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.
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