Meet John and Kristoph,

The Alliance of New York State YMCAs is proud to welcome John Ehrbar and Kristoph Kocan to our New York State family. John and Kristoph have recently taken over Ys in the state, and we are excited to share a little bit of their background with you.

In May 2019, John Ehrbar succeeded Buddy Campbell as the CEO of the YMCA Buffalo Niagara. For John, this represented the next logical step in a Y story that started at a High School Leaders Club at the Lake County YMCA (Oh.) on the I-90 corridor between Cleveland, OH and Buffalo, NY

After high school, John worked at the Lake County Y and attended Xavier University. “I went to college to be a teacher,” Ehrbar said. But when saw the stress the teaching profession put on his father, he decided he needed a new path.

During college, Ehrbar worked as a Day Camp Activity Director and Camp Coordinator, and in January of his senior year, the Y offered to hold the position of Sports and Teen Director for him until he graduated. Excited to have a job, Ehrbar accepted.
Now I wouldn’t say the rest is history, but those first Y experiences did launch what is now a 22-year YMCA career.

“I didn’t think of it as a career until my first year as a full-time employee. I’m ambitious by nature and tried to keep learning new skills. This prepared me to be the best candidate at the right time when opportunities came up.”

For Ehrbar, opportunities continued to present themselves during his 16 years at Lake County where he rose to be the Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Operations in 2011.

In 2013, Ehrbar traveled west, to the end of I-90, as COO for the YMCA of the Inland Northwest. While in Spokane, WA, Ehrbar was able to transfer his skills and gain confidence in a new community. “I was given many opportunities to be ‘CEO-like’ in Washington,” said Ehrbar who recognized that he wanted to eventually pursue a career as a Y CEO.

Ehrbar’s desire for new challenges and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge has not only led him to the CEO’s seat in Buffalo, but has also helped him pursue a Master’s Degree and Doctoral Degree in Sports Management.

For Ehrbar, coming to New York was the perfect job. He’s now just two hours from his family in Ohio, he finds an operation that is big enough to brings programs to scale, and also fit with his style and beliefs.

“Buddy and John (Murray) did great things here,” says Ehrbar. “Because of the work they did to build this Y up and develop a quality staff, I’m able to bring a different perspective and work to strengthen our community.”

Ehrbar is excited to be in Buffalo and loves how open the community is to new ways of thinking. He’s also hoping, despite being a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder, that he could bring some good luck to the long-suffering Buffalo Bills franchise. “I moved to Washington the year before the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. I’m hoping I can be good luck for the Bills now.”

All of us know a kid or two (or three hundred) who grew up in the Y. They were always hanging around, helping out, and sometimes it seems like they might sleep there. For Kristoph Kocan, the new CEO of the Hornell YMCA, he was that kid. “My brother and I literally grew up in the Y,” said Kocan, reflecting on his fond memories of his childhood. When Kristoph says ‘literally’, he means it.

Growing up in Titusville, PA in the 1970s, Kocan’s father was the Executive Director of the Y. So it wasn’t unusual to see the Kocan brothers hanging around, helping out, and even a few times “spending the night there.” Initially though, Kocan wasn’t planning on following in his father’s footsteps, and spent most of his career leading a commercial construction company.

In 2006, Kocan came back to the Y as a board member for the Meadville Family YMCA in Pennsylvania, where he led the Y’s facility committee. In 2009, Kocan left the construction industry to analyze leases in the oil and gas industry.

Fun Fact Kocan’s hometown of Titusville is – according to Wikipedia – the birthplace of the oil industry and for a number of years, was the leading oil producing area in the world.***

In 2012, Kocan was persuaded to join the Y as its Facility Director, a role which, as he explains “opened my eyes to a Y career.” And by 2013, Kocan had laid out a plan to be a YMCA CEO by 2020 saying, “this is how I want to finish up my career.” In total, Kocan spent seven years at the Meadville Y, serving as its Facility Director, VP of Operations, and branch director.

In June, he began his new career at the Hornell YMCA. In just a few short months, Kocan has already seen how important this Y is to its community. “I’ve been floored by the community’s support of the Y here. It is truly a vital part of the community. It’s like a huge team working together.”

While Ehrbar and Kocan may be the new CEOs on the block, they won’t be the new guys for long. With CEO searches coming to a close in Fulton County and Yonkers, we’ll have plenty more Y Leaders to introduce you to in our next issue.

By Rob Totaro