The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Ron & Merle Gustafson

Keep Moving at the Y


 The Gustafsons - Ron, age 91, and Merle, age 87, - remain highly active. What’s their secret?  “Keep moving,” they say. Married for 66 years, the bright and happy couple attributes their excellent physical and mental health to exercise, socialization, and faith.


Ron and Merle made it a priority to join the La Crosse Area YMCA in 1982, when they moved to the community from South Dakota. Their children were grown, and Ron was asked to work as pastor of the Presbyterian Church on West and Cass streets. He served there for 10 years before retiring. The Gustafsons were not new to the Y: They were members when they lived in South Dakota, where Ron was a pastor in two cities.


Ron’s main focus at the Y is racquetball three days a week. He still plays as strong as he did when he was part of a popular team – known as “three ministers and a tax collector.”  “Exercise is a good discipline,” says Ron on why he never quit working out. The other three of the six days a week that Ron visits the Y, he spends it in the Fitness Center.  He maintains a solid 45-minute routine – three miles on the bicycle, one mile on the treadmill, and about 10 minutes on the weight machines. He also treats himself at the Y to a monthly massage, which offers many excellent health benefits. “It’s another great service the Y offers,” Ron says.


Throughout Merle’s busy life, from working mother to empty nester, she made exercise a part of her routine. After retiring from New Horizons in La Crosse, Merle enjoys morning exercise classes three days a week. She’s brought her children and grandchildren to the Y. “Exercising is such a good example to set,” she says. They inspire family members, which include four children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.


Merle and Ron agree that the Y’s social benefits are just as important to their health as fitness and faith. Ron and his many friends have “round table discussions” about various topics over coffee in the men’s locker room area. Merle loves her circle of friends who meet in the main lobby for coffee and conversation after exercise class. Now that they live in Arizona six months each year during the winter months, they have numerous friends in both places they call home. Merle believes it’s important to remember names, and she’s proud that she recalls her friends’ names in Y classes when she returns in the spring. “Exercise helps our minds and our bodies,” she says.


Exercise is a large reason behind the couple’s strong creativity. Ron continues to minister and preach in Arizona and throughout the Coulee Region. People tell Merle his Sunday sermons, which Ron writes himself, “get better all the time,” she says. “I love when people tell me how creative he is.”  Merle keeps her mind sharp by playing the piano and reading for book clubs. They also exercise extensively in their retirement community. Ron enjoys that he can bike year round. From one side of the country to the other, it’s no secret that the Gustafsons are fantastic role models to “keep moving.”

– by Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink, LLC