Community Swimming Pools by Denise O’Brien Van

Historical Society Program given April 14, 2023, at First United Methodist Church, Jefferson

Well, here I am again, ready to regale you with another story of Jefferson’s great assets, our swimming pool in Chatauqua Park.

The last time (April 2022) I was here to tell you about local history, I was a Post Office baby.

Today I’m a pool rat. Here’s a picture of me, ready to head to the pool in 1948.

I hope that when this story is over, many of you will share your memories of the swimming pool. And Greene County’s other municipal pool in Grand Junction.

And before I begin, thanks are in order to Dianne Piepel for finding old pictures for me. And to Grand Junction librarians Susan Hogueison and Diane Kafer for helping me find out the info I needed about Junction’s pool. And current Jefferson Rec Director Denny Hamman. And former director Vickie Lautner.

About 75 years ago, I climbed down the ladder at the southwest corner of Jefferson’s swimming pool into the 3-foot depth and took my first swimming lesson. I floated! In the freezing water in the grey cement pool. I was an instant pool rat. I was also blue.

I don’t remember who my lifeguard instructor was, but I hope it was Harry Upton, son of the local sherrif, whose name also was Harry. He looked like a movie star to 5-year-old me. Harry was the first lifeguard crush of many to come. Or maybe it was the beautiful and blonde Virginia Tronchetti, daughter of the legendary Louie who owned the teen hangout candy kitchen on the west side of the square.

Enough about the little pool rat.

The pool opened on July 18, 1937, a Sunday. “Marked by a cold rain and a temperature of only 62,” the Jefferson Herald said.

A crowd of some 140 hardy souls roared with delight when Dr. J.K. Johnson Jr., a local osteopath and chair of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, a group that had pushed for construction of the pool, was tossed fully clothed into the icy pool. No heater in  those days…and for many years to come.

The pool was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The pool and bath house were constructed at a cost of about $21,000.

WPA planners alloted $12,400 for the estimated $17,000 cost of the original project. The city  had to come up with the remaining $5,000 bucks, which was slotted for the pool’s circulation system.

An April 9, 1936, Herald editorial suggested that bonds be issued for the $5,000 shortage. Adding that “swimming in the river is dangerous not only from a standpoint of drowning, but because of pollution.” Sound familiar?

The City Council set the referendum for May 14, 1936. The Jaycees mounted a campaign in favor of the bond issue. School kids joined the effort and the supporters hit every house in town to urge favoerable votes.

The issue passed…almost by a hair… because 60 percent of the vote is required for a bond issue to pass. The final vote was 600 for, and 345 against. Just 33 votes put the issue over 60 percent.

Twenty-five WPA workers dug the pool by hand. They had previously worked on the Squirrel Hollow project and county roads. Working 29 hours a week, they made just over $40 a month.

They dug out tons of dirt for the 75-by-120-foot depths ranging from 3 o 10 feet…that would hold 400,000 gallons of water. They also dug the shallow “baby pool,” which originally was outside the main pool’s fence….so toddlers could splash without having to buy a ticket.

As the project progressed, another $3,200 was needed. The Herald noted only that the extra money would be raised locally. Lots of citizens probably chipped in.

Work on the pool  began in fall 1936. The Sept. 17, 1936 herald reported a “hiccup” in the construction had occurred. “A member of the Board of Supervisors ordered that the shovels and tools use by the workmen be taken elsewhere.”

“Just when did Jefferson cease to be a part of Greene County,” enraged editor and publisher A.J. Kirkpatrick wrote. I never found how the issue was resolved…but it must have been!

And there were other hitches. When a lack of skilled labor on WPA lists delayed the summer 1937 opening, the Herald reported that City Councilman Oren Goodrich and Mayor Dr. D.E. Lyon “finally took the bull by the horns.”

“WPA workmen, it seemed were stalling,” the reporter wrote. “Goodrich and Councilman Hal Thompson informed the foreman that local workmen would finish the project.”

The pool opened two weeks later. JHS athletic coach Mark McLaren was the manager, and there was one lifeguard.

For many years, JHS teachers and coaches managed the pool during their summer vacations.

This summer the pool Anna Pound will oversee daily operations. She’s held that job for several years, and… she’s a teacher. There will be 15 lifeguards….if they can be found. For safety reasons, lifeguards now work two-hour shifts.

And, now for a little intermission:

There’s another public pool in Greene County. That little gem over in Grand Junction. Talk about a beloved entity: That pool has had huge community support since it opened in 1965.

The $75,000 bond referendum was held on May 27, 1964. The Globe-Gazette noted an unusually high turnout of 444 voters. 275 voted “yes” and 168 voted “no.” Jan Scheringson of Junction remembers her parents counting “yes” and “no” votes as people arrived at the poll.

“They literally pulled people off the street to assure the 61 percent needed to pass,” she told me.

When the bond issued passed, the community ralleyed and over the years has kept the pool in good working order. Junction Garden Club members donated  the original landscaping.

In 2016, the pool needed costly repairs, priced at $100,000, and it didn’t open that summer.

Grants were successfully sought to fund therepairs. And the community…local businesses, civic clubs and individuals raised the rest.

Over the years, Grand Junction civic clubs have raised money to support and renovate the pool. Bake sales, plant sales, salad luncheons…you name it. Grand Junction loves and supports its pretty pool with its summertime colors.

And now for a couple of stories:

Beginning 1948, the Jefferson pool was the site of of spectacular free water shows featuring up to 100 cast members. Usually put on for two nights in a row, the shows drew huge audiences on summer evenings. The annual shows continued into the early 1960s.

