Sixty-three years ago next month, Dixon’s new public swimming pool opened with a splash.
“Reagan dedicates new Memorial Pool; Dutch swims, large crowd warms to star,” stated a headline in the Aug. 22, 1950, issue of the Telegraph.
Hundreds crowded around the pool to hear short speeches by Reagan’s mother, Nell; Louis Berrettini, pool dedication committee chairman; Ed Vaile, park board chief; and the city’s mayor.
“Mayor Fred Hofmann took only a moment to tell the listeners that each and every citizen will benefit by the new pool,” the Telegraph reported.
While the crowd oohed and aahed at Walter Cryer’s diving exhibition and the aquatic expertise of Adolph Kiefer’s swimming troupe, they really came to see Reagan, then a Hollywood star.
The former Lowell Park lifeguard, who fished 77 struggling swimmers out of the Rock River in the late 1920s and early 1930s, didn’t disappoint.
“This swimming pool is Ed Vaile’s attempt to get even for a tux I once borrowed from him and ruined,” Reagan quipped.
“Ed knows how much I love the river, and when people go back to it, I have some swell ideas as to how this [the pool] can be turned into a place for raising mushrooms. It won’t be a total loss.”
But seriously, the future president did have some words of praise.
“It’s a beautiful pool, and it’s a thrill to come back to Dixon and see it has been accomplished,” Reagan said.
That was then.
A headline in a recent Sauk Valley Media story, “Memorial Pool supporters forging ahead,” topped a story about a group of 40 people who want the historic above-ground public pool, closed since 2000, to be refurbished and reopened.
The group, led by Marilyn Trulock, will meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Dixon City Hall, 121 W. Second St.
Restoration would take big bucks – hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Park Board, which owns the pool, doesn’t have the money but has offered to give the facility to the city, on the condition that it remain a pool.
Other efforts to reopen the pool have come and gone. Along with restoration costs, the community must decide how operational and maintenance costs would be covered.
The city has many needs other than a pool, such as streets, sidewalks, curbs, and so forth. With those competing priorities, can the community justify the expense?
Residents should undertake this conversation, and soon. Millions of dollars recouped from disgraced ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell will be returned to the city’s coffers sometime; might some of that money be used for the pool?
Before Crundwell’s assets are all spoken for, pool supporters should get a plan ready.
Could a refurbished pool be something that “each and every citizen will benefit by,” as Mayor Hofmann said in 1950?
If that argument can be successfully made, the pool’s restoration would be one step closer to reality.
If not, well, there’s always that mushroom-growing idea.