A busy man is a happy man, an old saying goes.
If that’s truly the case, Christopher Reese could be the happiest man in Linn and Benton counties.
On July 1, Reese, 46, will take over as executive director of the Mid-Willamette Family YMCA. But the retired Army colonel has no plans to close his Southpaw’s Pizza and Sports Bar restaurant in North Albany. In fact, he plans a second one in Eugene this fall, and also has plans to open Major League Burgers — an old-fashioned hamburgers, shakes and fries shack — starting in North Albany and expanding nationwide. His 10-year goal is to open 450 shake shops.
But for now, the retired Army colonel and helicopter pilot has been developing a master plan to manage the YMCA, its 150 full- and part-time employees and to serve its 5,400 members.
“I have served on the YMCA board since we moved here 11 years ago and Jim Asleson is my mentor, friend and a great guy,” he said. “He always knew that I wanted his job when he retired.”
Asleson was the local director for 25 years and oversaw development of the $17-million, 600,000-square-foot YMCA complex before retiring at the end of 2018.
Reese said the YMCA job was a perfect fit.
“I’ve coached hundreds of kids in football, basketball and baseball,” he said. “The YMCA includes a faith component. It is one of the last Christian-based organizations outside of local churches. We are so much more than a gym. It’s a place where we can help people walk through life. I want us to build lifelong relationships.”
Although he opened Southpaw’s Pizza in August 2016, Reese did not retire from active military service until March 2018. He spent 10 months with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, but found it wasn't the right fit for him and his family.
“I loved it. There are some amazing people there and we still keep in touch,” Reese said.
Reese has three immediate goals:
• Develop all of the YMCA property. That includes selling a vacant lot next to the old building and developing the new complex's seven acres. He would like to add athletic fields that would accommodate all ages of players and serve what he sees as a growing area in south Albany.
• Grow the Y’s after-school programs in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Albany is projected to grow to 90,000 residents by 2050,” Reese said. “We need to prepare for that growth now. I want to be a leading-edge guy and make sure my grandkids can enjoy living here.”
• Increase the aquatic center’s profile. The YMCA’s aquatic coordinator will be leaving to earn a master’s degree and Reese said it's the time to hire an aquatics director who can grow water-based programs at the facility. He has been meeting with aquatic program directors around the state to develop a master plan for the pool areas.
Reese said his leadership style is to hire the right people, train them properly, give them responsibility and support, and get out of their way.
“I want our employees and our members to feel like family,” he said. “I want us unified to serve a common purpose and that is to provide an exceptional experience for our members. I expect our employees to be loyal to our plan. They need to check their personal agendas at the door and keep their eyes on our goals. We have to all be headed in the same direction.”
And ultimately, Reese said, his goal is actually to be a missionary in the community.
“We need to keep people off the streets, help keep them from making bad decisions and to minister with them,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way to serve our community than being here and letting people know the YMCA is a relevant organization. We are all-encompassing.”
The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in London on June 6, 1844 and has grown to include 58 million members worldwide. Its founding goal was to instill Christian principles into practice by “developing a healthy body, mind and spirit.”