Forty-one years ago, Mel Steckel, just out of college, accepted a position at the Muscatine YWCA as a youth director. Mel didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to the Y family and the community of Muscatine. Mel originally planned to be a physical education teacher like her mom. However, as she puts it, she would rather teach the class they want to be at instead of the one they have to be at.
In 1987, the YWCA caught fire, and Mel was there to see the rebuilding and the later move to the YMCA in 1990. Mel has held the title of youth director, fitness director, and now health promotion services director. Even with different titles and different buildings, one thing has always remained the same: Mel loves seeing the impact the Y has on families and youth in the community.
She has formed several relationships, and many of locals who frequent the Y have a story about Mel. Mel recalled one girl in particular who used the Y while her family experienced loss and faced many adversities. The girl relied on the Y as a support and has now earned a PhD. “Every now and then I will get a thank you and it reminds [me] that the Y is the anchor for a lot of families,” said Mel.
Over the years, Mel has never thought of leaving the Y or looking for employment elsewhere. She never gets bored and enjoys seeing her “old Y kids” bring their kids to the Y. She knows that means they found something good here.
Mel has been a driving force in health and wellness in the community as an instructor, a volunteer, and an advisory member and board member for several community initiatives. She continues to provide outreach by speaking to local assisted living groups and providing programming to them. Mel has provided support for or has been involved in Camp Abe Lincoln, Muscatine Diabetes Project, Diabetes Prevention Outreach Team, Gilda’s Club, Healthy Living Festival, Muscatine Healthy Living Coalition, 50+ programming with the Iowa State Extension Office, and more.
Mel teaches fitness classes as well. Her favorite? Step aerobics. “Step Aerobics is old school, just like me, but it works. That is one thing about being here so long, all the changes and variety of fads,” said Mel.
Working in health and wellness for over four decades, Mel has seen a lot of individuals tackling a New Year’s resolution. She encourages individuals to check with their doctor if they have any health concerns, then pick an activity they like. Mel said, “If you know you don’t like to run, don’t pick running or you won’t stick with it.” Other pieces of advice are to start small, increase workouts slowly, and give yourself at least six weeks. If you need help getting on board with an activity, talk to Mel. She says, “The special thing about the Y is that you don’t have to look a certain way, you don’t have to dress a certain way, you just have to come.”
Just as Mel watched the YWCA and YMCA go through several changes in the late 1980s and early 90s, she will soon experience changes again as the Y expands the current building. She looks forward to the changes, new fads, new families, and new challenges. Mel doesn’t have any plans to retire or leave the Y, so you can be sure to find her there through the coming, and say hello when you stop in.

Melanie Steckel leads children through some fun games at the Muscatine Community Y