A program Saturday featured remarks from city officials and volunteers who made the indoor pool possible.

Forest Grove city officials and residents celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Forest Grove Aquatic Center on Saturday, June 16, with all-day festivities.

Built in 1968, the Aquatic Center was the brainchild of a group of local Kiwanis Club members, who decided to form a nonprofit group called "Swim All Year" and raise money for its construction. It has been operated by the City of Forest Grove ever since — also hosting school athletics, including for neighboring Pacific University.

As he often does when speaking about the city, Mayor Pete Truax stressed that Forest Grove is a "full-service city" in brief remarks at the Aquatic Center Saturday morning. That includes a city-run police department, fire department, and power and water utilities, he said — as well as a recreation program of which the Aquatic Center is the "crown jewel."

"Fifty years ago today … the indoor pool was dedicated," said Tom Gamble, the city's parks and recreation manager, in his own remarks Saturday morning. "We didn't realize that initially when we put together this program until one of our committee members spent hours in the basement of the News-Times, looking up dates and times from the past."

For Herb Drew, one of the original members of the Swim All Year booster group, the date is an easy one to remember: He celebrated his 30th birthday as the pool was dedicated on June 16, 1968, as the culmination of three years of tireless work, and this Saturday was his 80th birthday. Attendees at the event serenaded him with "Happy Birthday."

"It's been a great thing," Drew said. "There were a lot of people that made this happen … and I wish they were all here."

Getting the pool built wasn't easy. Drew recalled forming the Swim All Year group with several other interested community members in mid-1965, convincing the Forest Grove City Council to back the project, and securing passage of a bond measure to pay for the Aquatic Center's construction in 1967 by a margin of just 14 votes.

"Fourteen votes is 14 votes," Drew said with a smile.

At the time, it was unusual for a town of Forest Grove's size to have its own indoor pool — though it had opened an outdoor pool in the 1940s. But Drew said the founders of the Swim All Year group wanted to do something for the city, and they decided to follow the lead of volunteers in nearby McMinnville who had gotten an indoor pool built there in 1956.

Paul Waterstreet, a former center manager who now chairs the Forest Grove Parks & Recreation Commission, noted that the pool was originally built for $400,000. Today, it would cost closer to $15 million, he estimated.

"We built a whole pool for the cost of a house now," Waterstreet said. "So that's how much things have changed."

Thousands of people have learned to swim over the years at the Forest Grove Aquatic Center, Truax remarked. The services it offers have changed and expanded, with Waterstreet noting that it used to rigidly enforce gender segregation to prevent men and women from sharing the facility at the same time. (That practice has long since fallen by the wayside.)

Even still, Gamble said he thinks the city can do more.

"I think we still have work to do in aquatic education," Gamble said, pointing out that drowning is still one of the leading causes of death for children. "It's significant what we do here. It's significant for our community, our children, our adults. Those kind of things, those kind of statistics concern me — and I think we still have work to do."

The Aquatic Center is expected to be busy this coming week, as Gamble observed that the weather forecast calls for daytime high temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s starting Sunday, June 17.

In a throwback special Saturday afternoon, the center temporarily lowered admission prices to what they were in 1968: 25 cents for children and 50 cents for adults.

The Forest Grove Aquatic Center is located at 2300 Sunset Drive. It is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (or 9 p.m. Fridays). On Sundays, it is open for just three hours in the afternoon, from 2 to 5 p.m.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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