Walk through the gates of any public or private swim club, and you’ll see the soothing blue water on a hot summer day. You’ll hear the sounds of laughter and chatter – kids and teens splashing in the water and seeing who can do the craziest jump into the pool. Moms lounging; reading a summer book or oiled up for their summer tan.
The pool on Chester Road is one such place, and for the last 50 years, for many families in Chester, Chester Recreation Association (CRA) has been a summer tradition and a gathering place for social interaction. Families join and watch their children grow, swimming for fun or in competition, as the summer tradition continues generation after generation.
Lisa Neal, past president of CRA, is one who has called the pool her summer home for as long as she can remember.
“I know I am not as old as the pool,” she laughs. But she can remember, as a child, when there was only the main pool and the snack bar. “I love the place. It is my summer home.” She now brings her children to the pool and says there are “ten times more things to do now than when I was a kid.”
Today CRA has three swimming pools, a “Z” shaped lagoon; 2 foot to 10 foot deep with a diving well and a 12 foot water slide; a 25 meter lap/competition pool; and a kiddie pool with covered deck. CRA also has six lighted tennis courts, three tennis walls, tennis teams, two sand volleyball courts, a children’s playground, basketball court, sand soccer field, horseshoe pits, a full service snack bar, a gazebo and two pavilions – one screened in.
Membership stays around 600 families, according to Rudy Hull, current president of CRA. “We [the board] feel it is a manageable number.” The board consists of 15 members, five groups with three-year terms. “We are more policy oriented. We try not to be hands-on,” said Hull. They do take care of the finances of the nearly six-acre facility, as well as membership applications and issues and capital projects. Each off-season a project is considered – an upgrade, such as the new kiddie pool completed last year, and the bath/shower rooms the year before. Hull attributes their success to CRA’s values.
“Safety is our number one priority followed by cleanliness, and providing a fun, family environment,” Hull said. “These are the keys to our success. People feel confident to bring their kids here.” The remaining officers of CRA are Alan Grossnickle, vice president; Laura Colomb, Secretary/Membership; and Jennifer Acome, Swim Team.
Early history is a bit vague, but a few Chesterites, whose families were initial members said their parents felt it was time that Chester had a pool. At the time, Moore’s Lake was the swimming hole for everyone. Chester was beginning to grow at a quick pace. Newcomers, arriving after a transfer to the Allied, Phillip Morris and Dupont plants wanted a place to socialize while allowing activities for their children in the summer. The community was becoming more cultured with John Rolfe Players and the Chester Community Center; construction of a pool seemed to make sense.
The pool opened in the summer of 1963 with the current “Z” shaped pool, a 15-foot diving board and a snack bar on one acre of land.
“We weren’t happy about it [membership at the pool],” said current Chester resident, Jody Brown, who was 10 when the pool opened. “All of our friends were at Moore’s Lake and the [CRA] rules were so strict. The girls had to wear swimming caps and we had to rinse off in a cold shower before going in.” Brown said they eventually got used to it and all of their friends eventually joined them and it was all fun from then on.
For $250, a potential member could become loan certificate holders, which were limited to 250. Dues were set at $40 per year. By 1964, an additional 1.360 acres were purchased for $2,800. By 1967, membership had reached 246, just shy of the 250 member goal. Names such as Annie Trice, Barbara Owens, H.A. McCubbin, John Showers and Betty Jean Moncure were some of the first members.
According to Mike Dubus, who began serving on CRA’s board in 1967, Sam Shearer may have spear-headed the CRA project. “He worked at Allied and on his off-time was always working around the pool and pulling volunteers together to help maintain it.” Dubus served as president of CRA for one year and said with a smile, “I am the only non-swimming president the pool ever had.”
The membership was growing by 1970 and dues increased to $50 in 1970 with a staff of five.
Improvements in 1972 included a second swimming pool, permanent basketball and volley ball courts, tennis courts and a club house. The maximum number of memberships allowed increased to 500-700 members. That doubled the membership of 300 at the time. The new 25-meter lap pool opened the following year at a cost of $43,806.
The loan-certificate program was ended in 1974 and new members had to pay an initiation fee.
Today the facility has 55 part-time employees that include 30 lifeguards, two managers and three assistant managers. The on-season manager, Carrie Wilson, is in her first year. The off-season manager is Dennis LaPard.
“Dennis is the one who keeps the pool running. After Labor Day, he takes everything down and puts it away, gets the covers on the pools and fixes whatever needs to be repaired,” said Hull. “He does or oversees all of the capital improvement projects during the off season. And in the spring, he gets everything ready for the pool to open, so when the in-season staff arrives, everything is ready to go. He is a huge part of the success of CRA.”
CRA also has a winning Swim Team, made-up of 180 team members from the ages of four to 18, under the direction of Barbara Miller. They have been champions of the Chesterfield Aquatic League for the last 19 years.
Every year CRA has the Big Blow-Out on the fourth of July. This year, Chrissie Barnes, assistant manager-activities, plans to have an even bigger Blow-Out to celebrate their 50th Year Anniversary.
Barnes and her brother, Tommy Waddill, have been members since they were youngsters. Barnes started working when Jesse Ridout was manager, who managed the pool for close to 20 years.
“He was like the grandfather at the pool and introduced me to my husband (Kirk Barnes). We met here when he was a lifeguard and when he went off to college, I took his job.” Barnes said what she loves about CRA is “The family atmosphere. It is my family away from my home.”
Most of the members say the same thing, “it’s my summer home,” which is much like their motto: “Where Chester spends the summer.”
CRA provides swimming lessons, tennis lessons and tournaments; a championship youth swim team, volleyball clinics and tournaments, holiday events, youth and adult socials. For more information, visit www.chesterrec.org.
Other public and private swim clubs in the area include Beulah Swim Club, the YMCA’s Thunderbird, Pocahontas State Park and Sherwood Hills Swim Club. Jump in and cool off.