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Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021

Lash Family Honored at New YMCA Camp Forbing

Moving forward and celebrating the past

Hundreds gathered Oct. 26 in what is now an open field as the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana announced its return to the Camp Forbing area and paid tribute to a family that remains dedicated to the YMCA and its mission.

YMCA Chief Executive Officer Gary Lash and his family were on hand to break ground on the construction of what will be known as the Lash Family YMCA.

It will be a 30,000- to 45,000-square-foot facility behind the Silver Star Grille in south Shreveport. An anonymous donor came forward to get the construction started. The YMCA will raise the remainder of the project funds as the construction process begins. The YMCA anticipates it will take between 10 and 12 months to build the new facility.

The family has been involved with the Y for more than 40 years.

During the groundbreaking, Lash spoke about the role the YMCA has played and will play in his family and the community.

“It’s been a blessing,” he said. “It’s going to be a blessing. We’re just so excited for everything that we have to offer. And we hope that you all can participate in being a member and help us build up this community and your families.”

Gary’s sons, Tyler and Austin, spoke at the groundbreaking about growing up with the YMCA and Camp Forbing. Their mother, Renee, taught aerobics classes there, and both boys were campers, lifeguards and counselors at the camp. Their father did whatever was needed, the boys recalled.

“It’s hard to think about my dad without thinking about the Y,” Tyler said. “I’d be hard pressed to believe anyone has spent more time inside those walls since the 1980s than (Renee). Both of them have invested an incredible amount into this organization.”

When the YMCA announced its return to the Camp Forbing area of south Shreveport, it fulfilled a commitment to honor its past.

The roots of Camp Forbing run deep — to the very foundation of Shreveport.

“That’s where the treaty for Shreveport was signed,” Lash said.

There is a historical marker on Flournoy Lucas Road east of Ellerbe Road that commemorates the treaty. That was the site of the Caddo Indian Nation house, where the treaty was signed.

Lash has done extensive research on the history of the Camp Forbing property and the surrounding area, including ties to a U.S. president.

“The property where the CVS is and south was owned by Andrew Jackson,” Lash said. “He had a fig factory there.”

Before the YMCA operated Camp Forbing, it was owned by the Disciples of Christ denomination, and the Louisiana Sunday School Association operated a camp there.

“That was the Glorietta of the day,” Lash said. “People would come to Shreveport and ride a train to Forbing.”

Lash said he found the remnants of a train dock once while surveying the property. He said there also was a dormitory and a 1,000-seat open-air tabernacle.

“Billy Sunday came and preached there,” Lash said. “He was the Billy Graham of that day.”

The YMCA took over the property in the mid-1940s after paying some back taxes, Lash said. The church requested use of the camp for two weeks a year for a boys’ summer camp — the Y operating its camp there the rest of the time.

Lash has collected several artifacts from Camp Forbing’s history that will be displayed in the Lash Family YMCA building. Among the most famous of those artifacts is a sign that hung outside the swimming pool that Elvis Presley built … well, sort of.

“Elvis was under contract with KWKH for three concerts,” Lash said. “In December of that year, Elvis appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ All of a sudden, he’s too big a deal to come back to Shreveport. Henry Clay owned KWKH and was the Y’s fundraiser. He made a deal with Col. Tom Parker that Elvis does a benefit concert for the Y, and he would let him off the hook for the other two.”

That benefit concert paid for the construction of the pool.

Lash also has a segment of a wooden beam from the old lodge where a young Terry Bradshaw wrote his name — Bradshaw’s “first autograph,” as Lash calls it.

There are two old telephone poles carved into totems depicting the area’s history that will be on display.

Lash said all the artifacts are important to how the YMCA got to where it is today.

“We want to keep that type of stuff,” he said. “It’s important to remember where you came from, to honor the history and honor the people who got you to where you are.”

The YMCA sold 30 acres of the Camp Forbing property in 2014 to NewQuest, a Houston-based developer that built Camp Forbing Town Center. This retail development includes Silver Star Grille, a Kroger grocery store and other businesses. Selling the property was part of an overall strategy that included eventually returning to the area, Lash said.

“We gave up something good to get something great,” he said.

One of the things the YMCA got was its building at the corner of Knight and Preston streets. The YMCA plans to recreate the outdoor education and recreation opportunities many remember at Camp Forbing with a new endeavor adjacent to that facility.

“That’s 120 acres,” Lash said. “Forbing was 50. So you can see the opportunity we will have there to recreate those summer camp adventures and year-round adventures for people in the community.”

The 120-acre site, built around a preexisting lake, will include boardwalks and decks to traverse the area, trails, a boathouse and kayak launch, an outdoor amphitheater and education outposts, among other things.

The YMCA also purchased the baseball fields next to its property from Shreveport Little League about a year ago with capital outlay dollars. Lash said it would remain the home of the Shreveport Little League. But the expansion includes nine fields with artificial turf, which should attract tournaments that will, in turn, help support economic impact for the area.

The YMCA’s research estimates an economic impact of $4 million in the first year by hosting 20 tournaments with 50 teams each in that first year.

“We have the hotels,” Lash said. “We have the restaurants. We just don’t have the venue. This is helping build those other things. If we don’t get it, it goes south of I-10.”

Lash said all of the YMCA’s expansion plans are integral to the mission of serving the community.

“If we build these things, we will have a distinct advantage,” he said. “We’ll also support our local people having things to do. It’s not to build a huge Y kingdom; it’s just to make our community better.”

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