The 1952 show, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, had a circus theme and ran for two nights. It featured a clown diving act performed by members of the JayCees, three “choruses” composed fo young swmmers of various ages, a water ballet solo by Jean Lindhart, who was the show’s co-director. She founded the Jefferson Swim Team in 1962.

Bill Sorenson, one of the founders of American Trampline, and his University of Iowa gymnastics teammate Frank LaDue performed on the trapeze, flying rings, and, according to the July 22, 1952, Bee, “on the trampline, the appartus which brought them great fame in intercolleciate athletics.” 

The 1951 show, narrated by Maxine Hawwk, featured the “Singing Fountain Chorus.” Members include current Jefferson residents Mary Jane Seela Sorenson and Carole Peninger Fischer. There was alsoa queen contest..never found a record of who got the crown.

“Let’s climb the fence.”

Legions of Jefferson teenagers have uttered those words, and the brave among them probably followed through, scalng the pool’s chain-link fence before it was topped with barbed wire during the 1987 renovation.

The barbed wire was removed last summer. Rec Director Denny Hamman says there’s no need for it now because of security cameras and motion sensors. Cases of midnight swimming have decreased to almost zero.

The first-recorded nabbing of after-hours swimmers took place in July 1939, when four young men, recent JHS graduates, were busted. “Four Jefferson boys arrested by night watchemen McDowell and Parr taking a dip about midnight,” trumpeted the Herald.

The miscreants were Dough Moranville, Richard Tate and Jack and Verle Langford.

“The boys were taken before Mayor Harding immediately and fined $10 and cost,” the newspaper reported. “The boys admitted to swimming several nights before they were caught. They undressed in Chatauqua Park to avoid detection.” So it probably was a case of skinny dipping, too.

In the late 1940s, Don Goodrich often swam after hours with permission from high authority. “All I had todo was find Mick Parr…who was Jeffersons’ legendary police chief…up on the Square, and tell him that I wanted to take a dip,” Goodrich told me several years ago.

Support for Jefferson’s pool has continued over the years.

Right now, the pool is getting a “small” renovation. At a cost of $104,000, there will be a new family restroom which will be built into the women’s side of the bathhouse. A new attraction at the pool this summer will be a rock climbing wall funded by a $12,215 grant from the Greene County Community Foundation. The climbing wall will be located near the northeast corner of the pool. And a new one-meter diving board will also be installed.

In 2019, the City spent $86,000 on a new liner for the “tub” and $35,000 for a tarp to protect it in the off season

In 1986-1987, the pool was completely renovated and a new bathhouse was built at a cost of $430,000. Ten years ago, the facility was valued at about $1.4 million. Couldn’t find today’s value.

That first shortened 1937 swim season, the pool more than paid its way, taking in $1,600 while spending $1,000 on salaries and utilities.

But it’s run a deficit for the past 30 years. This year’s expenses will run $86,000I. Salaries and benefits, operating expenses and repairs and maintenance. Revenue is expected to be $36,000—from tickets , rental fees, lessons and concessions. The deficit is made up using City General Fund monies. Our pool is a valued and beloved recreational amenity for Jefferson, not a money-making enterprise.

And attendance has fallen off, too. During the hot, hot summer of 1962, 14,000 admissions were recorded between June 13 and July 10. Almost 900 swimmers plunged in on July 3 of that year. The pool’s record attendance was set on June 30, 1961, when temps reached 97 degrees and 1,102 people went for a swim. I’m sure I was one of them. Attendance in 1986 totaled more than 30,000. In June 2012 was 4,150.

Last summer, just over 8,000 swimmers used the pool, not counting dogs. Ten percent of those swimmers held senior passes. The 39 seniors senior pass holders swam just over 800 times. For an average, each senior made about 21 visits during the summer.

Those figures are kind of sad, compared to 1962.

But the value of the pool is really immeasurable.

Over the past 86 years, thousands of Greene County children learned to swim there. For many years, the Red Cross offered free swimming lessons for all skill levels. From beginners fearful of putting their faces in the water to senior lifesaving for teenagers hoping to snag that iconic summer job…lifeguarding. (And, by the way, both the Jefferson pool and the Grand Junction pool are looking for guards.)

Take a good look at the back of  my official junior life-saving card. The lifeguards who taught that class in 1956 were among the iconic college and high school kids who stood guard, taught, were admired by all the pool rats and had a lot of good times at the pool. You may remember them. Eddie Coover and Joyce Applegate, daughter of the famous “Doc” Applegate who taught science at JHS for man years.

Currently the Rec Center offers classes for nominal fees, lifeguards give private lessons, and the Home State Bank provides free lessons during one week each summer.

I hope this story of Jefferson’s swimming pool will encourage more people of all ages to use the pools. 

During the Jefferson pool’s adult swim from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily, 80-year-olds and their younger pool pals swim laps in the deep end or walk back and forth in “the five foot,” while aqua exercisers share the shallow end with toddlers taking private lessons. 

This year, Jefferson’s pool will open about June 1. Denny Hammen says the exact date depends on getting getting a full lifeguard crew in place.

And you know, that while swimmers up to a certain age look really good in their swim suits, some beyond that certain age worry about their appearance. I have a solution for that. Before I dive in, I take off my glasses. I can’t see anyone, and I figure they can’t see me either. We’re  all invisible. But I’ll say “See you at the pool!” anyway. 


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