Love stories from the YMCA

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the holiday. I love it because I think any celebration of love is a great thing. I dislike it because, being single, the holiday always brings with it a feeling of missing out on something- or when you are in a couple, the potential for unmet expectations and (although I love getting flowers and presents when appropriate) it is a holiday that has become so commercialized that much of the genuine meaning behind it is lost.

My son and I used to take our Border Collie, Jasmine, when she was alive, to the nursing home to visit the residents in our town, since it is a day that sometimes can be more of a reminder of someone’s loneliness.  We would tell the story of Valentine’s Day, which in a nutshell, was about a priest who would secretly marry couples, even though the Roman ruler had banned all marriages for soldiers because he did not want them distracted from fighting.  The priest believed that love would help the soldiers find personal peace, so he married them despite risking his own safety.  So the true meaning should be remembered as a day that is about working for peace, and that love is the only way that we can bring peace to our families, our community and our world.

When I was thinking about the holiday, I thought about my work at the YMCA and how the Y is such a great place for connecting people.  The more I thought about it, it occurred to me how many people that I know that met their spouse at the YMCA I thought I would like to feature a few of them.  The YMCA makes an impact in people’s lives, and what a better way to impact someone than to be the place they find the love of their life!

A while back, I wrote an article about one of our members, Paul Havens.  Paul met his wife Jan at the YMCA when they had both been windowed for a time.  Jan says she had recently returned from a vacation and was carrying a bag that had the destination on it.  Paul saw her and struck up a conversation about her bag and her trip.  They began to get to know each other and eventually went on a date.  A short time later, Paul told his friends at the Y that they were thinking about getting married and they have been happily husband and wife for a little over a year now.

Some of my favorite Y love stories are those of people who work for the YMCA.  I will tell let them tell their stories in their own words.

Dinah and Kirk Burgess, Dallas area YMCA 

I met the love of my life at the Y – Kirk Burgess.  Kirk began working for the Y five years ago. As for me, I was teaching land and water aerobic classes for the Y and helping coordinate the wellness department at White Rock.  Kirk and I would attend training seminars at the same time and I thought, wow, he’s cute.   After those meetings, Kirk and I would see each other running at the lake, running different races and we would always “high five” each other and say hi.   

About two years ago Kirk started hanging out at the White Rock Branch – his home branch being Town North.  He asked me to meet him at White Rock Lake one morning for a run around the lake, and it was like magic – we met at the lake, running toward each other, and just collided.  We got engaged in August – eight months later, and got married at the YMCA Turkey Trot in 2010 – 11 months after that run.  Kirk is a Senior Director at the Town North YMCA and I am the Wellness Director at the Park Cities YMCA – sister branches.  

I wish everyone a wonderfully romantic Valentine’s, I know I will have one.  

Doug Fox, executive director at the Irving Family YMCA, and his wife Shaye, who also works for the Y

Shaye and I knew each other growing up at the Boys & Girls Club in our hometown.  My mom was the bookkeeper, so my brother and I basically spent half our life at the Boys Club…and as Shaye recalls – I was the cocky kid that she couldn’t stand.  

Fast forward to high school, and I am sitting in keyboarding class as a teachers aid in the second week of the semester when Shaye enters the class as a new student.  Now the teacher claims to have done this on purpose, but sat the two of us next to each other so I could ‘help’ her get caught up.  Clearly the teacher knew something, as our first date was on March 21, 1987.  We went to dinner at a nice pizza place at the Flower Hill Mall in Del Mar, CA and then off to the perfect romantic movie…Lethal Weapon.  

Though there was a short break in our relationship while I was in college, we’ve been together ever since and are convinced that it was in God’s plan for us to spend the rest of our lives together.  After moving to Texas, to work at the Irving YMCA with our two daughters then 10 and 13, we had no idea that the good Lord had something new up his sleeve for us… 

Enter Drew Matthew Fox on February 20, 2009.  What a blessing he has been for our entire family.  During a time when teenagers start to drift away, this little man helps keep everyone together.  I am so blessed to have spent my entire adult life with my best friend.  Shaye truly is the love of my life, and I can’t believe we are closing in on our 25th Anniversary of that first date.  

