Meeker swimming pool lifeguards reunite after 50 years

courtesy photo The 1961-63 Meeker Swimming Pool Aquatics Staff consisted of American Red Cross certified Water Safety Instructors and Lifeguards (left to right) Bob Amick, Barbie (Kennedy) Darnell, Paula (Starbuck) Armstrong, and Sally (Watt) Smith who were reunited during the Meeker High School Class of 1962 50th Anniversary Class Reunion held at the Meeker Golf Course on Aug. 4. The Meeker Swimming Pool located in City Park near 3rd and Water streets was built in 1957 and was a five-lane 25-yard pool with a diving board and also had a wading pool for small children.

MEEKER I The Meeker High School class of 1962 celebrated their 50th reunion on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Meeker Golf Course. Coincidentally, three members of that class, Barbie (Kennedy) Darnell, Paula (Starbuck) Armstrong and Sally (Watt) Smith, and a member of the class of 1961, Bob Amick, all of whom served as American Red Cross Water Safety Instructors (WSI) and lifeguards during the 1961-1963 summer seasons at the Meeker Pool, were reunited and shared some great memories.
Tom Offerle served as the pool manager for two years, followed by MHS band director Dale Jens in the third year. Dale Jens and his wife Pat also attended the reunion so most of the pool staff for that year was present.
Darnell, Armstrong and Smith developed special young swimmer training and classification programs that greatly enhanced teaching swimming to younger children. Bob Amick served as aquatics director. Many youth were certified in these programs each summer following the Red Cross mission of making every child and adult a swimmer and improving survivability in the aquatics environments so popular with youth and adults. Darnell served as the diving instructor and coach, teaching many youth to perform complex and beautiful dives.
During those years some very creative aquatics activities were held and included the beginning of the competitive swim team that used a rainbow trout for a team emblem and navy blue Speedo racing suits as a team uniform. Swim team members ranged from the very young to high school age youth. During that time Jean Scott, also an experienced Red Cross WSI, served as coach for the competitive swim team and a number of meets were hosted at the pool as well as traveling to other pools throughout Western Colorado to compete. Many Meeker youth became very good swimmers, divers and competitors as a result of the swim team and the full range of American Red Cross swimming, diving, and lifesaving classes offered for both youth and adults. Red Cross Swimming Instruction level classifications in those days were beginner, intermediate, swimmer and advanced swimmer. Junior and senior lifesaving certifications were offered as well. Youth and adult water safety aides were trained to assist WSIs in teaching classes. Other water safety instructors helping with the program included Eva McCleery and Bob Simillion who was a Colorado State Patrolman at that time and also taught Red Cross First Aid.
A very special aquatics event was Meeker’s first and only 1962 “Aquacade” which featured both youth and adult members and instructors of the swimming, diving and lifesaving classes in a musical performance of water ballet, musical synchronized swimming numbers featuring songs such as “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the musical score from the movie “One-Eyed Jack’s,” among others. Theatrical lighting and underwater lighting with colored gels and black lighting with fluorescent makeup and sets added to the special effects and delighted both swimmers and audience members. Comedic diving with wet suits was performed by Jerry Grubbs and Jay Sullivan and delighted the audience with their antics. Other students demonstrated complex dives from their training.
The pool, built in 1957, was located in the Meeker Town Park near Third and Water streets, and was a five lane 25-yard pool with a diving board with an adjoining wading pool for children. The pool was among the first built with sprayed concrete (Gunite) and then coated with an epoxy and marble dust surface, which gave it a pure white finish, that enhanced the blue water appearance. Also featured was underwater lighting, and the (then) new rapid sand water filtration system.
The city park pool served the youth and adults of Meeker for many years until a new aluminum prefabricated outdoor pool was constructed in the late 1970s just south of the high school on School Street with a six-lane pool with a diving board. Glass doors and a partial roof covered the pool to help limit wind chill but the pool was never fully enclosed or suitable for use in cold weather. During the summers, however, the Meeker Makos competitive swim team hosted many meets that were enjoyed by teams from adjacent communities including Rangely, Craig, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Montrose and many others.
The team also traveled to these and other communities to compete with USA Swimming-sanctioned summer league meets. Summer competitive swimming team activities continued until 2006 when the pool was closed due to boiler and other mechanical issues. No competitive swimming was offered after that year and swimmers were bussed to Rangely and Glenwood by the recreation district until the new pool at Paintbrush Park was opened in 2008. However the Meeker Makos swim team was not continued. Some Meeker competitive swimmers were driven to Craig or Rangely to practice and compete with their teams, both during the summer and (for high school students), during the fall and spring for those who wanted to participate in high school boys’ and girls’ competitive swimming. Recently, competitive swimming has been restored and popularity among youth is increasing, perhaps creating a renewed competitive and recreational interest area for Meeker youth.