO at Whatcom Family YMCA


Dan Powell

Dan Powell, the new CEO of the Whatcom Family YMCA at the climbing wall in the Bellingham YMCA building, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Powell was the CEO of the Door County YMCA in Wisconsin.


Dan Powell knows how to hit the ground running when he takes on a new community challenge.

Powell, the new CEO of Whatcom Family YMCA, arrived in Bellingham on a Thursday. Two days later, the 52-year-old outdoors enthusiast ran in the Fairhaven Runners Waterfront 15K on Sept. 15 after he saw a signboard advertising the race.

"I was really enthusiastic about it," he said. "What a beautiful hometown event."

A Wisconsin native, Powell has lifelong roots in the Midwest. An ordained minister and a longtime YMCA administrator, he served the past seven years as CEO of the Door County YMCA, north of Green Bay.

Powell and his wife, Heather, have two grown sons, Tyler and Mikkel, and a 10-year-old daughter, Gracia. He plans to have his family join him in November after Heather wraps up a three-year stint as CEO of the Boys & Girls Club in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

Powell takes over for longtime YMCA director Dave Harding, who retired.

Question: Are you a Green Bay Packers fan?

Answer: I sure am! I'm a self-proclaimed cheesehead and proud of it. I grew up in Wausau (a small town less than two hours from Green Bay), but I'll be rooting for the Seahawks, except when they play the Packers.

And I really like (Seattle quarterback) Russell Wilson. He did great things at the University of Wisconsin.

Q: What are your first impressions of Bellingham?

A: I've been very impressed with how welcoming people are. I feel the area has everything needed to raise our daughter here, from outdoor activities to fine arts, along with higher education components and a temperate climate. Bellingham has a small-town feel with large-town amenities.

I would like to stress our name, the Whatcom Family YMCA, which includes YMCAs in Lynden, Ferndale and Bellingham, and a program in Sudden Valley. It's a countywide mission.

Q: How do you see your mission?

A: Spirit, mind and body. Three primary areas are youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

That last one is the one I especially like to emphasize, everything a community sees as necessary for advancing a welcoming concern for neighbors and the environment; whatever a community needs to become stronger, to lend a hand where a hand is needed, and how we can partner with other community organizations to help.

Q: Did you grow up with the YMCA?

A: The Woodson YMCA in Wausau was very much a part of my foundational growth as a kid, everything from learning to swim and camp to my first jobs as a lifeguard and camp counselor.

I graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and I started out working at the YMCA there.

Q: And then you became a pastor?

A: Right. I graduated with a master's of divinity from Gettysburg (Pa.) Lutheran Seminary. I became a pastor at churches in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

I still consider what I do with the YMCA as a ministry. I'm now a United Church of Christ minister on leave from call.

Q: How did you become re-involved with the YMCA?

A: When I was 37 my love for the YMCA took me back to Janesville (his wife's hometown in Wisconsin). I started as aqua sports and camp director, working with youth.

Q: What's one of your most memorable accomplishments in Door County?

A: When a large day care for working families closed during the recession, people asked us for help at the YMCA. We responded and we found a way to reopen a foreclosed building to re-establish a family day care. That filled a big need in the county.

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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