In 1964, the late businessman Doug Dayton applied to join the board of what is now the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.

Dayton, 39 at the time, wrote on his application that he had “no special talents.”

To the contrary, Dayton, since 1952, had volunteered at a YMCA camp.

Dayton, a hands-on guy, had helped plant 100,000 trees at Camp Ihduhapi. And he had plenty of other experience.

Dayton dropped out of college and made sergeant in the Army before returning to school after combat-decorated service in Europe.

Moreover, Doug Dayton was one of the brothers who took their Dayton’s department stores from local operator to regional powerhouse after World War II. Dayton, in the early 1960s, also started Target for the Dayton Co., which became the company’s centerpiece as it grew to one of America’s largest retailers.

The late Doug Dayton’s legacy of generosity has lived on beyond his 2013 death, embodied in the new downtown YMCA.

Over more than a half century, Dayton donated or raised around $60 million for YMCA buildings and programs.

Dayton, who died at 88 in 2013, is still giving.

His foundation, as well as some family members and acquaintances who seek to honor his memory, is investing several million dollars in what will open later this month as the Douglas Dayton YMCA at Gaviidae in downtown Minneapolis.

“Doug loved the YMCA,” said his widow, Wendy Dayton. “I’m just carrying his torch.”

Doug Dayton, also an avid conservationist who served numerous community causes as volunteer and donor, particularly liked the YMCA because it was common ground for people from of diverse race, background and incomes. (Full disclosure: The YMCA is the only club that would ever have me as a dues-paying member.)

Doug Dayton left Dayton Hudson Corp. in 1971 to invest in small businesses. Dayton, a shrewd businessman who knew something about location and leasing, also would appreciate the financial and real estate move the YMCA is making to replace its 30-year-old headquarters and flagship health center on several floors of the LaSalle Plaza building on 9th Street and Lasalle Avenue.

CEO Glen Gunderson of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities said the investment in vacant-but-prime real estate at 6th and Nicollet Mall will cost the YMCA only about “net $15 million.”

The buy-and-remodel cost of the YMCA’s Gaviidae location is about $30 million. Gunderson and his team plan to sell the LaSalle Plaza space, which is assessed at more than the $10 million by Hennepin County.

The new Nicollet Mall location, at the heart of downtown, is designed to drive membership, increase visibility and enhance its ability to work with corporate and nonprofit partners. The YMCA will vacate 110,000 square feet it owns in the LaSalle Plaza building to move to about 105,000 square feet in Gaviidae.

The Douglas Dayton YMCA at Gaviidae, including a new association headquarters, will boast more state-of-the-art equipment, a pool, fitness and health programs, including massage, and a rooftop facility. It will include the George Wellbeing Center, funded by the Bill and Penny George Foundation. It will integrate stress-reducing exercises with lifestyle coaching, nutrition counseling, meditation and related therapies.

On the third floor, the Equity Innovation Center will provide experiential learning, and state-of-the-art simulations on equity, diversity, inclusion and global realities.

Doug Dayton, a practical guy and kind of the “common man” among the larger-than-life Dayton brothers, may have scratched his head over some of these 21st-century health innovations. For him, the key was that diverse stakeholders, regardless of means, would all benefit from the YMCA.

There will be millionaires and foundations contributing to the new downtown YMCA, and members tossing in a few bucks to a few thousand.

Doug Dayton liked the all-in funding model.

It was my honor to interview Doug Dayton a few months before his 2013 death. 
And he told me, from his wheelchair but still strong of spirit shortly before his death, that he greatly enjoyed serving the common good.

“You bet your life it is [satisfying],” Dayton said. “After all, we made our life off the community.”

Years after Target Corp. sold Dayton’s, including its flagship downtown store, it will be good to have the “Dayton” name back on the Nicollet Mall.

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