Valley Swim Club fetes its 50th year

       Then a young mother, Bev Disch “just wanted a place for our children to swim.”

Several people involved with the club pose around a photo of the original pool when it was new. From left are life guards Alé McGee and Molly Shields; Board President Joel Kasten; 43-year volunteer Lola Houghton; manager Mary Henry Garofalo; life guard Kevin McGannon; and managers Jenna Garofalo and Maddie Shields.
Westside Pioneer photo

       It was 1959, and the Pleasant Valley subdivision was still in its early stages. Developer Egmont Vrooman set aside four lots for a private community pool - he would later be repaid with memberships - but left it mainly to the residents to make it happen. “We finally got it going, but when we got a contract, the person reneged,” Disch recalled. “So we had to wait another year. When the work was done, it felt like we should kiss the cement apron of the pool. We were so happy we managed to do this.”
       A club-written history cites the pool's original founding group as Vrooman, Dick Henninger, Don Crossland, Bardie Dougherty, Mac Mackenzie and Bill Wall.
       Fifty years later, the Valley Swim Club is still going strong, with 300 members (the maximum allowed in its by-laws) and a major renovation/pool expansion six years ago. The site, which also includes a wading pool, playground, volleyball court, bathouse, picnic areas and concession stand, is open to members from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Anyone can join ($1,800 fee, plus $450 annual dues), with preference given to the 80904 zip code, although currently there is a 75-person waiting list.
       An impressive reality for current club president Joel Kasten and manager Mary Henry Garofalo is the continuity of those in the club. Multiple generations of the same families can be found on a typical summer day. “Westsiders tend to stick around,” said Kasten, who swam there as a kid, then returned in 2006 with his own kids after being gone more than 20 years. “There are a lot of generations at the pool.”

This view of the Valley Swim Club from 30th and Water streets has been virtually unchanged for the past 50 years.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Disch, a previous president herself, attended the 50-year celebration party Aug. 15, enjoying the “big, huge cake” with a crowd that Kasten estimated at close to 250. With Disch was one of her daughters, Laura. She remembered how when Laura and her siblings were younger, they “just lived in that pool,” Disch laughed.
       Now she has a grandson on the club's swim team (ages 4 to 18), which has won the state club championship each of the past nine years.
       The Shields family has been a club member for 21 years, with Doug Shields' daughter Maddie having held a summer job there for the past eight. “The club's been there a long time,” he said. “In the Pleasant Valley area, most people have been members.”
       Henry is another generational example. Her daughter Jenna started taking swim lessons at the club when she was 4 years old; now a college senior, for the last couple of years she's helped manage the place. “We try to maintain a sense of community,” Henry said. “We feel that's our greatest value here, and we don't want to lose that.”
       Many members do more than just pay dues and come to swim. They help with fundraising and come to volunteer workdays that are called during the year to spruce up the club property.
       Lola Houghton does not go back quite as far as Bev Disch, but she's one of the earliest continuing members, having moved to the area in 1966. “We were from North Dakota, and didn't know how to swim,” she said. “I wanted my kids to learn. All four of them learned in this pool.”
       Although never wanting to swim herself (or to serve on the board), Houghton has volunteered extensively with the club. In the early days, she helped with small fundraising events, including selling coffee and making pumpkin bread for bake sales. “We didn't make a lot of money, but every little bit helps,” she said. She also mentioned another lady, now deceased, named Cora McAtee, who would regularly come in to “scrape and paint the pool.”
       Money was definitely an issue in 2003, when the swim club's board of directors heard from the Health Department that the old pool had to be replaced. Henry credited Bob McGrath, a long-time member and previous board president, for stepping forward personally to make the financial difference.
       Now, according to Kasten, the Valley Swim Club has a policy of setting aside funds annually, on the assumption that the pool will need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years.
       This leaves no doubt that the club is looking ahead to the next half-century. To non-members, the club may seem pricey, or even a bit exclusive, but to members, the rewards are a good facility, a safe environment and leisure-time camaraderie with neighbors.
       “It's like a little family,” said Houghton. “We look out for one another.”

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