Shaye has developed a program here for the YMCA of Metro Dallas and has begun her own Y career.  It certainly helps for both of us to be part of living out the same mission in our lives as well of our jobs.  I am so proud of her for what she does, and I could not have a better partner to go thru life with.  I love you, Shaye!

Jeff Thompson, executive director at Richardson Family YMCA; met his wife Brandi when they were both worked at Camp Grady Spruce.

It was 2002 and I was a program director at Camp Grady Spruce.  Our duties at camp included weekend coverage for Indian Guide Groups that camp out on weekends.  It was my weekend to work and a group from the White Rock YMCA was coming out.  Check in didn’t finish until about 11 o’clock and the program director from White Rock hadn’t gotten dinner yet.  I offered to take her and a group of other Y staff to Whataburger for a late dinner.  This was the first time I met Brandi Leohr.  Whataburger was closed, and I am not sure what Brandi ever did for dinner, nor did I know this was going to be my future wife.

A few months passed and I took a job at the Richardson YMCA working with Aquatics, and the Indian Guide Program.  This position had Brandi and I working together on a couple of projects.  It was us working together on the transition from Indian Guides to Adventure Guides that started us knowing each other a little better and we hung out a few times outside of the Y. 

In 2003 Thanksgiving time was here and I didn’t have a place to go.  Brandi called and invited me to go with her to Oklahoma to see her brother and sister-in-law.  I said no.  Not sure why, but I did.  After a conversation with one of my volunteers on Base Camp, I called Brandi back to see if the offer still stood.  She said yes and we planned to go to Oklahoma that weekend.  Something happened with her family and we were not able to go, but we spent the weekend hanging out with each other.  A few months later we were meeting each other’s families and a few months after that we were looking at future houses.

In 2004 I proposed to Brandi at one of the recognition breakfasts in front of a few hundred YMCA staff.  She said yes, we bought a car, a house, got a dog and now have 2 kids.

I’m also told that’s Jeff’s proposal included lyrics from a Randy Travis song.

And finally, last but not least, our executive director at Rockwall Family YMCA, Mike Atkins and his wife Pam, who is an associate executive director at Frisco YMCA, are a family who have also made the YMCA a part of their family and their lives.

Our story is we were set up on a blind date at my aunt’s house.   Both Pam and I went to the University of Texas and my aunt had previously tried to get me to look her up at school because she was friends with Pam’s mother and father and with my mother and father. One night she invited my family over to her house and invited Pam over without telling me.  While we were playing trivial pursuit, Pam and I did not hit it off, I tried to tease her and she said “You don’t know me well enough to make fun of me!” so I thought, “OK that’s it,” and I didn’t speak to her for the rest of the night.  

Close to a year later she approached me on campus as I was skipping class waiting for the bus, and said “Do you remember me?”  We rode the bus together that day.  I skipped that same class for weeks so I could run into her.  We’ve been together ever since, 25 years.

Liz Jones is the Membership and Wellness Director at the Rockwall County YMCA.

So the YMCA is not only a great place to get healthy, but it is also somewhere that people connect on many levels, and a place that people can build their families around.  I wish all of you reading this a day full of love and a life full of connection.

Liz Jones is the Membership & Wellness Director at Rockwall Family YMCA, located at 1210 N Goliad in Rockwall, TX.  She is a writer, certified yoga instructor, and wellness coach.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and Strategic Management, with a graduate certificate in Ethics and Leadership.  Her undergraduate studies included communication, business, writing, art, fitness, and dance.

She is trained in Reiki, Guided Imagery, and various healing methods. She has also trained in Shotokan karate and other forms of martial arts and self-defense.  Her background includes non-profit management and working with various at-risk populations, women’s empowerment workshops, and mentoring programs.

Liz Jones can be reached at or 972-772-9622.

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