ROCHELLE — Marianne Swanson has already retired twice and returned to Spring Lake and the Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District.
She currently serves as Interim Aquatic Director. This year marks her 40th at Spring Lake. She’s worked at the facility since it opened in 1981. Then, it was just a swimming pool. She’s seen the addition of the slide, rock climbing wall and most recently, a splash pad.
“It's become more than a swimming pool, now it's an aquatic center,” Swanson said. “That's good for everybody. Good for the community and the kids. Consumers have been more sophisticated. There's way more regulation in place now than there was when I started. I came in as a swim lesson instructor and substitute lifeguard. I took over as manager in my third year. I've been here pretty much every year."
Swanson has always had a passion for swimming. She grew up a half a block from her town’s swimming pool and went every single day. When she was 15, the swim team coach asked why she wasn’t a part of the team. Nobody had ever asked her to be.
She joined the team later and “absolutely loved it.”
“And then when I went to Northern Illinois University, it was on a tennis scholarship,” Swanson said. “I skipped tennis practice one day and tried out for the swim team and made it and swam all four years there. I've always enjoyed the competitive nature of swimming and swimming in general."
Coaching swim teams in Rochelle is something Swanson has loved in her time at Spring Lake and with the park district. After she was hired in 1981, the swim team was disbanded after being run by a private group of parents.
Swanson asked the park board if it would create a swim team, and it was supported.
“That's one of my fondest memories, getting that start and watching that grow from a team of 20 kids to 100 kids each year,” Swanson said. “Now the indoor facility will let us offer programs all year round. I'm hoping we can find a year-round swim coach. Maybe even a high school program would be ideal. A lot of kids would be interested. It's hard to find coaches."
Swanson said the best part of her job is building relationships with swimmers and watching some become lifeguards. Over the holiday weekend she saw some ex-lifeguards and former pool managers that were back in town that stopped by Spring Lake.
“They tell me they can't believe I'm still here,” Swanson said with a laugh. “We become a family. We spend a lot of time together each day because we're open so long. We have to trust each other. We have to work together as a team. The lifeguards and my pool family are the highlight of what I do."
The park district has an aquatic staff of 41 people this year. Even though Swanson has been there for 40 years, she said she’s not the only one with the knowledge of hard-to-find things at Spring Lake. She prides herself on how she shows employees what to do.
She sang the praises of her lifeguards, many of which are 15-16 years old.
“Because this is 40 years, I want to celebrate more than me,” Swanson said. “Celebrate Spring Lake and the whole facility. The lifeguards, their training and commitment to the facility. Lifeguards, people think it's a great job to sit in the sun all day and get a tan. They're under extreme pressure. It's a lot of responsibility. I don't think people realize what these kids do. They're the most unappreciated group.”
Thirty years is typically the lifespan of most outdoor pools, Swanson said. She remembers when there was talk about shutting the facility down rather than investing in its infrastructure. $500,000 worth of renovations were recently completed at the venue.
She was glad to see Spring Lake invested in, even with how much she enjoys the new REC Center facility.
“It's just not as much fun swimming inside as it is outside,” Swanson said. “The ambiance and the atmosphere. It's exciting. We do the chicken dance and water polo contests and inner tube races. I think it strengthens the entire community.”
Swanson called last year when Spring Lake was closed due to the pandemic “anticlimactic.”
She has young grandchildren that she was able to spend time with, but they weren’t able to go to the park or go swimming. She feels the high attendance numbers Spring Lake has seen so far this year can be attributed to the lack of a summer last year.
After 40 years, Swanson is unsure what her future holds. She said it could look like a lighter schedule and being part of a possible aquatic management team for both Spring Lake and The REC. What she does know is why she’s been unable to say goodbye to Spring Lake yet.
“It's just kind of how I'm wired,” Swanson said. “My husband says that to me all the time, and so does my mom. I like to be busy and stay busy and when you're passionate about what you do, it doesn't seem like work. Most days. This summer has been more demanding just because of the number of hours.
“But I can't say I'm not having fun.”