Making a splash: Members of “Y Make Waves” Susan Moulton, Judy Fessant, Linda Lou Rogers and Brenda Williams are determined to raise enough money to bring the pool at the Vigo County YMCA back to life. Here, they pose for a photo with a painting in November 2018 in front of the YMCA in Fairbanks Park.  Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
Making a splash: Members of “Y Make Waves” Susan Moulton, Judy Fessant, Linda Lou Rogers and Brenda Williams are determined to raise enough money to bring the pool at the Vigo County YMCA back to life. Here, they pose for a photo with a painting in November 2018 in front of the YMCA in Fairbanks Park.  Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
Lots of people have worked to develop more quality-of-life amenities around Terre Haute. That’s good for residents, prospective residents and the entire town.

But when it comes to “quality of life” assets, nothing fits that definition more than a pool that senior citizens — folks who’ve lived, worked and paid taxes in this community for decades — can call “home.” They’re battling back from knee replacements, back surgeries, broken bones, chemo and arthritis, and their prescribed remedy is exercise. Swimming is literally just what the doctor ordered. Men and women who struggle to walk can swim. They strengthen muscles and raise their heart rates, without jarring their bone joints by pounding the pavement or lifting barbells.

It makes their lives better.

An indoor, year-round, easily accessible pool that suits the fitness and water-safety needs of seniors, expectant moms, average Joes and Janes, and kids really isn’t an amenity. It’s a necessity, if improving residents’ quality of life truly is a community objective.

Fortunately, a grassroots group of people is continuing a methodical effort to reopen their “home pool” at the Vigo County YMCA. Officials at the YMCA closed its pool on Sept. 1, citing the cost of repairs ($250,000) and annual operations ($150,000).

The pool expenses inhibited the Y from offering other programs for adults, kids, seniors and families, its officials said. They also pointed out that the Y provides thousands of dollars of financial assistance each year to needy people wanting to join.

That’s when longtime YMCA patrons formed Y Make Waves. They’re residents from a gamut of backgrounds who became friends while swimming together, sharing encouragement, tears, prayers and condolences through twists and turns in their health and daily lives. When the pool closed, they took action, and not by simply sticking their hands out.

Y Make Waves has met regularly for seven months. They’ve formulated short- and long-term plans, all with the intent to benefit the Y and find ways to reopen the pool and sustain it for years to come. They’ve raised donations, and pledges so far exceed $37,000. They’re offering to pay an extra $15 a month per person, on top of their Y membership, to use the pool, and if 300 people participate, that would add $54,000 annually to YMCA coffers. Y Make Waves is becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, anxious to partner with the city of Terre Haute — which owns the building housing the Y — to reopen the pool.

Y Make Waves is a perfect model of the term “civic engagement.”

“This isn’t just a group of whiny people crying, ‘They closed our pool,’” said member Vera Kyle. “We have gotten active.” And determined.

“We’re not fly-by-night,” Kyle added. “We know what we’re doing, and we will not stop.”

They also drew support from Mayor Duke Bennett and some City Council members when Y Make Waves members attended a September council meeting. In November, Bennett told the Tribune-Star the city would assist with some pool expenses — mechanical operations, maintenance, utilities and chemicals — in its landlord role.

“Our commitment, along with private fundraising, will bridge the gap for the YMCA to get the pool back open and allow adequate time to secure longer-term funds to sustain pool operations,” Bennett said in November. At that same time, Ryan Penrod — CEO of the YMCA of the Wabash Valley, which oversees the Vigo County YMCA — described the expenses of operating the pool and said the organization “is reviewing the Y’s operational performance and the viability of reopening the pool and acknowledges the benefit of aquatic programs that are accessible to all.”

Neither Penrod nor the mayor responded to requests this week for updated comments for this column.

Y Make Waves members are optimistic that a positive resolution is near. They met Tuesday at Grand Traverse Pie Company restaurant, sharing updates on the situation, with group leader Brenda Williams — a retired educator and cancer survivor, with two knee replacements — leading the meeting. The members also shared their personal stories of the Y pool’s transformation of their well-being, and “the decline” several have experienced since it closed.

Kathy Anderson swam regularly and regained a range of motion in her knees, following double-knee replacements. Since the pool closing, “I’ve lost a lot of that again, and I’ve gained weight,” she said. Others told similar stories. They also expressed gratitude and praise for Rose-Hulman and the Vigo County School Corp. for accommodating the Y Make Waves swimmers. Those pools, though, were designed state-of-the-art for competitive swimming. 

“I love the Rose pool,” said Ann Prox, “but it’s not our pool.”

A pool built for the general public, from kids to disabled folks, isn’t too much to expect in a city of 61,000 residents or a county of 108,000, said Dr. Pulkit Patel, a Terre Haute urologist and Y Make Waves member. “A community this size should be able to afford a pool for its community,” he said Tuesday.

The positive impact of such a facility — the one inside the YMCA building south of Fairbanks Park — is exemplified in Amanda Boston’s story. The 54-year-old Terre Haute woman shed more than half her body weight through a regular swimming regimen at the Y. Before that, her doctor suggested walking. Because of her weight, “it was too painful to walk,” she recalled. The predicament felt “like a death sentence.”

Then Boston discovered swimming, something she’d previously feared. The Y offered water-walking and aqua-jogging classes. Through the years, the pounds came off. She made friends and had fun. “Just the working out and the camaraderie we made, and the music going on, it was like a party,” Boston said. “We didn’t realize we were changing our bodies.” She “felt so much better.”

Kyle, who’s dealt with two back surgeries herself, looked across the restaurant meeting room at Boston and said, “She’s an inspiration.”

After the Y pool closed, Boston’s knees “started hurting again.” Surgeries followed, she said.

So, Y Make Waves will keep trying. They’ll march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 16, hopeful for a resolution. “We will have the people behind us,” Kyle said, “because they understand our present is their future.”

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