Red Oak Pool caps off a great season
The Red Oak Municipal Pool is celebrating a successful season.
Turnout at the pool is the second highest it’s been since 2015, and the season saw a number of firsts, including new events and the first tenure of pool manager Georgana Derr. Derr said she loved her first year in the role of pool manager.
“”I was so sad when it ended. I’m still sad. I still drive by. We had such a great year. I’m really proud of our staff, and I was really glad to see all of the patrons that came. I’m excited to build on it for next year,” Derr commented.
While she would have loved to stay open longer, Derr said the end of the season is largely determined by schedules and events.
“School is starting up in August, and State Fair takes a lot of guards away. Another factor is that band camp and football camp starts in August. Also, when we get to August, the guards are tired. I have taken a peek at next year’s calendar, and I’d like to be open until mid-August next year, if possible,” explained Derr.
One thing Derr said she and the staff focused on over the season was to make sure they knew everyone on a first-name basis.
“I think that’s a huge part of why we were so successful. My staff knew all of our patrons’ names. There’s nothing better for a kid who’s home alone, maybe a latch-key kid, to come to the pool and have everyone know their name. Everyone asks how they’re doing, make sure they get sun block, and let them swim,” said Derr. “It became a community thing. The kids loved seeing their friends.”
Since 2015, the pool’s record turnout was recorded in 2021 with 9,223 visitors. 2023 comes in second with 7,346 visitors, well above the 6,038 visitors to the pool in 2022. Derr said Mother Nature affected some of the pool’s visitor numbers, especially in August.
“The weather got really bad in the beginning of August. At the end of August, we got busy again. We closed Aug. 13, but held an encore weekend Aug. 18-20, and we had well over 200 people each day that last weekend; it was packed. People really came out to enjoy the pool in the end,” stated Derr.
One thing that increased their patronage, Derr said, was being able to be open more. While the most the pool has been open per season was 74 and 72 days in 2017 and 2016, 2023 is third on the list with 68 days open, a vast uptick from last year, when the pool was only open for 46 days.
“We lost about five days when the pool was closed for lightning and weather, but still, we were open a lot. I’ve already looked at the calendar for next year, and my goal is to be open at least 70 days, if not 75 days. I encourage people to buy a pool pass. I hope they do. The kids can have a free lunch at the high school, and then they can come swim. It’s safe, and it’s supervised,” Derr said. “One big difference from last year is that we were never closed because I didn’t have any lifeguards. We were only closed for weather.”
When she took over as pool manager, Derr said she wanted to be open seven days a week. This year, they made that happen.
“Other than weather situations, we were open seven days a week, and weekends were huge. That’s really big for our area. I know a lot of other pools struggled to get open, and we all struggled with staffing. I feel we did a really great job. I kept tabs on the other pools to see if we were on track with everyone else. We really didn’t have to close the areas,” advised Derr. “I think the biggest testament to our success was that I was having people apply for jobs, and I was hiring people, in July and August. We had people applying all summer long. I think the word got out that the job was really great. It wasn’t perfect, and there were some growing pains, but it was really great.”
Derr said the flexibility of the job helped with her staffing once word got out.
“It’s one of the few jobs that’s seasonal, so we’re done before they go to school. Also, I understand kids have vacation, or camps, or travel volleyball leagues. We worked around that. We can have part-time guards, and I’ll take whoever wants to work.”
Thanks to the August applications, Derr said they’ll be in good shape when the pool reopens in 2024.
“I hired some people in August that we can have back next year, and I’ve talked with Carrie Shalters at the YMCA. She said they’re planning on a lifeguard class during Christmas break, which I think is a great idea. I really hope to have more staff so we can be open more hours, and maybe have some night hours as well,” stated Derr. “I relied heavily on my pool attendants this year to help me with office management and to man the slides. When the next season starts, I’d love to have 20 lifeguards to work with for more hours. If I had 20 guards, I could have the pool open for all the hours I want to be open. I’m hoping we can keep increasing the salaries as well. Other businesses pay really well, so we’ve got to be competitive.”
While short of the goal of 20, Derr said the pool had a sizable uptick in lifeguards on duty.
“I don’t know the exact number but we had more than 10. Also, I am certified as a lifeguard as well as my assistant managers, so I or they jumped in if we were short or people were sick. The assistant managers I don’t think were lifeguard certified last year, so it was nice to have them trained so they could help out. I love lifeguarding,” Derr commented.
