Scott Gaalaas, 65, former Oak Park YMCA CEO


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Scott Gaalaas, 65, the former president and CEO of the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park, died on Feb. 22, 2012 in a Knoxville, Tenn., hospital from complications following a stroke.

Gaalaas first joined the local nonprofit in 1997 after working for similar organizations in Indiana and Palatine. He spent 32 years in different facets of the YMCA before his eventual retirement in 2009.

Most notable during his tenure, the Wisconsin native helped put together ambitious plans to relocate the Oak Park YMCA to Forest Park on a much larger scale. But fundraising for the new $24.3 million facility stalled as the economy tanked, and the deal fell through in September 2009, shortly after Gaalaas' retirement.

Jan Pate, the Y's current CEO and a former village trustee, said that was tough news for her predecessor.

"I know it was a huge, huge disappointment for him," she said. "He really wanted to do that for the community, and he felt badly that it didn't come to fruition."

Still, Pate said, Gaalaas was passionate about the organization that employed him for more than 30 years, and his accomplishments were many. He joined the Oak Park YMCA when it was going through financial turmoil, and helped turn the organization around during his 12-year tenure.

"The Y was really struggling, and when he came on board he was able to strengthen it, both financially and programmatically," said Jim Lencioni, a local architect who's been a board member since 2000. "He really helped the Y continue, and thrive, in Oak Park."

Gaalaas went to high school in River Falls, Wis., graduating in 1964, and earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees at Wisconsin universities, according to an obituary provided by the funeral home. He taught science and physical education for eight years and played semi-pro baseball for a decade, pitching for several teams in Wisconsin and the Minneapolis area, before joining the Y in 1977.

Pate said that her former boss was passionate about the YMCA and its family programs, as well as his Swedish ancestry. The building on Marion Street, which dates back to the mid-1950s, Gaalaas would often compare to a 1957 Chevy, she said.

"Anytime I hear someone talk about a vintage car," Pate said of the West Cook YMCA, "I always think of Scott referring to this vehicle. He said, 'You love it and you want to keep it, but it kind of doesn't work all the time.'"

Gaalaas was an avid golfer and enjoyed playing racquetball, canoeing, camping, hunting and skiing. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Loudon County and was active in Rotary International.

He was retired and living with Jan, his wife of 44 years, in Loudon, Tenn. He is also survived by his sons, Eric and Kevin; his grandchildren, Korrine and Kameron; his sister, Linda Gaalaas; and several nieces and nephews.

A service was held on Feb. 25 in the Community Church at Tellico Village, 130 Chota Center, Loudon, Tenn. Memorials to Habitat for Humanity of Loudon County or the Community Church at Tellico Village are appreciated.

Reader Comments

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Larry Piekarz from Forest Park  

Posted: February 28th, 2012 12:58 PM

With our deepest sympathy from the Park District of Forest Park. It was an honor to have known and worked with him.

Ozzie from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: February 27th, 2012 10:13 PM

I had the opportunity to work closely with Scott on several initiatives at the Oak Park YMCA. He truly worked hard to make this facility the best that it could be, against all odds. My condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

Lisa Howe-Ebright  

Posted: February 24th, 2012 11:36 AM

Scott was an incredibly kind and accomplished man. What a loss for his family and our community. With sympathy.

Julie MacCarthy from Oak Park  

Posted: February 24th, 2012 8:19 AM

Scott was an incredibly wise and kind man. My sympathy goes out to his family.

David King from Oak Park  

Posted: February 24th, 2012 7:22 AM

Scott was a True Gentlemen and " Class Act '.

Mary McManus  

Posted: February 23rd, 2012 7:41 PM

When I belonged to the Y and Mr. Gaalaas was still there, he was always so charming and pleasant to everyone. It is sad that he did not live to enjoy much of his retirement

David W Ristau from River Forest and Lahaina  

Posted: February 23rd, 2012 7:36 PM

I think Scott McAdam has said succinctly the thoughts that crossed my mind when reading this article. "Great character and integrity". A true example of living Rotary's 4 way test. Scott will be missed by many.

Scott McAdam from Lemont  

Posted: February 23rd, 2012 7:15 PM

Scott was a man of great character and integrity. He truly believed in the Rotary 4 way test, especially "is it fair to all concerned". We will miss you but will remember all that you did for others.

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