Tri-Cities park districts able to fill lifeguard, swim instructor jobs, but could use a few more applicants
As families hit the local community pools in the opening weeks of the summer season, it should trigger yet another signal that we are recovering from a deadly pandemic.
Pools were closed for some time the past two years, and when they did reopen, finding lifeguards was a challenging task. You couldn't train lifeguards as readily as before because of COVID precautions. Like much of the population, teens weren't knocking down doors to rush back to work.
Stories about lifeguard or swim instructor shortages were common throughout the country. When contacting local pool supervisors last week, we learned that things are relatively back to normal, though the pools can always use a steady stream of applicants.
"We are better off than in the past two years, but we are still hiring," said Sabrina Hunley, aquatics and Haines gymnasium supervisor for St. Charles Park District.
The park district has more than 100 lifeguards hired for duty this summer. Still, when considering all of the shifts needed to have lifeguards on-site at both Swanson Pool in Pottawatomie Park and the Otter Cove Aquatic Park on the city's west side, Hunley remains in a hiring mode.
"Right now, it is difficult to cover all of the shifts," Hunley said. "I'm not sure why, but I think there are a lot of vacations (for lifeguards) early in the season, and we had other conflicts like one lifeguard still competing in the high school track state finals."
Julie Galauner, aquatics and facilities supervisor for Batavia Park District's Hall Quarry Beach came into last weekend's pool opening with a much brighter outlook than in recent years.
"Actually, we have not had hiring struggles this year, which is awesome," Galauner said. "I have staff currently at about 47 lifeguards, but the Quarry covers a lot of ground."
The Quarry also has five managers and about 20 admission staff hired for the season.
"We are at full staff and have been for about three weeks, and I feel really good about that," adds Galauner, who is in her first year supervising the park district's swim program.
She had interned for two years before applying for the supervisor position and accepting the job offer. But the Quarry was closed in 2020, and when it did reopen a year later, getting to full staff was a difficult task.
"I feel like we are getting to that higher ground and getting out of that (COVID) slump," she said. "Hopefully, as the years progress, we won't see that issue anymore."
When the swimming season gets back to normal, it means the Tri-Cities area gets back on the map as a swimming mecca, particularly in St. Charles.
St. Charles High School set the standard for swim programs when being particularly dominant in the 1980s by winning six state high school titles and finishing second twice. The tradition has continued since then at North and East high schools.
This type of excellence generally bodes well for local lifeguard situations.
"Both St. Charles East and North have lifeguarding classes for credit in physical education," said Sue Lange, who retired 15 years ago after a long tenure as the aquatics director at Norris Recreation Center in St. Charles.
"For swimmers, especially competitive swimmers, it is a logical progression to lifeguarding because it uses the already obtained skills," Lange said. "In the summer especially, it provides work at outdoor pools even when the swimmers still are competing."
Still, finding lifeguards at the Norris Center pool for the morning and noon adult swim sessions has generally been a staffing problem, Lange noted.
It would be difficult to find a swim instructor with a keener perspective on swimming and lifeguard skills than Lange.
"Having watched local swimmers go from barely making a length of the pool to becoming state champs and swimming at the college and national level is gratifying and worth the time spent teaching," said Lange, who, along with her husband Henry, also has coached at Fox Valley Special Recreation Association for years.
"There still should be an emphasis on water safety," she noted. "The Norris Center has lost teaching time for a number of reasons, which is too bad because the correct teaching can lead to better safety, as an introduction to competitive swimming and lifeguarding."
In memory of Bob
Three years ago, Kurt Schick established a memorial fund in honor of his late father, Bob Schick, a former coach and athletic director at Geneva High School.
Area high school sports fans likely remember the Schick name, with Bob's son Mark being a standout football and basketball player at Geneva High School, while Kurt was an all-conference baseball player.
Administered through the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley, the Robert "Bob" Schick Memorial Scholarship awards went to Geneva High seniors Calvin Hruby and Amelia Kellen this year. The Schick honor was part of the foundation's 450 scholarships this year to recipients in the Aurora area, the Tri-Cities and Kendall County after they applied in the program.
The foundation's program is so interesting because not all scholarship recipients were recent high school graduates. The ages ranged from 16 to 58, as 72 percent of scholarships were awarded to graduating seniors, 20 percent to returning college students, 6 percent to graduate students, and 2 percent to nontraditional/trade students.
Garden walk season
It's the season for working in our gardens -- or admiring the work of others. That's the idea behind the garden walks offered during the early summer.
With that in mind, we should remind you that in using an every-other-year format for the past 16 years, the Pottawatomie Garden Club in St. Charles is "on" this year for its garden walk.
The club will host "Gardening Lifestyles" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 24, featuring six gardens in St. Charles.
Tickets for the garden walk are $20 in advance or $25 the day of the event.They are available on the club's website at pottagardenclub.org.
If you are out and about, tickets are also available at the Heinz Brothers Greenhouse, Townhouse Books and Cafe, Trellis Farm and Garden, Wasco Nursery and SG Too, all in St. Charles.
In Elburn, tickets can be purchased at Countryside Nursery, and in Geneva at Scentimental Gardens and Grow Geneva.
Watch the paddlers
I've never paddled the 10 miles of the Fox River that the Mid-American Canoe Race offers or even the 6-mile option that starts in Batavia.
I'm pretty much past those days, though there was a time when my colleagues at the newspaper tried to talk me into entering the race.
I had an out. I was going to cover the event as the paper's sports editor, so I left the sore muscles and sunburns to someone else.
But there is one thing I would continue to tell people as the race unfolds Saturday, June 3. It is fun to see the canoes go by, no matter where you set up to watch.
You'll see all types of canoeists and kayakers in this Fox Valley Park District event, from those out for the competition to those maybe just seeking some laughs, depending on what sort of costumes they wear.
Over these many years, I have seen pirates, nuns, pioneers and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn types making their way down the river.
All of this, of course, relies on the river to have enough water in it. Things were quite dry as I wrote this a few days before the race. The river seemed relatively low, and that can be an issue.
A good use for bags
A feel-good item from the Oak Trace senior living facility in Downers Grove caught my attention last week. The residents at Oak Trace have been recycling plastic bags and turning them into sleeping mats for the homeless.
Residents cut the bags into strips to create "plarn," or plastic yarn, and then crochet them into 3-foot-by-6-foot sleeping mats. They estimate it takes between 500 and 700 bags to build a mat. The program, called "New Life for Old Bags," even had a technology upgrade recently when the senior center's bus driver created a cutting board that drastically reduced the time it takes to cut the bags into strips.
I suppose the humorous play on words for the program title refers to the fact that most of the work is done by senior females at the facility. But some men are involved as well.
Regardless of who or how the work is done, Oak Trace has been engaged in this project for 10 years now.