Cora J. Pope Trust donates $500,000 to Ottawa Y project

Commons senior wellness and resource center will be named in Pope’s honor

This gift fits the spirit of our mission.

—  John Walker, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, who sits on both the Cora J. Pope Trust and YMCA boards.

As plans were being formed to build a new YMCA facility along the Illinois River in Ottawa, the Y’s Executive Director Joe Capece said he was seeking community groups with a shared vision.

One of the first groups to step up was the Cora J. Pope Trust.

The Trust’s board made an official announcement Thursday it will be donating $500,000 to the Ottawa YMCA, which is in the process of building a 65,000-square foot Healthy Living Campus with modern amenities at an estimated cost of $20 million.

To honor Pope’s legacy, the senior wellness and resource center at the new facility will be named the Cora J. Pope-Presbyterian Commons Senior Wellness & Resource Center.

“This gift fits the spirit of our mission,” said John Walker, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, who sits on both the Trust and YMCA boards.

Pope spent her life helping others and opening her Prospect Avenue mansion, which is on the hill above Allen Park directly across the Illinois River from where the new Y will be built, to senior women. The Trust continues with the mission of helping seniors.

“That’s where our missions come together,” Capece said.

When a community survey was taken three years ago, it showed Ottawa had little to no senior services available. By 2022, seniors were expected to make up 22% of the city’s population.

“We needed to get prepared for this,” Capece said.

The Y has since amped up its senior services, and plans to cater to their needs in a big way with its new facility. The new building will feature a natatorium with both a competition pool and warm water therapy pool, group exercise studios, kids’ adventure center, child watch areas, family locker rooms and multi-generational spaces for seniors and teens.

Not only will the Y provide services directly to seniors that will have an impact on their lives, but also the building space and facility commemoration will give the Cora J. Pope Trust more exposure.

The Trust’s board wants to raise awareness of $2,500 grants made available to seniors 55 years and older, enabling them to improve or upgrade their current living space so they can continue to dwell in their homes with comfort and dignity. For more information on these opportunities, go to or call the First Presbyterian Church at 815-587-3794.

“I was mayor of Ottawa for 20 years and I didn’t know about the (Cora J. Pope Trust) board,” said former Ottawa mayor Bob Eschbach, who is a member of the Y’s steering committee. “This is both good for the Y and good for their organization. They were our first major contributor.”

The Trust’s board knew it wanted to make the donation in April 2019, but had to ensure all the legal procedures were followed before making an announcement Thursday.

Eschbach said the donation gave the steering committee a boost in morale, ensuring them there are caring community organizations that want to donate to the new Y facility. Other community organizations that have announced partnerships are OSF HealthCare and the city of Ottawa. OSF will occupy roughly 9,000 square feet of the center for physical, speech and occupational therapies, including a community kitchen for healthy eating.

Eschbach noted the new Y, along with the new Central Intermediate School on the city’s south end, are two of the most significant construction projects in the city’s recent history.

Capece said more announcements about the upcoming Y project are expected.

He said the design of the facility still is being reviewed by a team of engineers and architects.

No groundbreaking date has been set yet, Capece said.

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.