Risk of getting sick? .0004%

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report last week on “Recreational Water-Associated Disease Outbreaks.” You can read it here, or check out this analysis from RealClearScience Journal, which concludes:

The number of disease outbreaks from recreational water is likely far underreported, but even if every instance were documented, public swimming pools would still come out looking squeaky clean. Judging on available evidence, the stereotype that public pools are slosh pits of disease doesn’t hold water. 301 million people over the age of six swim in public pools each year, and a mere .0004% come home with an infection, and a minor one at that.

Vare (26th and Morris)


South Philly’s largest public swim spot, Vare’s pristine waters sparkle between a century-old rec center and its adjacent expanse of threadbare fields. People who’ve been around for a while sometimes refer to the pool as “Gray’s Ferry” for the surrounding neighborhood, a blue-collar community hit hard by deindustrialization and often defined – at least externally – by racism.

Originally built around 1925, the pool (which has been rebuilt since) was in a white section of the neighborhood and did not start integrating until the late 1970s/early 1980s. In response to some particularly scrutinized area incidents of racial violence in 1997, the City committed to funding programming and renovations at nearby recreation facilities – which were both sites of conflict between Irish-Americans and African-Americans, and sites with particular potential for reconciliation and community-building. That commitment included valiant measures to keep Vare’s pool open, including fully or partially draining its 75,000 gallons every night during pool season (to be able to clean up bottles that were thrown in the pool to keep Black swimmers out) and equipping Vare with the largest police presence of any pool in the city.

Vare’s pool still gets drained every night (although I’ve heard now that’s more to keep people from swimming than to clean up hate-fueled debris), and the regular circulation means it’s got some of the freshest swimming water in the city. Its size and shape make it perfect for laps, though when I’ve visited jumps and flips seem to be more common.

Vare Playground occupies the block between Morris and Moore and 26th and 27th; the pool is on the Morris Street side.

Natalia Susul


Age: 20

From: Port Richmond

First pool experience: Samuels Pool in 2001

Work with the pools: As a lifeguard at O’Connor Pool from 2010 to 2013

“One of the most important things about growing up,” Natalia Susul reflects from in the thick of it, “is retaining some innocence. You grow up, and so much stuff happens. Everyone has a rough life. Through all the stuff that you’re going through, whether it’s work stuff or family stuff or just life, you have to be honest, be simple. It’s the simplest things in life that are the most important.”

Natalia has the diminutive stature of a gymnast, but her curiosity is huge and honest. She is unflaggingly open-minded and interested in the world – and especially the people – around her.

“With my parents barely knowing the language, they’ve always stressed to me, know as many people as you can. Meet as many people from as many different backgrounds, because you’ll learn something from everyone. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or if they’re poor. And that was my favorite thing about being a lifeguard. You meet so many different people. There’s doctors that come to the pool. There’s kids in second grade that come to the pool. People of all different backgrounds, of all different jobs, of all different ethnicities can still come to one place and share something in common. Regardless of their income, or regardless of their skin color – regardless of anything. “

Natalia – who, as the LG2 (head lifeguard) at O’Connor Pool, was my boss this past summer – was on track to become a Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation lifeguard by the time she was eight. She and her older brother grew up in Port Richmond (“culturally Polish,” she describes it, and fluent in the language) and attended programs at Samuels Rec, up the street from their house, for as long as she can remember. The summer she was to turn nine, her mother enrolled both kids in Samuels’ Swim for Life summer camp. “I’m pretty sure I threw up in the morning, I was so scared,” Natalia laughs. But by the second week, she was swimming in eight feet of water. She returned to the camp for six more summers, and passed the lifeguard certification at the end. She remembers the lead instructor, Mary Beth, as “the best person in the world. We were always messing around: ‘I don’t wanna swim,’ ‘It’s cold,’ ‘Let’s leave.’ Mary Beth always made us stay in the water, always made us swim.”

