Dan Pile lives, breathes the YMCA credo

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We had a farewell party last week for Dan Pile, Atlanta YMCA senior vice president of operations. There were a lot of people there because he has a lot of friends. I don’t think Dan ever met anyone who wasn’t soon his friend.

I first met Dan Pile somewhere around a quarter-century ago. I received a press release (no emails in those days) about YMCA activities offered in the community.

I decided it would be a good idea to meet this guy, because when you are new to a newsbeat, you want to meet the people who know people. Meeting Dan Pile turned out to be a good move on many levels.

Yes, Dan knows a lot of people. He’s a people type of guy. Second, he was coordinating YMCA activities in North Fulton in a most unique way.

I asked if I could come to see him, and he said sure. But I didn’t find him at the YMCA. No, he had an office in one of those office row houses. There was no gym, no pool, no locker room. There was no YMCA building at all in North Fulton then.

Dan was offering Y programs mostly partnering with schools for space. He had the YMCA involved with kids and their parents through the schools without a physical YMCA presence.

But Dan knows the YMCA spirit is in its people, not buildings. As it turned out, what Dan Pile had secured was a beachhead in North Fulton.

And just like the U.S. Marines, once on the beach it is just a matter of time. I won’t say it was a straight line from that little office to the Ed Isakson/Alpharetta YMCA, but it was mission accomplished.

He is leaving Atlanta/North Fulton, to answer the bell again, this time in some far off place called Birmingham, Ala. They need his special talents, his love of people, his ability to dream and make others share that dream.

Dan had a lot of help, but then Dan inspires a lot of people to help him. But you have to be careful around Dan.

You see I have a theory about Dan Pile. I used to think Dan had a bad knee because he would began conversation with you and the next thing you know he’s got his arm around your neck talking to you like you are his closest friend.

I just figured his knee bothers him from time to time but he doesn’t want to break the moment so he holds on for a little support.

And suddenly you know you are going to do something you had no idea of before, but now it seems like the best thing you could be doing. That is known as his Pile Driver technique.

He pulls you close, talks to you as if you are the most important person in the world. He shares an idea that may seem unattainable now but yet is within grasp if we but try.

After talking to many of his friends, I have discovered that is a common occurrence.

In fact, the only time he can stand without an arm around someone’s neck is when he is standing in a freezing river holding onto only his favorite bamboo fly rod – usually in some far-off place that ends in a vowel: Montana, Colorado, Alaska, South Dakota.

Notice how inaccessible most of these places are. But Dan goes where the fishing is not only good but a challenge.

He is happiest in the middle of a cold stream, holding his bamboo rod. And when he is ready, he just flicks his wrist, floating the lure just so … and BAM, he’s hooked another salmon.

And once he puts his arm around you and pulls you close, he is going to share something special with you. I don’t know how it will start out, but it will end in the letters YMCA. And you are hooked too. Just like one of his salmon.

Dan is good at getting people hooked – hooked on helping other people.

Oh rare Dan Pile, we will miss you. But remember, Georgia ends in a vowel also.


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