After 40 years, local men still steering YMCA service club

From left: Edgar Engert, Renate Engert and Fred Pahl, longtime leaders of the North Coast Y Service Club.

By Claire Harlin

When Fred Pahl first met Edgar Engert in 1972, he said the local man, who worked for 44 years as a landscaper at the Paul Ecke Ranch, was shy and never spoke in groups. But if you knew Engert now, at age 76 — a high-spirited, outgoing leader who starts conversation with nearly everyone he passes — that description would be hard to believe.

Engert has come to be known in North County as “Mr. Encinitas.” He’s headed the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded Encinitas events like their holiday parade and Octoberfest, and he’s the longest-standing member on the board of the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, which has for decades served communities from Encinitas to Del Mar to Rancho Santa Fe.

But highest on Engert’s list of achievements is the fact that he helped start the YMCA’s service club 40 years ago. Once known as the “Y’s Men’s Club,” the group has, to date, raised more than $750,000 for the Magdalena Ecke Y.

Pahl, the Y’s former executive director, saw a need for the service organization in 1972, and approached 30 local men who he asked to help charter the club. Well-known horticulturist Paul Ecke Junior introduced Paul to Engert, his landscaper, who Ecke said would be a great person to head the club. Engert is still a leader in the club today, having progressed to head of the club on regional and international levels as well.

“[Ecke] said, ‘I have just the guy for you.’ He introduced me to Edgar because he’s a go-getter, a dynamo.” said Pahl, adding that the group became the first co-ed Y service club in the world when Engert’s wife, Renate, became president in 1975. It was at that time when the group changed its name to the North Coast Y Service Club.

For those who have attended the Y, they may have noticed the remodeled preschool, youth camp programs and structural improvements to the aquatic park, but they may not have known that those assets are the results of people like Pahl and Engert, as well as other members of the North Coast Y Service Club. That’s why, on the club’s 40th anniversary, members are holding a commemorative event to recognize the club’s efforts. The event is open to the public and will be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2013 at The Grauer School, located at 1500 S. El Camino Real.

The North Coast Y Service Club is comprised of members from a variety of backgrounds, from retirees to working people to stay-at-home moms.

The club’s annual flower sales, which include the poinsettia sale that recently wrapped up, bring in some $8,000 to $12,000 in sales each year, and the group’s holiday giving campaign brings in about $250,000 — about $8,000 of which is usually raised annually by Engert himself. The service club also holds an annual casino night that brings in about $18,000.

“Being part of this club has changed my life because I feel good about doing something for the community,” said Engert, who is still very active in the club with his wife. He also said he’s happy to see the Y, which was once small, grow into a 20-acre, ocean-view facility with an extensive number of programs and activities for all ages.

Engert and Renate travel internationally every year to meet with service groups from Y’s all over the world, from Japan to China to Europe.

“It’s interesting to sit around a table of people with all different languages and make wonderful friendships around the world,” Engert said.

Pahl said he sees Engert as a “Y success story,” and a true leader.

“He helps people at our club know they are part of something larger,” Pahl said.

The service club, which is welcoming new members, meets twice a month, on the second and fourth Wednesdays, at 7 p.m. at the Ecke YMCA, located at 200 Saxony Road in Encinitas. For more information, find the North Coast Y Service Club on Facebook or visit For event ticket information, email the club’s spokeswoman, Michele Wegman, at