ASHLAND — It was a little cool for a dip in the pool Saturday night.
But inside the Ashland Elks Lodge, there were plenty of lifeguards and memories as “alumni” from the old Southside City Pool gathered for a reunion.
The crowd wasn’t as big as organizers had hoped but the 150 or so who showed up enjoyed reminiscing with friends about the iconic pool in South Ashland that closed in 1989.
Being a lifeguard at Southside carried a certain status symbol, said Bill Hammond, a pool lifeguard in the mid 1970s.
“It was kind of a big deal to be a lifeguard,” Hammond said. “That’s been a long time ago.”
Most of the lifeguards were athletes, said David Payne, the longtime Southside pool manager. Capt. Harold Rush, who directed the pool for at least two decades, would ask Payne who he wanted to hire after prospects were interviewed at the city building.
“I wanted people kids had respect for,” Payne said. “They’d be more apt to obey them.”
He also said the idea of hiring athletes would draw more girls to the pool which in turn drew more boys. Payne also hired female lifeguards.
“It was kind of a cycle,” he said laughing.
Payne was a fixture at the pool, working there from 1962 to the mid-1980s.
Mike Delaney was another former lifeguard at Southside who came to the reunion with his wife, Jan Lett Delaney. She wasn’t as much a Southside veteran.
“I didn’t move here until 10th grade but when I came up to visit family I always visited Southside,” she said. “I can remember meeting people there for the first time. That’s where I met Mike Gothard.”
Delaney, Gothard, Hammond, Rob Queen and Joe Layne were some of the lifeguards from the mid-1970s at Southside.
Jan said her husband was proud of his lifeguard status.
“When he went to the beach he’d wear his Southside lifeguard shirt,” she said. “It was like a chick magnet.”
Delaney said Southside was the gathering place for his generation.
“Now they have Twitter to keep up with each other but back then, if you wanted to see somebody, you’d go to the pool,” he said. “There are too many backyard pools today. Everybody wants to stay at home.”
Hammond said part of being a lifeguard was getting a good tan. “We used peanut oil (as lotion),” he said. “It’d literally bake you.”
The lifeguards didn’t exactly get rich from their summer job. Payne said they were paid 90 cents an hour.
“We must have worked 60 to 70 hours a week,” Delaney said. “We only got one day off.”
That is, unless you were needed for athletic purposes.
Hammond and Delaney were two of several Post 76 baseball players who were lifeguards. They’d sometimes have to get weekends off because of games. Payne was always good to make sure the team was never shorthanded, Hammond said.
Sometimes that meant putting people in unusual positions. Ashland Tomcat basketball star Dale Lynch, for instance, manned the baby pool because he couldn’t swim, Payne said.
“The kids all loved Dale with that floppy hair,” Payne said.
Steve Conley was another lifeguard who didn’t exactly have his sea legs.
“We were across from each other in the shallow end,” Conley said, referring to Lynch. “Dirk would put us there to make sure we didn’t have to save anybody from drowning.”
Lifeguards spanning several generations came to the reunion. Ralph Clere was a lifeguard in the mid-1950s and Amy Haney Hasenauer was a lifeguard in 1980.
Steve’s wife, Jolinda Kimbrell Conley, said she her family went to Breezeland Swim Club but she visited Southside often for social graces. The Friday night bands were a highlight, she said. “The Return” with Gary Kesling was the first band the pool used.
DJ Kramer Ditty played music from the 1940s to 1980s, the era when Southside Pool was the place to be in Ashland.
Several generations of Southside Pool attendees came back for the second annual reunion. Payne, Mark Ison, Jill Stevens-Hicks and Donna Suttle were among the organizers.
“We thought we’d have a few more,” Hicks said. “People were talking a lot about it but I guess it was bad timing for some of them. A lot of people who came in for Thanksgiving are already going home.”
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.