Natalia’s first year lifeguarding was 2010, when the City reopened all the pools after the massive closures the summer before. All the pools, that is, except for two that didn’t pass inspection – including the one at Monkiewicz Playground, where Natalia’d been hired. “I called Mary Beth. She looked out for her kids. She really didn’t have to! With all the cuts that were happening – I don’t know the full story of what happened with her and her job – but she wanted everyone to have a job; she wanted everyone to get something out of what they worked for. She within a day called all these different people,” and eventually turned up a lifeguard opening at O’Connor, where Natalia’s worked ever since.

“I knew nobody when I was going up there. I was unfamiliar with the area. I had no idea. I was never in South Philly. In the beginning, my first year, I was the only girl lifeguard out of five lifeguards, but everyone was just super nice. I always felt like someone had my back.”

Natalia waves her hands around as she talks, at times almost hopping up and down with enthusiasm, and laughs loudly and often. She radiates positivity, even when she talks about her brother’s death last year, and the hole that left in her family. Now a junior studying physical therapy at the University of Pittsburgh, she attended Catholic school from the time she was four, first around the corner at her home parish, Nativity BVM, and later at Nazareth Academy. Her goal in life is to help others, and the opportunity to do so is one of the things she loves about teaching swimming.

“It’s not just recreational. That’s the best part about swimming in all these pools; you learn a lot too. Swimming in general – it’s a huge confidence booster. It’s always scary to first learn how to swim. There aren’t many people who are comfortable with it in the beginning. I went to swim camp being like, ‘I really can’t swim; I’m not confident at all.’ And then in a week or two I was already on a better level. And now, seeing kids’ reactions when they can finally put their head underwater, and hold their breath. You see their progress. I’m not even a teacher. I’m not anything special; I’m a kid myself. But it’s gratifying – it’s just so nice to know that you helped. Simple things!”

Philly’s pools are part of the reason, Natalia explains, that she “wouldn’t trade growing up in Port Richmond for anything.”

“I loved growing up in a neighborhood, in such a small town but in the city. We’d play ‘til 10 o’clock at night, and then my mom would call us down the street to come in, and me and my brother would be angry – ‘Ahh, we wanna stay out and play!’ And in the morning it was back out, back out on the street. Freedom was our thing. Freedom was our game. We had a park around the corner; we have a bunch of playgrounds down the street.”

“Growing up in the city, we went down the shore every now and then. But the city gets hot; the city gets sweaty; the city gets gross in the summer. Having the pools is not only a way to cool down, it’s a way to be a kid. Through all the troubles of every day, just being a child again, being innocent again, and just frolicking around. Not everybody does have the money to go down the shore, or has the time to go down the shore.”

“Life is a cycle. You grow up, but there’s somebody else that’s also growing up. Try to think back to when you were a kid. Remembering what you had as a kid – the things you loved as a kid – all kids should have. Hopefully the pools will stay open forever.”


Natalia and other O’Connor Pool staff her first year.

Stinger Square (32nd and Dickinson)


Stinger Square is only one square Philly block, but I think of it as a little slice of heaven,” says Irene Russell, President of the Friends of Stinger Square. “Although Stinger Square was established in 1910, it wasn’t until the early 70s that the pool was built. Vare Recreation Center had long been the only pool in Grays Ferry, but Grays Ferry was the most racially volatile area in the city and Vare was in the white neighborhood, which did not want Black kids swimming with their children. So the answer to the problem was to give Blacks their own pool, and that would keep them away from Vare. Since then our children have been swimming in a safe environment that welcomes all ethnicities, and having the time of their lives.”

The gate was closed when I walked up to the pool on a sweaty Saturday in July, so I asked the PMA on the other side if I could come in. “Of course, honey,” she said, taking a momentary break from sweeping the pool deck. “This pool is for everybody.” The bathing-suits-only rule seemed to have gone out the window that day, and a fair number of kids were swimming fully clothed. The lifeguards had enough to handle trying to keep the enthusiastic jumping and flipping games under some semblance of control. “Can you believe I learned to swim in this motherfucker?” I heard one woman laugh to another.

