90th Anniv newspaper - FINAL crop

The opening of the ‘Bedford YMCA’ was front-page news in the Sept. 7, 1923 edition of the Westporter-Herald.

The Bedford Family Legacy

In 1923, Edward T. Bedford, a successful businessman and Westport’s leading benefactor, built a brand-new Y.M.C.A. for our community at the corner of Main Street and the Post Road in downtown Westport. Mr. Bedford not only provided $150,000 to build the Y but was also responsible for financing the new firehouse next door, designed in the same handsome Tudor style.

On Sept. 5, 1923, while dedicating the new Y, Mr. Bedford told a large audience of local citizens and visiting dignitaries, “All we desire is that it may be most generously and properly used and that we may be permitted with you to continue to contribute to both its upbuilding and financial support.”

The Bedford family’s remarkable legacy of support over the generations has allowed our Y to thrive as a volunteer-led member organization and fulfill its charitable mission of service to our community in ever-evolving ways.

In the late 1920s, Mr. Bedford added an indoor pool, allowing the YMCA to become our community’s leading provider of swim lessons, water safety classes, recreational and competitive swimming.

‘Camp Bedford’

Our YMCA also pioneered summer camp in our community, establishing a day camp for local boys on playing fields behind the Town’s high school. In 1944, Y leaders found the perfect property for a permanent home: a rugged, 30-acre parcel of woods and old farm fields along the Saugatuck River, five minutes north of the Y’s downtown facility.

Frederick T. Bedford, Edward’s son, promised that the Bedford Fund would pay half the purchase price if the community would pay the other half. Within a few weeks the YMCA’s volunteer leaders had collected $10,000 from the people of Westport; the Bedford Fund gave the other half.

It was decided to name the camp, Camp Bedford. But at the request of Frederick Bedford in 1946, the name was changed to Mahackeno, and today the scenic Mahackeno campus is home to both our beloved summer camp and our modern new facility, the Bedford Family Center.

As long ago as the 1950s, the YMCA’s downtown home struggled to keep up with the demands of a baby-booming Westport as it fully embraced female members and sought new ways to serve a burgeoning population of seniors looking to stay physically active and engaged in the community they helped make prosper.

Downtown Expansion

With the help of leaders from throughout the community, including the Bedford family, our YMCA greatly expanded in the 1970s, adding a new aquatics center and health centers for men and women.

In the 1980s, Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren and Ruth Bedford, granddaughters of our founder, provided $200,000 through the Bedford Fund to acquire the Central Fire Station adjacent to the Y and begin the process of converting the matching Tudor-style firehouse into a two-story Fitness Center for our YMCA, complete with original brass pole.

“Mrs. Warren noted that her sister, a Y Trustee, first suggested the Bedford Fund donate the money because, she quipped, it is best to ‘keep it in the family,’” according to an account in the Westport News. “If you have money and don’t spend it on yourself, it’s nicer to give to other people,” the paper quoted Mrs. Warren saying.

Making Mahackeno Happen

By the 1990s, even these efforts to modernize our YMCA proved insufficient to meet the demands of our Members and community. After much discussion among the volunteer leaders who guide our YMCA, the decision was made to build a modern new home for our Y in the best, and only, place possible: Our Mahackeno campus along the Saugatuck River.

Once again, the Bedford family was there to help our YMCA “Make Mahackeno Happen.” With Lucie and Ruth’s support, the Bedford Fund helped spearhead the initial plans for a Y facility that will be able to serve the community for the next century.

By 2011, we were ready to “Build What Matters,” a state-of-the-art, 54,000 sq. ft. full-service, family-oriented facility on the portion of our Mahackeno property adjacent to the Merritt Parkway. Lending critical financial support to this project were Lucie McKinney and Briggs Cunningham III, great-grandchildren of Edward T. Bedford.

Helping guide the construction process as members of the Y’s governing boards of volunteer leaders were two of Lucie’s five children, John McKinney and Libby McKinney Tritschler, representing the fifth generation of the Bedford family legacy.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of many generous donors and steadfast supporters, the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s beautiful new home, the Bedford Family Center at 14 Allen Raymond Lane, opened to members and guests on October 6, 2014.

The Ruth Bedford Bequest

This new era for the Family YMCA continues with the incredibly generous endowment of $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford, announced on March 18, 2015. The Family YMCA is using a portion of the bequest to establish the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, which will allow our charitable nonprofit organization to expand upon our mission to develop youth, promote healthy living and foster social responsibility throughout the communities we have served for nearly a century.

Additional Reading

To read more about the Bedford Family’s history of support for the Westport Weston Family YMCA, as well as the contributions of other distinguished volunteer and staff leaders, please click on the following links:

Family YMCA Announces Creation of $5 Million Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund” (June 17, 2015)

Matt Johnson: A Builder of the Y, and the Communities We Serve” (March 21, 2014)

Pete Wolgast Receives AARP Senior Star of the Year Award” (Dec. 12, 2013)

New First Selectman Marpe Steps Away from Y Trustee Board” (Nov. 20, 2013)

The Y’s Doc Doubleday: The War Years in Westport” (Nov. 8, 2013)

Doc Doubleday, the Westport Y’s First Physical Director” (Oct. 22, 2013)

Another Important Y Birthday” (Oct. 11, 2013)

Honoring 90 Years of Y Families” (Oct. 1, 2013)

The Bedford Family and the Family Y” (Sept. 12, 2013)

Sept. 5, 1923: The Day Westport Got Its ‘Y’” (Sept. 5, 2013)

Descendants of Family Y Founder Edward T. Bedford Continue His Legacy of Giving to Our Community” (May 4, 2012)

Family Y Building Project Bolstered by New $1 Million Gift from Strittmatter Family” (April 4, 2012)

Family Y to Rename Road to Mahackeno “Allen Raymond Lane” (Jan. 23, 2012)