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Ex-Huntington YMCA leader Anne Knauer dies

Anne Knauer, who worked for nearly 60 years for the Huntington YMCA and served as its first fitness director, died Wednesday of renal failure in Chicago. She was 88.

Knauer, who lived all but the last two years of her life in Huntington Station, was "Y" royalty, friends and family said. Those who knew her said she had a knack for remembering each member's first name and drew people in with her blue eyes and devilish smile.

"When you walk into a facility and someone greets you by name, it leaves such an impression," said Eileen Knauer, Huntington YMCA executive director and Knauer's former daughter-in-law, who started a career at the Y 20 years ago at her then-mother-in-law's urging.

Anne Knauer was born in Huntington, the third of five children. She graduated in 1942 from Huntington High School, where she was active in student government and athletics. In her senior yearbook, next to her name and picture, the passage reads " 'Shorty.' Bubbling over with pep and enthusiasm."

She married her high school sweetheart, Harold "Babe" Knauer, in 1947, and the couple had three boys. When the children were old enough to start Y camp, Anne Knauer became a camp counselor.

From then, her dedication to the athletic facility grew. In the 1950s, she developed a fitness program to help women tone muscles and is similar to today's Pilates, Eileen Knauer said. As a fitness instructor, she was infamous for her "chicken fat" dance.

"She'd get in there with us -- she was just a little peanut of a thing," said Melita Fanning of Huntington Station, Anne Knauer's close friend for 30 years. "She'd come after us yelling, 'Chicken fat! That's chicken fat! Get moving!' "

Fanning began a career as a member services representative at the Y at Knauer's insistence. "She was a little rascal, that one," Fanning said. "When she wanted someone to do something, she was able to make them do that."

After her retirement in 1989, Knauer and her husband planned to tour the country in their recreational vehicle, but he died of a heart attack in the early '90s. She then threw herself back into her other love, the Y, Eileen Knauer said.

When her health declined, Knauer moved to Chicago to live with her son Gary and spent her last two years there.

"She was so unique in her steadfastness, her loyalty to the Y, her loyalty to family and friends," Fanning said. "I'm so happy that I met her."

Along with her husband and parents, Knauer was predeceased by her brother Julius Frey and sister Pearl Peto. In addition to her son Gary, she is survived by sons Joe, of Huntington, and Kevin, of Hydeville, Vt.; sisters Martha Aliperti, of Centerport, and Pauline Winzinger, of New Jersey; and nine grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Services will be held at M.A. Connell Funeral Home in Huntington on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. A private burial will follow at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale.

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