Search through local news archives, and the main things you’ll turn up about Stinger Square are a flurry of reports, every ten years or so, about anti-violence efforts in the area. Talking to Irene Russell paints a much fuller picture. “Stinger Square has always been a safe haven for families to come to, for generations,” she explains. “And the atmosphere at the pool reflects that. It is an air of camaraderie and good wholesome fun. Most of the people who work there are from the neighborhood and familiar with the children and their families so things don’t ever get too far out of hand. It is important to the neighborhood because it is a vital part of our park, which hosts reunions, birthdays, church picnics and many other community events. Also, many summer camps come to the pool so their campers can swim. There is also a high attendance from younger and older adults for adult swim time.”

“Over the years Stinger has evolved with the times. A group of community members formed the Friends of Stinger Square and have been working since 2000 with Parks and Rec, PA Horticultural, the Conservancy, as well as our Council leaders and State Reps to keep our park ‘An Urban Oasis,’ as our welcome sign says. We will be getting a major makeover this winter and look forward to the ribbon-cutting in the Spring. I welcome everyone to come out and visit our park but I must warn you too: ‘Once you do Stinger, you don’t go back!’ But really though, everyone I’ve seen visit our park I’ve seen come back and bring their families with them. They become a part of the Stinger Square family.”

The pool is on 32nd Street between Reed and Dickinson, on the east side of Stinger Square. Wind your way through the family and neighborhood cook-outs to the pool entrance, which is inside the park.

Michael (Kevon) Daniels


Age: 30

From: West Philadelphia

First pool experience: Kingsessing Pool in 1991 (getting pushed in and nearly drowning)

Work with the pools: As a lifeguard at Kelly Pool for eight summers from 2000 to 2013

With 19 rescues, Michael Daniels saved more people from drowning this past summer than any other City of Philadelphia lifeguard. He takes the role seriously. But ask him why he became a lifeguard – or what motivated him to earn his Water Safety and Lifeguard Instructor certifications this fall – and he’ll tell you, “Chicks dig lifeguards.” He says it with a straight face, but also how he says most things: with laughter soft-shoeing around in his voice, like at any moment it might burst out from in between the syllables.

Mike’s good humor is infectious. It’s humor that grows out of struggle. “I wasn’t always an angel. When I was growing up, I did what the average kids in the urban area do. Spraypaint on walls. Graffiti. Vandalism. Stealing cars. I was bad. I was so bad that in fourth grade I got a EH-21 out of the Philadelphia public school system. In layman’s terms, I got kicked out the school district. I got locked up in a group home type thing. A judge got me back into the school district.”

“My sixth grade teacher was Miss Jeanie Walsh, at William Levering Science Magnet School [now closed] on Ridge and Gerhard in Roxborough. The very first day of school, in sixth grade, I walked into her classroom, and I said, ‘I’m not gonna make it.’ And she looked at me. She tilted her head and lifted her glasses up, and she looked at me, she looked at my name, and said, ‘Michael Daniels, you will make it. I will make sure you make it.’”

“That encouragement she gave me, I never forgot it. I thought I wasn’t going to make it through sixth grade. At that time I don’t know how I made it to sixth grade. I never listened to the teachers; I never stayed in class; I never did my work. The Philadelphia School District is overcrowded. You got like 30, 40 kids to one teacher. I’m not going to say people can’t learn that way, but it’s kind of hard when you’ve got 30 and 40 kids to one teacher. I think some of the teachers just passed me so they didn’t have to deal with me the next year. But to this day I still remember Miss Walsh. She’s out there somewhere. And I always told myself – since I could never find anything to pay her back – I said: I will pay it forward. So now, if I see anybody with that ‘I can’t do it,’ I want them to say, ‘You know what, I can do it.’ To take that negative core belief out their head and change it into a positive belief.”

