The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Vanetta Fish

Y reflects educator's commitment to independent, healthy lifestyle


At age 91, Vernetta Fish has exercised since she was a member of the U.S. Marines during World War II. She’s been a member of the YMCA-La Crosse Branch for longer than she recalls. Her life story would reflect her commitment to keeping physically and mentally fit. She describes herself as an “early bird” so coming to the Y at 7:30 a.m. suits her perfectly. Her favorite Y class is chair yoga. Readers of her story also would discover a hard-working and adventurous woman, dedicated not only to health but to education, literacy, the armed services, and her family.

      “If I didn’t keep up on exercising, then I may have to be dependent on others, and I don’t want to do that,” says Vernetta, who confidently drives her own car and maintains her own home. “I feel better doing new activities too.” Exercising at the Y keeps her mentally sharp. She shares that she recently purchased software to learn how to embroider on the computer. “I bought that so I don’t get Alzheimer’s,” says Vernetta, her eyes shining in laughter. Her story has always been one of a highly independent person, working on farms as a child with her family. After high school graduation, she earned a two-year diploma and taught one year in a rural school. She then decided it was her chance for an adventure, when in 1943 she joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Vernetta was in one of the first groups of women to train at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. She continued to serve in the Marines in California, until she was discharged in November, 1945.

      Returning home, Vernetta married her high school sweetheart, Ara, on March 21,1946. He served in the war in the U.S. Army, mainly stationed in the South Pacific. Vernetta and Ara graduated from Bangor High School in the Class of 1940. They were married nearly 60 years when he passed away in 2005. They had five children, and have 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. In 1952, she earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching. She taught in Sparta and then Roosevelt Elementary School in La Crosse for three years. She took time off for 14 years to raise her children and earn a master’s degree to be a reading specialist. “I love reading, and I loved helping students to read,” Vernetta says. “It’s so essential for people to learn how to read and to read well.” She volunteered for Coulee Region Literacy Council and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Auxiliary. Back to the workforce, she spent four years as a reading specialist in Black River Falls, and then in West Salem, where her family lived. For 18 years, she was district reading specialist for kindergarten through grade 12, before retiring in 1992.

     She is an inspiration to many. A fellow Y member says, “Vernetta is always pleasant and positive. She gives it her all in class, which is why she inspires those of us who are younger and also have physical issues.” Vernetta enjoys having the Y as a resource for exercise and friendships that provide her support. “I’ve met many friends,” she says. For her 91st birthday in January, she was pleasantly surprised to receive bunches of cards in her mailbox from Y members. She didn’t know that her exercise group gathered secretly with cards, envelopes, and stamps. And her Y friends didn’t realize that they sent her a lot of much needed cheer during her darkest days. Earlier this year, she lost two of her children to cancer, within one month of each other, as the birthday cards started arriving to the post office. The circle of kindness and caring at the Y is a story that never ends. – by Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC