The West Orange County woman has been inducted into the National YMCA Hall of Fame for her lifelong dedication and contributions to the nonprofit.
When Barbara Roper was a young mother living in West Orange County in the 1960s, she was researching camps for her children and discovered Camp Wewa, in Apopka, which is operated by the YMCA of Central Florida. It captured her heart, and she knew it was a place in which she wanted to get involved.
She began her interaction with the Central Florida Y as a volunteer board member. And she learned that volunteers don’t have much authority.
Roper was appalled at the notion that women didn’t typically serve in the decision-making roles.
“I looked at what the men were doing, and the decisions they were making, and I wanted to be part of that,” Roper said. “So I volunteered.”
That decision to work with the Young Men’s Christian Association decades ago was the beginning of a lifetime commitment to the YMCA. Last month, Roper and eight other individuals — as well as the collective staff and volunteers during World War I — were recognized for their dedication with an induction into the National YMCA Hall of Fame.
The award is bestowed upon YMCA professionals and volunteers who dedicate a lifetime of commitment to the cause and have made an impact on the YMCA community. The recognition ceremony was held during the General Assembly of the YMCAs, in Anaheim, California, and many of Roper’s family members accompanied her for the honor. She received a miniature version of the honorary plaque that will hang in the Y Hall of Fame, at Springfield College, in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“The Y has been one of the things I’ve been passionate about,” she said. “Women had a minority role and were expected to serve coffee and doughnuts. … I wanted to be part of that decision-making group.”
She offered to serve as a YMCA representative at meetings throughout the southeast region.
“The men sat around, and none of them volunteered … so I figured the heck with that, if they don’t want to do that for the young men’s association, I’ll go,” she said.
She was fortunate to have a husband who encouraged her philanthropic spirit, she said of Bert Roper, to whom she was married for 62 years before his death in 2012.
Roper said she invited herself to attend staff meetings so she could make a bigger difference. She learned how to raise money, and she learned “the pecking order” and how to penetrate it.
Roper was the first female board chair of the YMCA of Central Florida and the first female board chair of the YMCA of the USA.
She was appointed as the local representative to the regional YMCA board, chaired the national committee that reviews YMCA associations and served as chairman of the National YMCA and as a member of the International YMCA board. The international appointment afforded her many opportunities to visit YMCA facilities all over the world.
Roper helped establish the West Orange YMCA in Winter Garden. In 2004, she and her husband donated $1 million toward the expansion of the facility; the building was renamed the Roper YMCA Family Center. Today, Roper is a trustee and a member of the Y’s volunteer executive committee and the metropolitan board of directors.
Each year, the YMCA of Central Florida awards the Barbara Roper Advocacy Award to a dedicated volunteer.