Mike got into swimming at 14 to keep himself out of trouble. He started at Sayre-Morris Pool, taking tips from Larry and Thelma, then moved five blocks west to Cobbs Creek. “Back then, the Fairmount Park Commission [which – before it merged with the Department of Parks and Recreation – ran Cobbs Creek, Kelly and Hunting Park Pools] used to have this Junior Lifeguard Program,” Mike recalls. “I wasn’t actually old enough to be a lifeguard, so I was a junior lifeguard – I would help them out around the pool; they would show me how to swim properly, things like that. I could always swim underwater, frog-style, but I couldn’t swim front crawl. I couldn’t swim on top of the water. I would go three to four times a week, and the lifeguards would say ‘work on this, work on that, work on your kick, work on your swim stroke, work on breathing.’”

“When they were redoing Cobbs Creek Pool, they sent the lifeguards from Cobbs Creek to Kelly’s, and I just followed them down there. Since then, even when Cobbs Creek opened back up, I never went. I just loved Kelly’s. Took myself about three years to get to the swimming level where I was comfortable that I mastered it. Then shortly after that, Mike Murray – he was the director at Kelly’s Pool – gave a lifeguarding class. So I took the lifeguarding class, and I passed it with flying colors, and since then I’ve been a lifeguard.”

“Once you’re at a pool sized like Kelly’s, you never want to go to a smaller pool. There’s nothing like that sun beaming on you, sitting in the middle of the park. You get people all across the city coming to Kelly’s. You get people as far as Chestnut Hill, as far as Wilmington, Delaware, as far as Camden, New Jersey, that all comes to Kelly’s Pool. You got your swimmers; you got your lap swimmers; you got your kids. You have little kids coming to you and saying, ‘How you doing, Mr. Mike? You gonna teach me how to swim? Can you show me how to do this?’ or ‘Can you show me how to do that?’ or ‘What do I have to do to be a lifeguard?’ I can see myself in one of those children, saying a few years ago: ‘What do I have to do to be a lifeguard?’”

Kelly Pool is Olympic-sized, and – unlike most Philly city pools – has a section deeper (at seven feet) than most adults are tall. “It’s pretty deep, and you get people who think they can swim, and then when they don’t feel the bottom they give up and just sink, instead of trying to swim out. Myself and my co-worker Devyn, we had the most saves in the city this year. The primary purpose of a lifeguard is to prevent a drowning. So if you can prevent a drowning from even occurring, then you did your job. But when a drowning does occur, you also want to do your job. And I mean, every time it happens, every time you save someone – you can’t replace that feeling.”

Mike didn’t just make it through sixth grade – he graduated from Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School. Afterward he served in the military, and in addition to lifeguarding year-round (at private facilities in the non-summer months), now does loss prevention work, sings and writes his own music. He’s got three kids and another on the way. He says of them, “I want my children to have better than I had. My father wasn’t always there. I would like Philadelphia to be a city of fathers, where fathers get involved with their children. I would love for Philadelphia schools to improve. To see how some people are struggling – I don’t want that for my family, my children. I don’t want that for anybody.”

Mike does his part. “For anyone that asks me for advice, anyone that asks me for change,” he says, “Don’t ever tell me that you’re going to pay it back. Keep the change moving. Pay it forward.”

Sacks (4th and Washington)


The mini melting pot that is Sacks Pool encapsulates South Philly’s diversity – racially, linguistically, aesthetically – and has the energy to match. The surrounding fence hugs the pool close. And despite Solomon Sacks Playground’s 3.7 acres and Jefferson Square Park across the street, there’s no mistaking that you’re anywhere but the heart of the city.

Sacks Pool was built in 1971, a few years after the recreation complex of which it’s part. Sacks’ well-worn soccer field and baseball diamond now also host the culminating event of the largest Cinco de Mayo festival in the United States, the San Mateo Carnavalero or Carnaval de Puebla. Back in 1778, the site hosted a different sort of festival, a giant farewell party (known as the Mischianza) for British General Sir William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces during the early years of the Revolutionary War. In the intervening years, from around 1836 to 1945, the spot was home to the Southwark Foundry and Machine Company, manufacturing engines, boilers and other machinery.

