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Hillis selected to lead Eau Claire YMCA

Theresa Hillis

Theresa Hillis, Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA’s chief executive officer, has been named the new chief executive officer of the Eau Claire YMCA in Wisconsin.

Hillis’ last day at the Willmar organization will be Feb. 28.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Hillis said Monday in a Kandiyohi Count Area YMCA news release. “Kandiyohi County is a wonderful community that is blessed to have many giving people.”

The last weekend in January, Hillis got married, visited with family and dropped her sister off at the Mall of America in the Twin Cities on her way to a reception in Eau Claire for the three finalists hoping to become the next leader of the Eau Claire YMCA.

Hillis interviewed for the position the next day in Eau Claire. She got the job.

“We had a number of qualified candidates, but Theresa stood out with her wealth of experience, knowledge in operational budgets, staff development and fundraising,” said Jenny Fesenmaier, Eau Claire YMCA board chairwoman. “This experience made her the No. 1 candidate to continue to grow our Y, continue to spread the mission in the community, collaborate with our partners (Mayo Clinic Health System and UW-Eau Claire) in the new facility.”

The YMCA is a partner in the planned Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex on Menomonie Street, where the Y would relocate from its downtown location after it eventually is built.

Hillis has worked for almost 30 years at YMCAs in California, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire and Minnesota. She has been the chief operating officer of the YMCA based in Willmar since 2006. During her tenure, she also has served as interim CEO for the YMCAs in the Minnesota communities of Alexandria and Brainerd.

Hillis has led the Kandiyohi Y through significant change, according to Joanna Schrupp, Kandiyohi YMCA board chair. During her tenure, the YMCA increased membership, added significant programs such as School-Age Child Care and a Summer Reading Program and conducted a $2.7 million capital expansion campaign, which added a larger wellness studio, two racquetball courts, a new gymnasium and a 24/7 adult fitness area.

She “has been an asset to our YMCA and the community overall. We were blessed to have her in our community for the past 12 years and we all will miss her,” Schrupp said.

“I am thankful to the volunteers, donors, members and staff who I have worked with over the past 12 years that are dedicated to the YMCA mission and are passionate about strengthening our community,” Hills said.

The Kandiyohi YMCAs board with guidance from UMCA of the USA will launch a nationwide search for a new CEO, Schrupp said. A search committee of YMCA volunteers is being formed and they anticipate the process to find a new CEO will begin shortly.

Hillis has two adult sons. She is an avid hiker, a self-proclaimed bad golfer and a lifelong consumer of books. She is a U.S. Air Force veteran and served as a medic in the Gulf War.

“After 12 years, I was ready to take the next step and move to a new community,” Hillis said. “I really love the Midwest, so I looked at the list of YMCA job openings and found Eau Claire.”

“The (Eau Claire) YMCA is very attractive, and it has an amazing camp,” she said, referring to Camp Manitou near New Auburn. “Eau Claire is a beautiful community; it’s so walkable. I’m a big walker, and when you see all the investment Eau Claire has made in making the community healthy (with trails and green space), it’s really a big plus.”

Van Es, who became executive director of the Eau Claire YMCA on July 1, 2002, will be on the payroll until March 30. He intends to work with her during the transition.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to lead (the Eau Claire) YMCA that has such a long-term presence in the surrounding community,” Hillis said. “I am excited to continue to build upon that success the Y has experienced and to deliver on our Y mission.”

West Central Tribune Editor Kelly Boldan contributed to this story