EXCLUSIVE: Roxanne Davis, The Woodlands YMCA lioness, retires after 30 years of community service

By: Sean K. Thompson
| Published 01/05/2024


THE WOODLANDS, TX – Roxanne Davis, the long-serving community liaison lead for the Woodlands branches of the Houston Family YMCA, retired on December 22, after several false starts as people realized she was integral to the organization and near-irreplaceable.

Woodlands Online sat with her to discuss her past and future

Eventually, Davis set a firm retirement date, and staff, community leaders, and the public at large begrudgingly accepted her decision. While she was literally cleaning out her office between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, she sat down with Woodlands Online for an exclusive interview.

When did your journey with the YMCA begin?

I started in September of 1993. My Y story here really started off when I became a volunteer soccer coach back then. My son's kindergarten soccer team needed a coach, and I was thinking, like, how hard can this be? I'd never played soccer before in my life. I'm a baby boomer; we didn't play soccer. You know, we played other sports, but I ended up coaching for about five or six years. I coached baseball too for quite a few years after I became on staff. I really enjoyed it.

So I did a little bit of everything just to rack up some hours. You know, from filling in as a youth sports coach, working with adult co-ed softball and roller hockey and parents night out… I just did a little bit of everything to get my feet wet and to get some extra hours. And the rest – as they say – is history. Pretty interesting when you look back.

On the administrative side, I came in part time as a marketing person. Just think of how much The Woodlands has changed since 1993. The Woodlands was just starting to get its feet on the ground with the whole hometown feel. So the Y was starting to really grow and get its feet on the ground when I came along and they tried to find a spot for me. I did just a little bit of everything, coming from a for-profit kind of career, doing a lot in retail sales and customer service. And I did a few events. So yeah, just me and the job just kind of grew as the Y's reputation grew, The Woodlands grew, our membership grew, and then all of a sudden boom, here we go. We go from one Y to two Ys to three Ys and here we are today.

What kept you here for 30 years?

You know, the Y became a family; it truly is a community. I got lucky. I found my purpose and passion. I had some leadership, some supervisors that trusted me and instilled confidence in me and just kind of let me go and we all work together. But above all, it's been the people.

I truly see the difference that the Y makes in people's lives and sometimes it's the simplest things. It's not always about the money that people are needing, you know – a family that just needs financial assistance so their kids can learn to swim or go to camp – but it's just being here for people. I think that's one of the takeaways.

Sometimes with the smallest things you don't realize how important it is, and the difference it makes. It may be something as simple as just greeting somebody as they walk down the hall because you may be the only person that's spoken to them the entire day, and people have come back to me and said, You don't know how welcome you made me feel. Not only just here, but out in the community.

One major event that the YMCA brings to The Woodlands is the 'Run Through the Woods' Thanksgiving Day race. What was your part in that?

I was involved from year one. Run Through the Woods is our longest running event; it started in 1994, so I was still new. The event started in Oak Ridge, where I live. The mayor decided that their little fun run that they had been holding over the years needed a stronger organization behind it to allow it to grow. So they reached out to the Y to get connected and to expand it. I had never been involved in anything like that before. And then the next year, they decided this would even be better if we did it on Thanksgiving. And I'm asking myself, who is going to come out on Thanksgiving Day and do a run? So that first year I remember, I think there were 200 runners; the next year it doubled in size. There were over 500 and it just continued.

Back before COVID in the peak years of races, we had well over 5,000 people; and then the whole race industry just kind of bottomed out. Everything has a growth curve. And so we're back on the upswing from COVID with 4,700 this year. It's a tradition in this community.

And when people continue to support an event like that, you know you're doing something right. Not only are you making it a great event, but you truly believe in the cause. I can't imagine what I'll do next Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll be walking. Maybe I'll be volunteering. Who knows? But it's a family.

Speaking of family, what about your own family?

You know, my husband's always been great with things like meeting me at the store so I can pick up all the water and bananas with our truck and trailer. And then my son, Andy, is also known as Andy Audio who has been the sound behind all of our events all of these years. He has grown. You know, it's been fun to watch him grow and develop through all of this.

The Dragon Boat Race is another major annual event; did that one originate under you, too?

Yes, I was very involved in that first event, so we'll be celebrating the 25th event in 2024. That's another event that just kind of fell into our laps. Some community leaders that were with – I think back in the day it was called The Woodlands Operating Company – were out of town and actually saw Dragon boat races up in the Iowa area, and started thinking, ‘Oh, we have a dragon in our lake. We need to do this in The Woodlands, and the YMCA is just the organization to make that happen. And that's the way it was. Twenty-five years later, Dragon Boat has become synonymous with The Woodlands.