In 1994, Bruce Springsteen filmed part of his video for “Streets of Philadelphia” at Sacks (you can almost make out the pool deck around minute 1:45) and afterwards donated $45,000 to its upkeep. Successful community efforts to maintain and improve the underfunded facilities made the Inquirer in both 1990 and 2004, and in 2005 Home Depot and the National Council of La Raza paid to refurbish them. Closed for the season during the 2009 budget cuts, Sacks also hosted Mayor Nutter’s 2010 press conference to announce all the pools would re-open that summer.

Sacks’ facilities take up the block between Washington and Federal and 5th and 4th Streets; the pool is on the Federal Street side, closer to 4th.

Irene McDonald

irene 4

Age: 49

From: Oxford Circle; lives in East Falls

First pool experience: Houseman Pool in 1972

Work with the pools: As a lifeguard at Piccoli Pool in the mid-1980s; as a Recreation Department plumber opening and closing the pools in South, Southwest and West Philly from 1995-2000; and as a pool maintenance attendant at O’Connor Pool in 2013

Irene McDonald greets everyone with exuberance. One afternoon this past summer at O’Connor, watching her welcome people at the gate, our rec leader Katie turned to me and commented, “She’s like the hostess of the pool.” And she was, both in how she interacted with everybody there and how she cared for the facility after the rest of us went home at night (like paying for cleaning supplies out of her own pocket because the City-provided ones didn’t really get the bathrooms clean). “For a summer, you get to know names, you get to know kids, you get to know faces,” Irene says. “And that’s important. That’s what we’re made up of in Philadelphia.”

Irene came to work as a pool maintenance attendant (PMA) at O’Connor each day from her other job as a plumber at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are 534,000 plumbers in the United States, and only 1.3% of those are women. Irene’s plumbing career began in the Department of Parks and Recreation. “In 1993 I became a school crossing guard for the City of Philadelphia,” she recalls. “The city had a program, called the TOP/WIN program, Tradeswomen of Purpose/Women in Nontraditional Work. And they had to put a certain amount of women in jobs by about 1995, because in 1975 there was a lawsuit put out by people that women should be in the trades – be an electrician’s helper, plumber’s helper, truck driver, for the Water Department, the Gas Department, the Recreation Department… And you wouldn’t lose your job – if I didn’t like it, I could’ve gone back to being a school crossing guard. They sent out letters to women who would be topped out and never make a larger salary than what they were making back in 1995. It gave women the opportunity to increase their income. So I did that, and I was sent in 1994 to the Recreation Department. I worked as a plumber in the Recreation Department, out on the roads with 12 other plumbers, from 1995 to about the year 2000, where Recreation Department owned Vet Stadium, and I became the first female plumber in the Vet Stadium.”

Irene is a Philadelphian through and through. She learned to swim at the Houseman Pool on Summerdale Avenue in the Northeast, where she was on the swim team from the age of eight. (“I don’t think we would have the childhood memories if we didn’t have these recreations doing these programs. More and more is taken away and taken away… but what we learned!”) Her daughters Stephanie and Shannon learned to swim at Piccoli Pool in Juniata Park; her son Jimmy worked as a PMA one summer too. That being said: “Being a plumber with the Department of Recreation made me realize how big our city was. I did not really understand ‘til the age of 34 – like, all the way out to Finnegan’s Pool [on South 70th Street near Lindbergh Boulevard]. I did not know there was a pool – I didn’t even know our city existed all the way over there,” she laughs.

The plumbers may not be the people you see every day at the pools in the summer, but they’re the ones who make sure the pools open at the beginning of the season and close down at the end. “You work hard to open them,” Irene explains. “Filling them, and making sure of the health and welfare of the community – the water’s clean; there’s no chemical imbalances; there’s nothing that’s going to be harmful; the drains are going to work, the valves, the chlorinator – so much goes into it. Because, you know, this is for the public. So there is a lot of responsibility on the plumbers. They take an oath for the health and welfare of the community.”

