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Gays Mills pool a cool, blue oasis
CROP deacon heisz
DEAKYN HEISZ WAS among the little swimmers who flocked to the pool Monday afternoon when temperatures rose into the 90s. The pool has long been a cool blue oasis for many generations of children since its beginning 60 years ago, when the community called for a safe place for its children to swim and the dream of the pool came alive. Fully staffed with well-trained lifeguards, the Gays Mills pool offers a fun and safe place to cool off during the dog days of summer. Photo by Emily Schendel

Gays Mills is primarily known for its apple orchards in the late summer and fall. But during the dog days of summer, the shining blue gem at the end of Railroad Street is the place to be.

The Gays Mills Pool celebrated 60 years this June since the ground was broken and the dream of the villagers and surrounding North Crawford residents started to become a reality. In early 1955, the idea of a pool in Gays Mills began to bounce around the village. Originally, residents had hoped for an earthen dyke pool that was estimated to cost a little over $3,000. People from Gays Mills and beyond began pledging money toward this oasis.

As time went on, the dream began to gather steam. Meeting with the village board, residents decided to go for the big time and have a real pool in the village. With a vote of 192-127 in favor of the pool, the pursuit of the dream began. Residents took on the fundraising efforts in force.

One statement in a 1956 issue of the Crawford County Independent summed up the passion behind the pool fundraising drive.

“Our growth of a seven-month drive by local and area residents is the product of concern over the lack of safe and regulated swimming facilities,” the statement read. “The group formed in July of 1955 is determined to provide a safe municipal pool for the young folks of North Crawford County.”

Weekly throughout 1955 and into 1956, residents pledged money toward the pool, in amounts ranging from 50 cents to $200 and beyond. Fundraisers such as the play ‘His name was Aunt Nellie’ staring William Haggerty at the Kickapoo Theater combined with a cake contest, which even brought in a swimming pool-themed cake all the way from Denver, to keep the money trickling into the pool fund.

The money that came in through these efforts, led by group leader Ruth Oppriecht, was used to fulfill the agreement with the village board to furnish whatever cash might be necessary to complete the pool, put up a fence and build a bathhouse.

After all of this work, ground was finally broken at the end of June in 1956. Villagers joined the Midwest Blue Lake Pool Corporation, which was in charge of building the pool to help move things along through the different phases. Finally, the project was completed early June of 1957.   Upon opening, the celebrations were vast. And those young and old were able to take a dip in the pool after all of their hard work.

Now, 60 years later, the hard work and dedication to have a safe place to swim continues at the Gays Mills Pool. Swimming pool manager Miriam Simons, along with her dedicated staff, have worked very hard to be able to offer a range of new programs this year, as well as the tried and true swimming classes.

Looking to capture the original goal of the pool of offering a safe place to swim, the Gays Mills Pool is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday 1 to 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 1 to 7:30 p.m. The pool also offers adult/lap swims Monday-Friday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Expanding on swim safety, a variety of swim classes are available.

“It’s so important to be a strong swimmer,” Simons said. “Doing activities like boating, you can really benefit from being able to swim. We offer swimming lessons to people of all ages and really would like to continue to build a strong learn-to-swim program for adults and kids.” 

Seeking strong swimming skills also helped fuel one of this year’s updates to the pool. After receiving a grant for $2,000, the pool was able to paint regulation-sized lines on the bottom of the pool.

“The staff and community really stepped up to help us with this,” Simons noted. She went on to explain the extreme detail demanded for the line work. With these regulation lines, the pool is now able to have a legitimate swim team.

“The swim team will offer people the opportunity to become stronger swimmers,” Simons said. The swim team plans to kick off in July and will compete with neighboring communities.

The pool is also looking to offer other programs, but is still looking for interest.

“We are trying to put together Aqua Zumba (an exercise program) and adult learn-to-swim,” Simons explained. “It’s all on the horizon, wes just need more people to sign up.” 

Another unusual program looking to get a start in August, if enough interest is shown, will be a learn-to-canoe course, where individuals will learn the basics on the patio of the pool and in the pool before going on two canoe trips on the Kickapoo River.

An exciting equipment addition this year to the Gays Mills Pool has been a chair lift, located in the shallow end of the main large pool. This device will enable those with disabilities and physical limitations to still enjoy the pool.

“We really would like to see more people utilizing the pool for therapeutic and rehabilitation swimming,” Simons pointed out. This new addition, which is capable of lowering and raising individuals in and out of the pool, will help fulfill this goal.

It is no surprise that there is a core group of kids that can be found at the pool nearly every day as Head Lifeguard Dylan Ghormley observed.

“We have a great group that is here all the time, but we get people from all over,” Ghormley said. “I think the pool is great for the campground, we get people from all over who are camping coming to swim.”

Neighboring communities are also big supporters of the Gays Mills Pool.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we receive from other villages and townships,” Simons said. Students from DeSoto and Wauzeka-Steuben are able to come by bus and those from other supporting communities also receive a discount toward their swim lesson and pool fees.

“Our pool is supported by local property taxes, donations from nearby supporting communities, individuals, pool usage fees and concessions,” notes a flyer in the pool office. “Thank you, everyone for your generosity. Your financial support allows us to maintain, operate and continue to upgrade this wonderful outdoor community pool and its programs.”

Physical fitness, fun and a learning experience are all things you can gain from a visit to the Gays Mills Pool. With a diving board, kiddy pool, and concessions, a chairlift and fully staffed and trained lifeguards, a trip to the Gays Mills Pool also promises to be a wonderful way to beat the summer heat.