Maybe it’s an understatement to say the mid- to late-1960s were tumultuous.
There was a controversial war in southeast Asia. Popular music had evolved into something a bit more raucous than Paul Anka and Connie Stevens. Broadway was smitten with a musical tribute to long hair (on men).
And, in the south, public swimming pools were closed or closing. I never heard a community leader say it aloud, but those of us of a certain age were pretty sure the pools were closed, at least in part, because of racial integration.
Very few small communities across the south, including Texas, elected blacks to their city councils. As a result – our sentiments told us – as the cost of maintaining a swimming pool increased, white city councilmen chose to fill in their public pools rather than keep them open for a mixed public.
It didn’t happen everywhere. Overton and Henderson operated public pools within recent memory, both closed in the last decade because of maintenance costs.
To their everlasting credit, Kilgore’s city council remained committed to operating its astonishingly large pool. That commitment has been reinforced over the past two summers, evidenced by a renovation to the tune of about $250,000.
The pool here is a legacy pool, originally built when this was the center of “the great East Texas oil field,” when public works projects were a point of pride rather than budgetary necessities scaled back to the absolute minimum.
Not just a pool, ours is what Kilgore’s special projects director, B.J. Owen, calls a ‘super-olympic’ sized pool – certainly the biggest in East Texas. Stephen F. Austin State University has a super-olympic pool; ours is bigger.
The pool has always been something of a spectacle, an enduring badge regularly polished and proudly worn by Kilgore. But over recent years, it had begun leaking like a sieve. The soil on which its retaining walls had been built was slipping away, taking the walls with it. Those glamorous “porthole” lights were failing. The diving board was elderly and the slide was rickety. The concrete surround was cracked like an old driveway.
Over a period of darned near two years, city crews – with help from local contractors including Energy WeldFab, Cross Cleaning Solutions and Panther Fabrication – have restored the pool to its former glory. In fact, it has been enhanced with a more commodious and comfortable concrete apron, two new slides and a new diving board.
On the drawing board are further improvements to the bath house.
Public swimming pools are the domain of children and families with children. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever again swim in Kilgore’s fabulous pool. But I will always be unfailingly proud of this city’s determination to provide a clean, well-run pool for the community’s kids.
At least in a public fashion, Kilgore thumbed its nose at that ’60s dissonance.