When Vet Stadium was torn down in 2002, Irene joined Local 690, the Philadelphia Plumbers Union. She says of her fellow Recreation Department plumbers, all of whom were men, “They knew I could do it. They said, ‘Go, go, go, you can be this; you can do it.’ They really helped me out, mentally. I would’ve never seen that I could’ve gone into 690 and stayed and built the Lincoln Financial. And I still go back, on female-plumber duty for the Eagles games. But those guys, the ones in my head, who were like, ‘Reen, you have no problem doing this,’ are still there, still supporting me and still encouraging me.”

“I’m glad I started with the Recreation Department. It was new to them, to have a woman come in. And you always have one in the crowd, but he taught me a lot, that one in the crowd, kept me going. And no matter where I go, where I work, since he was the first one, I just kind of compare it to him, and I go: If I could get over that one guy, I can get over anytime I come across someone who just can’t understand a woman being a plumber.”

She doesn’t look it, but Irene is a grandmother now, and thinking about what her life will be ten years from now when she retires. “I’d love to spend more time around the Recreation Department, as a retired person doing whatever I can,” she says. “There are so many nice people out there, when you go in and you go to their centers. There’s a lot of good people out there that you just never know about. They’re taking care of their part of the world.”

Chew (19th and Ellsworth)


It may be little, but Chew isn’t a pool to mess with. Their swim team is sizable, and one of the best in South Philly. The rules – No Jumping as well as No Diving – are strictly enforced. And hopefully by now, city officials have learned to stop trying to shut it down.

In 2004, Chew Playground (which includes the pool, a playground and constantly-in-use basketball courts and playing fields) was part of the 25% of city recreation facilities Mayor Street proposed to close, lease or sell. But Point Breeze marched and rallied behind it, and City Council ended up restoring funding for Chew and all the affected centers. In 2009, Mayor Nutter did shut Chew’s pool for the summer – and the surrounding community was again one of the most vocal about their need and love for this oasis.

The Playground entrance is on Ellsworth Street between 18th and 19th; from there, the pool is on the far side of the colorfully muralled building to your left. You’ll need to leave all your belongings outside the gate (on the ground or wedged into the fence), sign in and shower before getting in the water. On a hot day, children’s shouts will drown out the sound of the traffic on Washington Avenue.

Check out this nice picture too.

Community rally in 2009's empty pool. Photo by Coalition to Save the Libraries.

Community rally in 2009’s empty pool. Photo by Coalition to Save the Libraries.

Rodger Caldwell


Age: 59

From: Strawberry Mansion

First pool experience: Rice Pool (now closed) at 32nd and Ridge in 1968, when his father pushed him into eight feet of water and taught him to swim

Work with the pools: As a lifeguard at 12th and Cambria, Herron, Finnegan, Chew and Murphy Pools since the mid-1970s

Rodger Caldwell likes to share. Smile at him, and stories come tumbling out. Bring him in as a lifeguard – as the City of Philadelphia has, at pools across the city, for nearly 40 years – and he will, as he describes it, “blow the neighborhood wide open.”

Rodger’s been a lifeguard in North and West Philly, but the pool he describes as “his” is Herron, the much-loved circular pool that cooled the community at 2nd and Reed in South Philly until it closed a few years ago. “There was a lot of Afro-American kids, and in the late eighties they were looking at me like this on the fence,” he remembers, holding his hands up to his eyes like goggles, or the openings on a chain-link fence. “Little kids come up, say, ‘Mister, can we come in?’ And I’m saying, ‘Sure, you can come in!’ Everybody kept saying, ‘Rodger, what are you doing, what are you doing?’ So I kept saying to them, ‘Listen guys, this pool is free! I don’t own this, you don’t own this. Don’t nobody own this, man. This is a city pool! These are kids! You don’t want to have kids go home and cry.’ So the little Afro-American kids came in. The Spanish kids came in behind them. Then some Italian kids start coming in. So basically, my pool became, in the late 80s, I would say, one of the first multi-racial pools in South Philly.”

