Healthy Communities Y Stories YMCA Volunteers

Celebrating years of dedication and service: Russell Otter’s Y story

Russell Otter Smiling for the camera in his red volunteer shirt

Today is the International Day of Older Persons. This day is a great chance to recognize the accomplishments and needs our older population — including the many volunteers who have dedicated countless years of their lives to helping the Y grow as an organization.

I had the pleasure of travelling to the Toronto Central Grosvenor St. YMCA Centre to have coffee with Russell Otter, a long time, dedicated YMCA volunteer with a great sense of humor. Chatting with Russ, I learned that we shared a McMaster University Alumni status, and a passion for volunteerism.

Russ’s relationship with the Y started in September 1972, when he became a member at the old Central YMCA building after moving to Toronto for law school. After regularly attending the noon hour RunFit classes, he was recruited to become a back-up instructor. Eventually, Russ was given his own time slots to teach at Central, and also began to teach the early morning Sunday RunFit session at the Toronto Sheppard Ave. YMCA Centre in North York.

As time passed, RunFit slowly was phased out and program selection became more diverse, so Russ began to teach Cycle Fit and other fitness classes such as Ab Fit. Russ’s hard work was honoured by the Y in 1983, when he won the Volunteer of the Year award. At the awards ceremony, Russ’s dedicated to his classes came shining through when he nearly ran out of the ceremony before receiving his award — because he had to teach a class.

Russ’s passion and dedication impacts the community both inside and outside of the Y. In addition to teaching, Russ has sat on advisory boards for both Toronto Sheppard and Central. Beyond the Y, Russ served as the director of Legal Aid for 13 years before being appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1993. Russ has also been named the president of the Ontario Conference of Judges, and in September, he was named the first Canadian president of the American Judges Association.

Russ told me that the Y community is what has kept him around all these years. He has formed strong bonds with members, and says that the greatest satisfaction he receives from volunteering is a simple “thank you” from members after a class. For Russ, knowing that members and staff appreciated his time and dedication to the Y made it all worthwhile.

After all these years as a volunteer, Russ has no interest in slowing down. As he told me with a smile, “I will retire from volunteering when I get my Y pension!”