With one week under his belt, the YMCA's new executive director says he's looking forward to getting settled into the North Canton community and meeting more residents.
Wheeler, who moved from Florida with his wife and three children, took a few minutes to talk to North Canton Patch during his first week on the job.
North Canton Patch: It’s kind of a big change going from Hollywood, FL, to North Canton, right?
Ben Wheeler: It’s a little different, yeah. Very different community. I’m originally from the mid-west, grew up in the Lansing, MI, area, went to college in Michigan, and my wife’s from Michigan as well. So that’s really where we began. We had a great experience in Florida. It was a great opportunity, and I learned a lot when I was working down there, and we got to enjoy our time. But we were looking forward to coming back to the mid-west and being closer to family and friends.
North Canton Patch: How long were you at the Hollywood YMCA?
Wheeler: I was there for about two years and prior to that I was at the Scheinberg YMCA, also in Florida in Broward County. I was with the Broward County YMCA for about three years.
North Canton Patch: The YMCA environment, is that always what you saw yourself going into?
Wheeler: No, I was business major in college, a minor in psychology, but I was an athlete all the way through high school and in college as well. Before I went to college I had qualified for the work-study program and had gotten a job at the university rec. I was able to go in the summer and do that. And my boss’s husband worked for parks and recreation in Ypsilanti Township, so I worked for both of them in different capacities. I had an opportunity to really experience recreation, run summer camps, run adult leagues, run basketball leagues. After graduation, as I was looking for a job in my field, I came across an opening for a youth and family director at the YMCA in Lansing, MI, which was back in my hometown. That’s how I started my YMCA career.
North Canton Patch: Awesome. And been with the YMCA ever since?
Wheeler: Been with the YMCA ever since. I participated in limited YMCA activities as a kid, but didn’t have a lot of exposure to the YMCA until I got out of college.
North Canton Patch: What do you like about being in the YMCA environment and that career field?
Wheeler: Having a young family myself, I think the YMCA offers a lot of benefits to families and to communities. We’re one of the only organizations that takes care of people from cradle to grave, from beginning to end. We’ve got an infant/toddler program that we’ve got right down the street here … We have swim lessons for kids starting at 6 months. We do gymnastics for kids as soon as they begin to walk. And we do everything in between from swim lessons and summer camps and sports to young adult activities and wellness and fitness, bible study classes and senior fitness Silver Sneakers … And it’s unique.
The mission of the YMCA is to put Christian principles into practice through programs with healthy spirit, mind and body for all. And I always thought that was a really neat thing about the YMCA, the last two words: “for all.” Because, really, there’s no other organization that says “Our goal is to serve everybody," — regardless of whether you’re young or you’re old, if you’re black or if you’re white or if you’re Hispanic, if you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or you’re poor. Our goal is to serve everybody.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of YMCAs and it’s great because every YMCA is different. Because the needs of the community they’re in are different. So it’s important the YMCA is always reflective of the community and identifies what the needs are and makes sure we’re in the best position to fulfill those needs and improve the overall health of the community.
North Canton Patch: What did you like about the North Canton YMCA that led you to take this job?
Wheeler: I think the history of this YMCA was fantastic and the support and involvement of the community. I felt this YMCA really served as the center of this community. This is a very strong association as a whole. The YMCA of Central Stark County is a very, very strong association. And my family and I felt the North Canton area was a really good fit for what we were looking for.
North Canton Patch: Yeah, it’s a cool little city.
Wheeler: It is a cool little city. I like the little downtown. like being close to Belden Village and Jackson Township, but it’s safe and people know each other. I like to go to a parade and I love to know everybody there. So I felt like I have a chance of doing that in a town like this. Especially when working with a YMCA that’s so integral and involved and supported by the community.
North Canton Patch: Paul Beinlich had been in the position for quite a while. Do you feel like you’ve got some big shoes to fill? And what kind of challenges do you think you might face?
Wheeler: I absolutely have big shoes to fill. I think Paul has been a tremendous asset to the YMCA, and he will continue to be. Even in retirement, we’re going to be leaning on him some. Paul is so widely respected. It’s unusual how widely respected he is! I mean, everybody knows Paul, and everybody likes Paul. I haven’t heard one bad word about him. I think Paul has really positioned us to continue to strive for excellence and continue to do great things for the community.
North Canton Patch: Tell me a little bit about yourself outside of the Y — what your hobbies are and what you like to do with your family and your kids.
Wheeler: I try to practice what I preach. I do try to exercise. I think it’s important. I tell everybody else they should be healthy, so I try to be healthy myself. We are parishioners at St. Paul’s Catholic Church across the street. I read quite a bit. I’ve been so busy moving, though, that I haven’t had time to do much else.
My kids are actively involved in the Y, of course. They take swim classes and take gymnastics at the Y.
North Canton Patch: What kind of stuff do you read?
Wheeler: I read a lot of business books and inspirational books, and I also read a lot of non-fiction. I have to balance it, because sometimes you like to read just to get away and be engrossed in a story but sometimes you try to read to better yourself.
North Canton Patch: When you exercise, what do you do?
Wheeler: I run and lift, generally.
North Canton Patch: Anything else you want the folks at the YMCA or people in the community to know about you?
Wheeler: My family and I are excited to be here. We’re going to be here for a long time. We’re really happy to be putting down roots in this community. I’m looking forward to getting to know people. And we really want to thank everyone who’s been instrumental in making us feel welcome so far.