Tonganoxie gets in the swim
With financing from private investors, the pool was built 75 years ago
Long before there was air conditioning, Tonganoxie children knew how to cool off in the summertime.
They'd gather their swimsuits, towels and spare change for snacks and head off to what was then known as the "Chief Tonganoxie Swimming Pool."
Since 1925, the city's swimming pool has been a fixture in the community. It is the oldest municipal pool in the area and for many who grew up here, it holds fond memories.
John Lenahan, local historian, said the pool was built by a group of private investors. But eventually, the original owners could no longer afford to maintain the pool, and in the late 1940s, the city purchased the pool.
In 1952, the city almost lost one of its prized attractions. In the early '40s and late '50s, the pool struggled to turn a profit.
The Boy Scouts and a local minister also tried to make the operation profitable. However, the attempts were not successful enough. The city sold the pool property to a woman who intended to eliminate the pool and bath house and build a home. With enough public influence to not proceed with her plans, the woman sold the pool back to the city.
At the forefront in trying to save the pool was Nadine Henak, now 83.
"I told them that it was the only thing the kids have had," Henak said, remembering the attempts to halt the woman's plans.
Once the pool was safely back in the reins of the city, Nadine and Charles "Chuck" Henak were hired by the city to run the pool, which the couple did until 1961. The couple still live in Tonganoxie and have been married for 64 years.
"We had a lot of fun," Nadine remembers. "The kids all knew us, and people would recognize us around every place we went."
Because there were so few public pools in other towns, people from Kansas City, Lawrence and other cities came to Tonganoxie to swim. In fact, Lawrence didn't open its public pool until 1969.
"It's neat to hear parents tell their kids stories of what the pool was like when they were kids while you're giving lessons," said Darren Shupe, current pool manager. "Old pictures show lots of people swimming here."
The surrounding areas couldn't go without their own pools forever, which obviously affected the attendance to the pool. The Henaks remember crowds of people coming to their pool. Now, Shupe said the pool averages a little over 200 swimmers a day. A big crowd is usually 275 people, and the pool has had as large a number as 420 since Shupe has been managing it.
"There were always huge crowds of people when we ran it," Henak said.
When the Henaks started managing the pool, they charged 15 cents and 25 cents for admission and the park board gave $25 each week to help with costs. Now, admission to the pool is $1 for children 12 and under and $2 for people 13 and over. In the '50s, pool hours were from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a one-hour dinner break from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
"We did that so the kids could eat an evening meal," Chuck said.
The hours now are noon to 1 p.m. for adults and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. for the general public with two 15-minute breaks in the afternoon.
The Henaks had one lifeguard and a lot of helpers, Nadine said. Today the city pool has nine lifeguards, an alternate lifeguard and several other people who work at the pool.
"We used to sit on a bench in front of the pool and watch the kids," Nadine said. "I never felt comfortable being away from the pool because I always felt so much in charge of and responsible for everything. We never left town during the summer."
To keep things safe, the Henaks wouldn't allow children in the deep end unless they could swim across the pool, Chuck said.
The Henaks had a lot to learn in their tenure. But, they made things work and only had two serious accidents in the time. Keeping rules and making the kids abide, without being too strict, helped the Henaks have success at the pool.
"We were green as gorge," Henak said. "It was trial and error to find what we had to do."
All good things must come to an end, though. In 1961, the Henaks decided it was time to turn the pool over to someone else.
"I just got to the place where I felt I couldn't do it anymore," Nadine said. "I really enjoyed running the pool. I just felt responsible for everything."
And surprisingly, considering her interest in swimming, Nadine said that during all that time she didn't know how to swim.
"I was dunked several times and thrown in the pool by people," she said. "I never knew how to swim, but I could float."
Shupe, 28, can do more than just swim. He is in his fourth year as the pool manager and is definitely qualified for the job. After graduating from Baker University in Baldwin, Shupe obtained his lifeguard certification from the American Red Cross in Lawrence. He also became certified in CPR and received his water safety instruction.
Shupe spent much of his undergraduate days working at the pool in Baldwin.
Shupe's wife, Stephanie, had worked at the Tonganoxie pool when Lenay Saathoff was running it. When she left, Shupe applied.
Shupe taught at Oskaloosa High School for five years. He has been assistant principal and athletic director for the past year.
Shupe officially has 20 days off from duty at the school during the summer. He works at the school in the mornings and then spends the afternoons at the pool.
"I have been fortunate to be able to work here the past four summers," Shupe said. "I have enjoyed doing it and I want to continue doing it for as long as I can do it."
Shupe busies himself training lifeguards, evaluating lifeguards at mid-summer, organizing and teaching swimming lessons, testing and cleaning the pool and keeping plenty of supplies and concession stand items on hand.
The pool offered swimming lessons in the '50s but the Henaks left it up to the lifeguards to do the teaching. Lessons and other activities are a large part of managing the pool, also. Currently, the pool offers four two-week sessions of swimming lessons at different levels for $25 a session. It also offers water aerobics on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for $1.75 a night and water walking on Tuesday and Thursday from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for 75 cents. Pool parties are an option from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for $75 for 75 people or less and $100 for more than 75.
Shupe loves his work at the pool and at school and said sometimes the two overlap.
"I treat the pool atmosphere as if it was a school atmosphere through my experience as an educator," Shupe said.