YMCA Hosts 80th Annual Father-Son & Family Banquet

A photograph from the early days at the Hunton YMCA.

The YMCA’s Father-Son & Family banquet began amidst the Great Depression, when a gallon of gas cost only 10 cents.  It endured through the Depression, a World War, the 60s, disco and the internet.  Now, celebrating its 80th year, this time-honored celebration of family was held on Friday at the Roanoke Civic Center Exhibit Hall.

The Father-Son & Family Banquet is the longest, continuously running program at the YMCA of Roanoke Valley. This year, the banquet featured a catered dinner and family fun activities including magicians, clowns, a balloon artist, musical entertainment, hands-on activities with the Virginia Museum of Transportation and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.  The event was emceed by ViBE 100’s radio personality Kianna Price Wade and featured guest speaker Johnny Shelton, chaplain for the Virginia Tech football team.

YMCA of Roanoke Valley President and CEO, Cal Johnson said, “At the YMCA, we provide something special—a sense of community and family.   We bring people and families together so that they can strengthen their relationships and build connections. That’s why it’s such an honor to host the 80th Father-Son & Family Banquet. We went to great lengths to see that this year was the best yet.”

 The Father-Son & Family Banquet is not only a long-standing tradition honoring the unique family bond; it is also an event that showcases the YMCA’s role in Roanoke history. The first Father-Son Banquet was initiated in 1932 by L.A. Lee, the first director of the William A. Hunton Branch YMCA.  The Hunton Y was Roanoke’s YMCA for black Americans, and as such, the first banquets were attended only by black residents. Old news stories speak of the Y consisting of pool and ping pong tables, and a library in the basement, which was the only library where blacks in the city could check out books.

Segregation at YMCAs ended in 1964, and black Americans in Roanoke were invited to use the Central YMCA downtown.  The banquet has evolved over the years—from its humble beginnings with just a dozen or so fathers and sons in attendance to the family event that is now attended by hundreds each year.

One of Roanoke’s best-known nonagenarians, Al Holland, was in attendance for the very first Father-Son banquet in 1932 as well as this year’s 80th annual banquet. In fact, Holland has attended the banquet every year, with the exception of two that he missed due to his service in the Army during World War II. Although many things about the banquet have evolved over the years, Holland said in a recent interview that the spirit of the event remains the same.  “We’ve still got to have something to let the children know we care about them, I think that’s what it’s all about.”

The YMCA of Roanoke Valley was founded in 1883 and includes Kirk Family YMCA, Salem Family YMCA, Gainsboro Family YMCA and the YMCA Magic Place. The YMCA focuses on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility in its mission throughout the Valley.

For more information on the YMCA, visit www.ymcaroanoke.org.