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Sentimental Journey Day 5: Zoo Gnus

The Big Pool is always top on the sightseeing list of those who venture out to southwestern Kansas. When I was growing up there, it was billed as the World’s Largest Free Municipal Concrete Swimming Pool. It was hand dug by everyone in the community in 1922. It holds 2.6 million gallons of water. For a publicity stunt, the city brought in water skiers. And when the pool is drained at the end of the summer, they would allow the elephants from the adjacent zoo to come over and frolic in the water. What a spectacle for the townspeople!

The Big Pool is where all the children in the area would learn to swim. If you could learn to swim in the unheated big pool, you could swim anywhere. My lessons were at 7:00 a.m. and it was FREEZING. I think that is why I wore nose plugs since I would gasp and suck in water when I dared to venture in. Getting the wannabe swimmers in the water was the hardest job for the swimming instructors. We sat along the side of the pool with blue lips. However, by August the pool was much warmer.

As a teenager, I was one of the lifeguards. The pool required 13 lifeguards at all times. One of our main tasks was to keep weaker swimmers out of the deep end. In order to swim in the deep end, one had to be able to swim the width of the pool. The swimmer would tell one of the lifeguards that they were ready, and the lifeguard would watch them during this summer time rite of passage. Afterwards, the out of breath swimmer would return “by land or by sea” to talk to the lifeguard and get the lifeguard’s name. From that point on, the swimmer would be asked, “Who did you swim the pool for?” “Brenda”, would be my response and the swimmer could join his beckoning friends in the deep end. It was a responsibility of grave importance for the lifeguard. Most of the time, the swimmer passed because they had been practicing but others were not quite there. It was really difficult to tell a weaker swimmer that they weren’t quite ready. If they had to stop and walk on the way to the other side, the swim test over and they knew it. They would be back the next day even more determined.

Stewart’s grandchildren followed suit and they can all claim to have “swum The Big Pool”. Everyone knows that means that you can go to the deep end, swim out to the raft, and even dive off the diving boards and platforms. Full access for summer fun!

Stewart informed me that he had once played the National Anthem for a swim meet from stop the high dive platform. I would have enjoyed witnessing that performance.

One summer when Amy, Donna, and Julie, my triplet daughters, were visiting Stewart and Joyce, their grandparents, they entered the Annual Cardboard Canoe Race at The Big Pool and won first place. The boat had been named and christened as The Triple Threat. True that!

The Big Pool is at the entrance of an equally famous zoo. It’s claim to fame is that you can drive through it. Of course, you can stop and get out when you get animal activity. While growing up here, it was free and people would drive through daily on the way to do errands…especially if an animal was due to deliver a baby. Here is a picture of The King of…Garden City…which was taken during OUR drive thru.

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