Rodger was born in Virginia and grew up in Strawberry Mansion, where he still lives today. The most athletic of nine brothers and sisters, he played basketball and – when he was 14 – learned to swim from his father, who’d take him to the city pool around the corner after coming home from work. In the mid-1970s, Rodger was a lifeguard at the 12th and Cambria Pool when the City recruited him to become head guard at Herron. “The City of Philadelphia had a meeting downtown at Rizzo Rink, and they said we need one of the best lifeguards you got to come down here and – I guess what they wanted to say was see if he can take back our facilities from the community. The community basically took over. They started putting water inside the pool from the plug, and they was running the pool themselves. All Irish. Irish and Polacks. Wasn’t nobody down there, you know, no color of skin. No Italians, no Chinese – nobody! So they had a meeting with me down there at Rizzo Rink, some of the big shots for the City, and they said, ‘Rodger, we’ve got a special job for you. We wanna know, can you handle it? Can you do it?’”

“So I walked over there – I was a skinny Afro-American guy, real thin. And they looked at me; I looked at them. The kids looked at me; the adults looked at me. The older men and some of the guys on the corner drinking beer, they didn’t like me at all. Boy, they let me have it.”

“So if I went in on a Sunday, and I came in that next day Monday, I started putting up my rules and regulations. And in two weeks time, three weeks time, the kids fell in love with me. Five years old, six, seven, eight, nine, ten – all up to maybe fifteen – they fell in love with me. And once the children fell in love with me, then the parents started liking me. Then the grandfathers started liking me. Then the grandmothers started liking me.”

“When I came back that next season, I put up my rules and regulations again, and I’m starting to see a change. I started my swimming team. I started things for seniors. I started night swimming. See back then, the pools would close at nine o’clock at night. And we had lights that lit up the pool, and it was gorgeous.”

“And you gotta remember now, I’m the only dark guy around. And they took a liking to me. Every two or three days, people was bringing me food. And then the men from the Del Monte ship that was coming in on the port – because the whole area down there, 2nd and Reed, was basically Longshoremen. Everybody worked on the ships, I mean everybody. And they were bringing in oranges, apples, bananas, pineapples, grapes. And they would say to me, ‘Rodg, could you give them out to the community?’ Because the kids in the community loved me. And every day, I used to have people stand in line, and I gave out bananas; I gave out pineapples. And all these little blond haired, blue-eyes kids was loving me like they my children!”

“My swimming team was very, very good. I’m talking about very good. I think when the kids fell in love with me was how strict that I always was. I mean I came down there, put down rules and regulations, and then the kids seen me teach them how to swim. These little kids was going home, getting bathing caps, swimming gear, everything like that. If you mention Rodger Caldwell at 2nd and Reed, they’ll go back and say yeah, he put our children on the map as far as swimming. Because a lot of those kids today, they can swim because of me. And my career stretched for over twenty-some years at that pool.”

Working as a School District bicycle cop from September to June, Rodger has kept his summers free for the pools. He never wanted to leave Herron but did for a month in the mid-1990s, when the City asked him to go meet with the community around the James Finnegan Rec in Southwest and troubleshoot racial tensions that were bubbling over. (He set up a schedule in which there were certain swim times for every age group. Once it was just eight- and nine-year-olds or fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, it seemed whites and Blacks didn’t have a problem swimming together.) Since Herron closed – when a crack in the pool floor started leaking water into the surrounding houses, and the cost of repair was too great (the site is now a sprayground) – Rodger’s served as head lifeguard at South Philly’s Chew and Murphy Pools. He speaks proudly of welcoming new communities into the water at both – Latinos and whites at Chew at 18th and Washington; people of color, and especially Asians, at Murphy at 3rd and Shunk. “I love everybody,” he smiles.