The final event at the pool marked the return of the ‘doggie dip,’ which was organized by Red Oak’s Animal Alliance Rescue. Derr said the event was very popular.
“We had more than 30 dogs come. The dogs all loved the water. They swam, and their owners swam with them and played fetch. It raised money for Animal Alliance Rescue, and it was really great. We had them over on Aug. 20, the last night we were open,” advised Derr.
While most of the pool’s patrons were local, Derr said they had a lot of out of town visitors on the weekend. During the Montgomery County Fair, Derr said she heard a lot of comments from fair visitors that had worked at the pool in years’ past. Derr said one set of patrons actually came from overseas.
“One day, we had a family from Denmark come. It was a mom and her kids that lived in Denmark and was here in Red Oak visiting family. I think next year I’ll have a map and we can put pins in it to see where people are coming from. The people love being recognized,” commented Derr.
One of the events at the pool this year was “toddler time.” Derr said they are definitely going to carry it over to next season.
“It was super successful. It was a little slow at the start, but by the end, we were full. We had around 40 moms and toddlers come. It’s a great opportunity for moms to have fellowship and network,” Derr said.
Another new feature was a rolling book cart that served as a portable library for patrons to borrow a book and read while attending the pool. Derr plans to continue the collaboration with the library.
“The library was a huge success. Every day I looked at the rack, there were different books, so I knew people were taking and switching them. During our 10 minute pool safety check breaks, the kids would run over and take a book to read with their partners. Everyone was super respectful of the cart, and I didn’t have any book fatalities in the pool.”
Also, Derr will continue to maintain the life jacket check out for kids that want to swim, but may not be that experienced. Derr said the pool also had an increase in pool parties.
“The pool didn’t have many last year, and this year, we did a lot. We held after hour parties, and we hosted birthday parties during the day. We enjoyed fostering that, because there’s not a lot of places for people to host birthday parties. They should be at the pool, it’s lovely,” Derr stated.
While this season is just barely in the books, Derr said she’s already making plans for the start of the 2024 season.
“My goal is for the pool to be open Saturday, June 1. That would be a perfect day, and it falls right after Memorial Day,” Derr said.
From now until then, Derr said she’s going to be working hard to keep recruiting more people to serve as lifeguards.
“I plan on shamelessly recruiting people. I sub at the school, and Scouts is my main job, so I’m always trying to recruit kids that I know would enjoy working the summer. Even kids that don’t swim can work at the pool as attendants. I’d also like to partner with Michelle Grismore, the YMCA’s lifeguard instructor. We’d like to start a junior program to train lifeguards in anticipation of them being old enough to take the job. They have to be 15 to be a lifeguard, per the American Red Cross and the City of Red Oak. If we can create that program, it would get them the swimming skills to be able to pass the lifeguard certification,” explained Derr.
While there is a cost to train as a lifeguard, Derr said the cost of the class is not out of pocket.
“When they pass, they can work for us and we’ll reimburse them for taking the class after they work for 75 hours. Also, they can work at the YMCA and be reimbursed. The YMCA is always looking for lifeguards, and we share them. They don’t have to work a ton of hours to get the reimbursement. I had some lifeguards that worked at the YMCA in the morning and then came and worked for me. It was perfect to share lifeguards, as they learn training and skills all year long,” Derr stated.
Derr also had a few ideas of some new programs to implement when the pool reopens in 2024.
“I’d really like to do some after work water aerobics. The great thing is that parents can do that, hang out with friends, and their kids can swim while they’re participating. I’d also like to do some evening swims, and swim lessons. We do a lot of private lessons but I’d also like to implement some classes. Some of the patrons wanted to do a sunrise swim or yoga class, and I’m open to all of that,” advised Derr.
Derr praised the staff she had to work with this year, as well as the Red Oak Park and Tree Board and the City of Red Oak.
“Everyone was open to my ideas and letting me try things out. They could have easily told me not to do toddler time when I asked, but they were more than willing to let me try it. I really appreciated that, as it gave me the freedom to think about what we can do next year. We had the volleyball kids come and train in or pool, and I want the other kids in youth sports to do that as well. My hope is that the entire community will utilize the pool.”
Derr also gave praise to Red Oak Water Superintendent Rich Figgins for the pool’s maintenance.
Anyone with questions about the pool can contact Derr on Facebook at facebook.com/georganauk.