We couldn't have done that without the partnership of the American Dragon Boat Association, which is where the dragon boats came from; they now belong to The Woodlands Family YMCA.

Can you talk about who is replacing you in your position at the Y?

You know, we have a young man who has been with the Y here for a year or so who's coming from the philanthropy department. He'll be the new community development director. So I have been in a unique role and the role that just kind of grown over the years with so much of my knowledge about the makings of the events, I’ve been doing them for so long. It'd be really hard for somebody to step right in and do what I've done over a 30 year experience. So I think my role is going to be split up into a couple of different positions. That's why I'll be around during the transition to make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, because there's a lot to be done here if you're going to keep all the events going.

I have promised to help all I can. You know, I'm just a phone call away. I can't just, you know, leave forever. The Y is my heart and soul, and I can't just walk away from it. I was just ready to step back. And I'm truly committed to that. I'm just stepping back and not stepping away, so I'll still be around in a variety of different roles.

So you're still gonna see me here. I'm one of those that love to work out. I'll be a member now. Come February or March, I'll return to one of my other great passions, which was being a fitness instructor. I love health and fitness and I think – because of my age – I can help motivate older people and let them see you’re never too old to take care of yourself, to get strong.

What are your plans outside of the Y now?

My husband and I are going to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in August of 2024. So we have a a big trip planned. I don't want to be one of those that work all my life and then the next thing you know, something gets in the way and now somebody gets ill, or you never know what the next day is going to bring. And I've learned that, along the way, especially over this last year, as we get older or something's out of our control, I don't want to have worked so long that now I can't enjoy the next chapter of life.

So I thought that was a very strategic decision on my part, because I still love what I do and look forward to going to work. But it’s time to pursue the next chapter, the next adventure, and we've got a lot of traveling. I thoroughly enjoy being around my grandchildren, who all live pretty close by, as well as my own children. I can't just sit idle.

Do you have any particular favorite memories?

That's a tough one. I think I'm going to go back to saying the friends I have made along the way. I have made some wonderful friends, former colleagues, even though they may not be with the Y anymore, we have continued our relationships. We're family for life, and I could say that too about a lot of our community partners that I have made along the way.

One of my fondest memories is Thanksgiving morning. Standing up on that race stage and looking at all the people you know, thousands and thousands of people are lined up and it's like, ‘Wow, I helped make this happen.’ It's not about me, it's about the community. But just, I mean, even thinking about it, it's like, wow, this is really cool. You know, the impact you people being here today running and walking for a cause, the impact that it has on the community.

There are so many different things. It's so hard to pick one, but seeing the difference the Y makes in families lives – once again, it may be something simple as making sure that a child has a Christmas gift under the tree or learns to swim or has the opportunity to play sports like other children. So many families don't have that opportunity because they have to choose between feeding their children or letting them learn to play sports.

One of the memories that's just always will be embedded in meals during COVID, and the Y was open for essential care childcare. I was one of the one few staff that was still employed and who wasn't furloughed during that time. Food insecurity became a huge issue for everybody. I mean, one day they had a paycheck, the next day they didn't. Things were out of their control. So we opened up our parking lot and became mobile food markets. We worked closely with the Montgomery County Food Bank and the Houston Food Bank.

I remember that first mobile market. We were supposed to start at 8:00 in the morning and the cars were wrapped around Shadowbend down to Research Forest. We were causing quite the traffic jam. I walked around and I asked the first gentleman in line what time he got there. And he said, “I got here at 3:00. I had to make sure I got food. I need to feed my family.”

I'm looking at these families and I'm seeing staff that we had just been working next to each other all week long. I still get upset when I saw the families of our staff needing help. You know, you just never know.

And that's the difference. The Y makes a difference. It always addresses the critical needs of the community. We weren't in the food pantry business, but we became one when we needed to and we still are. I mean, that was almost four years ago and it still affects me. It has been an honor to be a part of this. I mean, you know, you just never know.

Do you have any final thoughts or words for us?

I was one of the lucky ones. I thoroughly enjoyed getting up every day to come to work. It wasn't a job, you know? It was. It was an opportunity to serve the community and make a difference. And I will forever be thankful for that opportunity and again for all the delightful people that I have met along the way and the people we've been able to help and will continue to help.

It's been wonderful. And I'm forever grateful.

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