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Carolyn Bogott: YMCA’s Baker eager to give back to community

Diane Baker’s eyes shine as she describes her current job as executive director of the YMCA at the Austin Community Recreation Center.  She comes from a family who feels a responsibility to “give back.” She describes herself as “super passionate” about the community of Austin. In the past, Diane was an enthusiastic parent volunteer for St. Augustine’s school, soccer and for most anything her kids were involved in.  In addition, she served on various community boards, all while working for the family business, McFarland Truck Lines, Inc. Those experiences, plus her five years as Executive Director of United Way of Mower County, taught her about attention to detail and that “everything matters” in the smooth running of an enterprise.

Diane Baker

She was very honored to be selected in May 2019 for her current role at the Austin Community Recreation Center. She was also somewhat overwhelmed by the fact that she would be trusted to manage this new $36 million Community Recreation Center and to supervise more than 100 employees. She was very cognizant of the amount of time and work that had gone into making his long-held community dream come true.  It seemed a “daunting task”, but she was “all in ‘‘ from the first day and she immediately started attending the weekly construction meetings and learning everything she could about the building. Ground had been broken in July 2018 and only the skeleton of the building was done when Diane started her job. She is very proud that the center’s completion in January 2020 came in under budget and ahead of schedule.

During the previous year, besides educating herself about the facility, Diane had to figure out how the center would be managed. This included deciding what services would be offered, staff for those activities and the knottiest problem — membership fee scales. In consultation with the YMCA board, the Hormel Foundation, and the Recreation Center Committee, user fees and membership rates were agreed on. It was the expectation of these groups and of the community that the fees would be low enough to be affordable to many so that this long-anticipated place would draw people from all walks of life.  It seemed this goal was accomplished as people flocked to become members and to use the many aspects of the center after the official opening on Feb. 3, 2020.

However, the pandemic meant that the new YMCA closed on March 17, 2020, on order of Gov. Tim Walz.  At that point, every part of the operation had to be examined with the hope of reopening under strict covid-prevention rules. The next year was very stressful for Diane and her staff.  They were able to reopen very slowly and very carefully in June 2020, only to be required to close again in November. They had developed reservation schedules, careful signage about rules for cleanliness, as well as stringent janitorial procedures. Then in January 2021, the YMCA opened again and has remained open.

Membership and use are rebounding again after dramatic drops when people had to cut their budgets due to job losses and added expenses during the early days of the pandemic. Diane credits the YMCA’s current good position to the hard work of staff, community support and the generosity of the organizations that help fund the YMCA.

Diane is so grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to her. Her goal is to make Austin Community Recreation Center welcoming to everyone and to have staff look like the community, adding to the appeal to all. Getting out of her office and talking to people is what best motivates her. She prides herself in being open to new ideas and her willingness to work hard.  Austin could not ask for more capable and conscientious person in charge of the recreation center.

For more information about the Austin Branch of AAUW, contact Sue Grove  sue.grove@riverland.edu  or Carolyn Bogott  csbogott@charter.net. The American Association of University Women, now AAUW, is open to anyone who has completed a two-year degree or beyond.  AAUW welcomes men who support our objectives and there are student memberships available. AAUW has been empowering women since 1881.  We support equity and education for women.  Scholarships are offered, as well as help in litigation in cases dealing with sex discrimination.  We are the most important and highly respected research and lobbying organization dealing with women’s issues such as equal opportunity and job equality.