After decades of living his dream, Waldo County YMCA Executive Director Dale Cross is retiring.

“Even though I worked hard at times, I’ve never worked a day in my life,” Cross said. “This is a dream job.”

While an exact date has not yet been determined, he expects to retire at the end of the summer. The Y board of directors will begin a search for Cross’s replacement with a committee of seven members, according to board member Julie Morse.

“Dale is going to be an incredibly difficult act to follow,” she said.

Cross began working at the Y before attending college in a work-study program, an experience he calls “life-changing.” He was working in a summer program, taking Y kids on outdoor excursions.

“I got a lot more than money; it was an incredible experience,” he said.

As part of the job, Cross was required to learn CPR — which proved useful when a child fell when hiking and was seriously injured. He’s never stopped participating in programs benefiting children since — he’s coached at local schools, driven the Y bus and encouraged children attending programs at the Y to reach new heights.

“Luckily, I’m sort of a lay person who can do a lot of things like drive a bus or coach in the fields,” Cross said, adding he tells the staff at the Y the children are always watching and looking up to the example being set.

“When you don’t even know what’s happening around you, these kids are watching you. They’re all heroes. … They can’t go anywhere without being that hero.”

Cross mentioned the support he's received, and given, throughout the years in glowing terms.

"It's really one team strong here," he said. "I support the people who work here, make sure they have what they need to be successful. … They're getting rich in a different way and that's powerful."

Morse noted there are children — some of whom received financial assistance and others who did not — who return to share success stories. Some of those children, she said, were inspired by Cross’s stories.

“Yes, wonderful leaders who come through the Y,” Cross said, ticking off some who have gone on to military service and become police chiefs. “That is so rewarding to see that happen."

In the mid-1990s, community support allowed construction of the independent Y. Previously, it was a branch of the larger organization. Despite other fundraising campaigns happening at the same time — a total of $20 million between the library, hospital and Y — the nonprofit was able to secure an intial $5.2 million to begin construction. Cross joked the constant asking for money is what gave him his gray hair.

“It was a big step for us,” he said. “I’m only part of a wonderful team in a wonderful community. I don’t know if it could happen anywhere else. … It was amazing how the community just wrapped its arms around us.”

Board member Dan Horton agreed and said without the support of the community, the city and the schools, the new facility would not have been built.

"We wanted to run programs and we had no facility," he said. "We had dreams, that's all we had."

A secondary fundraising campaign took place later to add the pool facility, called “Keeping the Promise.” Cross said he felt it was important to follow through with the original vision for the new facility and said board members did not want to carry long-term debt. More than $4 million in additional funding was raised for the pool.

"(Cross) took over when we were still finding the ground to stand on," Horton said. "His heart has always been in the right place. We have a tremendous board of directors that stood behind and supported him.

"We were told more than one time we were not going to make it … we refused to believe that."

More recently, annual fundraising campaigns allow the Y to offer scholarships.

“We need help every day to allow families who can’t fit it in their budget to afford to come here,” Cross said. “To say we serve the underserved is an understatement.”

But, the focus is not all on families and children. Senior citizen membership has risen to more than 1,000 in recent years.

“As people age, their needs change, but they don’t stop coming here,” Morse said. “Programs have been developed to include them.”

Cross’s favorite programs for seniors are monthly lunches, as well as trips — during which he often can be found behind the wheel of the bus.

“We don’t have all kinds of money but we work hard, together,” he said. “We have people-power here.”

The support of his family and board members has allowed him to continue to work at the nonprofit for so long, Cross said.

“I think the Y in our family has been a wonderful thing,” he said. “I’m the luckiest guy and we’re the luckiest family.”

While retirement means he won’t be arriving for work every day, Cross said he intends to be a part of the Y his entire life by continuing to give back. He said he doesn’t know what shape it will take but he looks forward to what the future brings, both for his own life and the Y.

“The next CEO will take this Y to places we haven’t been, which I can’t wait to see, but I have to step back,” he said. “So this whole process is intentional and has been planned so the Y doesn’t skip a beat of service.”

Recalling experiences he’s had during the past 35 years, Cross said he’s sometimes overwhelmed.

“How lucky can one person be?” he said. “It overflows at times.”