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YMCA pays tribute to a co-founder

February 09, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Time is a precious commodity, one that Eldon L. Nuernberger has wasted little of in his 85 years.

For more than 50 of those years, the retired engineer has been involved in the founding and expansions of the Chambersburg YMCA. Those efforts were acknowledged Sunday in a surprise tribute at the building he helped make possible.

Nuernberger said he was in the dark about the tribute until his family told him "you need to dress up."

Three times in the 20th century, community leaders tried unsuccessfully to build a YMCA in Chambersburg. The failures were attributable not to a lack of effort, but world events, said YMCA Executive Director Dave Matthews. World War I derailed one effort, the Great Depression sidetracked another and World War II delayed yet another, Matthews said.

The late William H. Fisher, an executive at T.B. Woods Co., was involved in the earliest effort and influenced Nuernberger and others who formed the core of a group that got the project under way in the 1950s, Nuernberger said.

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"We owe a lot to Bill Fisher," Nuernberger said.

Judge George C. Eppinger, Dr. Dwight Edwards, Marguerite Newkirk and others who turned an idea into bricks and mortar have died, but Nuernberger still is on the board of directors and is chairman of the property committee and co-chairman of the 21st Century Building Committee, Matthews said.

The YMCA that opened in 1956 consisted of a pool, gymnasium and meeting rooms and cost $300,000, Nuernberger said. Today, it is getting a $1.7 million renovation and expansion, including new areas for children and teens, as well as upgrades to the oldest parts of the building, Matthews said.

Sunday's tribute paid homage to Nuernberger's Nebraska roots. The University of Nebraska fight song was played before a plaque in his honor - hidden beneath a flag bearing an image of the Cornhusker mascot - was unveiled. Nuernberger's portrait was under a Huskers blanket.

"The bulldog tenacity shows through that a little bit, doesn't it?" Charles Schroeder, chairman of the YMCA's Financial Development Committee, said of the painting.

The YMCA also established an Eldon L. Nuernberger Lifetime Service Award to honor those who have given long service to the community, Schroeder said.

A product of the Nebraska prairie, Nuernberger played on a state champion high school football team. In his senior year, the team allowed a touchdown in the first quarter of its first game, then ran the table, scoring 322 unanswered points. Nuernberger, who also played defense, scored 115 of them.

In an age when academics offered more opportunity than athletics, Nuernberger chose engineering over football at the University of Nebraska, where he met his future wife, Chambersburg native Louise Eppinger. In 1946, they moved to Chambersburg, where Nuernberger worked for T.B. Woods, eventually rising to vice president of engineering at the power transmission equipment manufacturer.

Laurie McMinn, the youngest of the couple's four children, said her father made every minute count, coming home at lunch and mowing the yard in his suit. Son John Nuernberger recalled his father's thrift, pulling and straightening nails that Nuernberger saved for woodworking projects.

"I know all about the Depression and I'm sure that had an effect on me," said Nuernberger, who recalled farm foreclosures, skies darkened by dust storms, drought and roads left greasy with the crushed remains from a plague of grasshoppers.

The Rev. William Harter, pastor of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church, said Nuernberger has left his mark in athletics, business, the community and at the church where he has worshipped for more than half a century.

"As ministers, we are supposed to be an inspiration to others, but we need inspirations, too," Harter said.

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