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  • Allen Turner

YMCA pool opens in Fair Bluff; Whiteville facility opens Saturday

A happy group held a ribbon-cutting at the YMCA swimming pool in Fair Bluff Saturday on the occasion of the pool’s official opening. A similar ceremony will be held Saturday when the YMCA pool in Whiteville opens at the former Whiteville Country Club.

Lauren Cole of the Columbus Regional Healthcare Foundation and Dick Jones, CEO of the five-county Southeastern N.C. YMCA, presided over the ceremonies and were joined by pool staff, local dignitaries and the president of the private pool group that is leasing the facility in Fair Bluff to the YMCA.

Cole, along with Terri Priest of Columbus Regional, began last August exploring the possibility of opening public swimming pools in the county in cooperation with the YMCA. Cole said that Jeff Axelberg,

president of Lumbee Pool in Fair Bluff, approached them and said, “It’s time to convert the pool in Fair Bluff to a public pool, and they wanted to get behind the movement with the YMCA to be a part of that.”

Axelberg himself said that members of the board of Lumbee Pool had been talking among themselves about ways of keeping the pool, which had experienced financial difficulties in recent years, open.

“It kind of all happened at once,” Axelberg said. “We learned from Lauren that they and we had similar visions for what we wanted to see happen, but we didn’t have the money to make it happen. For that to happen, for the pool to be an asset to Fair Bluff like we wanted it to be, we needed a partner.”

Axelberg continued, “The Y shared the same vision we did, as far as teaching people to swim and as far as inclusiveness and as far as it being about community, so it all just kind of worked out from there.”

While Cole and the YMCA were talking with Lumbee Pool in Fair Bluff, similar discussions were taking place with former Whiteville Country Club and, as a result, the YMCA will operate two public swimming pools in Columbus County this summer.

Memberships for the YMCA include several types, all of which will allow participants to use either the Whiteville or Fair Bluff pools, as well as YMCA facilities in Wilmington. Memberships will be good through September. Family memberships are $250, individual memberships are $100, individual student memberships for ages 13-17 are $75, as are individual memberships for seniors 62 and older. In addition, day passes are offered for $5 a person per day (with a maximum charge of $20 a day per family). Swimming lessons – eight sessions over a two-week period – will be offered for all age groups for $80.

People can go to the YMCA Facebook page to get an application form or drop by either swimming pool to apply and sign up.

The 18-person staff will be split up and rotate between the pools in Whiteville and Fair Bluff. They include 11 lifeguards, five front desk attendants and two co-managers. Jones said, “Safety is our top priority and we wanted to make sure we have sufficient staff to have two lifeguards on duty at all times and have the attendants to focus on the front gate so the lifeguards aren’t distracted from their important duties.”

The Columbus Regional Healthcare Foundation and the YMCA teamed up after Jones and former hospital CEO Carla Hollis began talking last year about ways to improve health and wellness in Columbus County. Hollis asked Cole, who recently retired as a vice president at Southeastern Community College, to lead the steering committee.

“We did a needs assessment here and it had one of the highest response rates in the nation of similar assessments conducted by the YMCA,” Cole said. “Aquatics was one of the key points that came out here as people would like to see, so that’s why we’re starting out focusing on the pools.”

Community response has been excellent, she said. The Columbus Children, Youth and Families group headed by Rhonda Dutton has donated $2,500 to help get the YMCA aquatics programs started here. Fair Bluff Mayor Billy Hammond wrote a generous personal check Saturday and the Columbus Regional Hospital Auxiliary has made a similar donation in honor of Dr. Sam Wheatley. “Sam has been a big supporter of the YMCA and he has fought for years to have a ‘Y’ in Columbus County,” Cole said. “As a matter of fact, he has been going and swimming at the YMCA in Wilmington. Now he won’t have to do that.”

Information soon will be distributed on “Swim for Life,” a water safety program the YMCA will have here. Completion of that program will be required before people can sign up for swimming lessons, which will be for all age groups, adults, seniors, teenagers and younger children, including kindergarteners.

Cole offered a “two-thumbs up” for the 11 lifeguards who recently completed certification training, along with co-managers Madison Hege and Jenifer Hester. “They have endured and made it through, and I am proud of them,” said Cole. One of those 11 lifeguards is Emilee Britt, who Cole called a “legacy” lifeguard because Britt’s grandfather, Jim Turner, was the first lifeguard at the Fair Bluff facility when Lumbee Pool opened in the early 1960s.

Britt said that one of the reasons she appreciates what a big responsibility being a lifeguard is comes from conversations with her grandfather, who once had to pull an unconscious swimmer from the bottom of the pool in Fair Bluff. That swimmer survived with no permanent injuries, thanks to Turner’s quick action.

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