Donna DeShazo


Age: Late 50s

From: West Philadelphia

First pool experience: Kelly Pool in 1962, with her parents

Work with the pools: As a Pool Maintenance Attendant (PMA) and Pool Equipment Operator (PEO, or head PMA) at O’Connor Pool since 2007

Donna DeShazo has worked at O’Connor Pool for seven years and never once been in the water. “On the hottest day, I won’t even get underneath the shower. And people always ask me, people always say, ‘Do you get in the pool?’ No.” But she loves being there. “I love watching everybody else in that water. I love it. I get a joy out of watching people in the pool, that I’m able to watch them. I’m watching over them. I really feel as though God has placed me there to be their covering. To keep them safe, you know what I mean?”

Ms. Donna, as everyone at the pool calls her, has worked at the Overbrook School for the Blind for 26 years. But come summertime, she’s O’Connor’s Pool Equipment Operator. She’s been at the pool longer than any of the other summer staff, has outlasted three Rec Leader supervisors, and carries an authority born of experience as well as seniority. “I know sometimes even down to our staff, I can work their nerves. Because I want the best, you know what I’m saying? I want the best. I’m older, and I know we have young ones that we work with, but I want them to take the job serious.”

When Donna was growing up in Haddington, her mother would put oil in her children’s shoes if they were running wild – and pray for them either way. “That was the covering she placed on us every single day. ‘The prayer of the righteous avails much.’ You got to trust in God. You got to be prayed up every day. That’s what I do, and I continue to do. I trust God to keep us. I trust God to protect us. Because this is world is a wicked world, unfortunately. I just really wish the leadership – the mayor, the governor – to push for the people. It’s not about themselves. It’s not about money. It’s just about the people.”

“When we came up, we had a lot of programs that was given to us, opportunities that was given to us,” Donna reminisces. At Haddington Rec alone, she attended cooking, sewing and dance classes. “For that to happen for our kids would be so great.”

Donna has a son and a daughter, but she’s not just talking about them. “You see a lot of kids that come to O’Connor – parents will put them out early in the morning, to fend for themselves. And the pool – between the pool and the camp at Markward [Playground] – became their home for the summertime. I mean, we had this one particular family of kids that the mother put them out at ten o’clock in the morning. And they were not allowed to come back home until six o’clock in the evening. She gave them no money. They had no clothes. They were raggedy. They would come to the pool; they would go down to the playground, eat their little lunch. They weren’t campers at the playground, but the camp would still feed them. We’re home away from home.”

“We have some kids that have nowhere to go. Parents can’t afford to take them on vacation. The pool is their vacation. These kids need stuff like that. Not even just the kids. Adults. We have adults that come there faithfully. Who work hard each and every day, pay taxes like anybody else, and because they can’t afford to go on vacation, the pool becomes their vacation.”

Donna has a way of talking that invites you to be part of something with her. As often as not, her sentences end with “you know what I’m saying?” or “you know what I mean?” She explains why you’ll never catch her in the water: “I had a bad experience. When I was 11 years old, one of my big sisters called themselves teaching me how to swim. And almost had me drown. And that was a horrible, horrible experience that I need deliverance from,” she laughs. “But I have not gotten deliverance from that. It’s funny. My two kids learned how to swim. My husband know how to swim. Me? No dice.”

Donna’s husband grew up in South Philly, learned to swim at the now-filled-in public pool in “Chicken Bone” – aka FDR – Park, and later became a Navy man. He taught their son to swim at Haddington and Cobbs Creek pools. But he never swam at O’Connor – which, when he was young, was whites-only. Now, Donna says, “This pool is about everybody. It is not about your type or my type. This is for everybody, and it’s for the whole community.”

“I’m at the gate sometimes, but at the same time I’m watching. I’m watching. I’m looking to make sure everybody’s ok, making sure everybody’s doing what they supposed to do. Guys come in who’ve never been there and want to test the waters and dive in the pool when you say no diving. You have patrons where we have a limit, and they have to stand outside, and they wanna cuss you out. You get that. But for the most of it, I have had patrons where even in situations like that, as long as I explain the situation to them, they are so understanding. Like I tell everybody that comes in there: Please just go according to the rules and regulations. We’re here to have fun.”

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