(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: In praise of the Augustus Brown Pool

Living out my life in Juneau, certain places prompt pleasant memories of departed friends.

  • By Peter Metcalfe
  • Thursday, April 6, 2023 11:39am
  • Opinion

At the beginning of this month, the Augustus Brown Pool closed for renovations, not to reopen until early next year.

The pool facility first opened 50 years ago. Prior to that, the only swimming pool during my growing-up years was the outdoor pool in Evergreen Bowl (Cope Park). There is an on-going debate about whether it was ever heated. The memory of steam rising from the pool’s surface during cool summer days is proof enough for me that it was heated, but I remember the icy cold pool on Mondays following the weekly water replacement.

One person deserving of credit for getting us a year-round indoor pool was a retired longshoreman, Joe Guy. He chaired the 39-member Citizens Participation Committee of the Juneau Model Cities Program, which put us first in line for a suite of federal programs. In 1969, a $250,000 proposal was placed before the CPC to fund the planning and design for an indoor pool. That year, I and two other high school students, Ron Hakala and Jane Sheridan, were members representing Juneau’s youth. We were there for the CPC debate. Joe Guy made a compelling argument not to be penny-wise over water safety for young people. The pool funding won approval and four years later the doors opened to our modern, indoor facility with exercise equipment, a sauna, lap pool and the adjoining recreation pool.

I began using the “Augustus Brown Swimming Pool” * soon after it opened and have ever since. It was there I learned how to swim. As a child, I had learned the basics of staying afloat at the Evergreen Bowl pool, though my swimming technique amounted to little more than keeping my head above water while I churned the water.

At Augustus Brown, with coaching by friends, I learned to swim laps and soon was swimming distances of half a mile and more. Never a fast swimmer, it was the distances that gave me the confidence in my abilities that I credit for convincing myself during a 1980s hunting expedition to swim through icy waters for an unmoored skiff. Without it, we would have been stranded on a remote beach in the depths of winter with buckets of clams but no survival gear, unable to get to our fishing boat anchored 100 yards offshore.

In more recent years, I continue to make frequent use of the facility, mostly to swim laps, which I finish with a relaxing, hot sauna.

Living out my life in Juneau, certain places prompt pleasant memories of departed friends. This is especially so at the pool where, in near-holographic detail, I can visualize Lisle Hebert exercising on a recumbent bike while reading a book held in an outstretched hand; Kevin Araki stretching on a mat, he and I exchanging pleasantries as I walk toward the sauna where I might find Bob Thibodeau, Tony Barril and Bob Slider sitting on the first shelf. I’d step up to the top tier and settle in between Rob Meachum and Ross Soboleff. We would all engage in light, inconsequential banter. These late friends are part of the collective memory of the “sauna gang,” and are now memorialized with small, wood-inscribed placards mounted inside the sauna above the door. This tradition began when Jim Carroll, with Bob Banghart’s help, installed the first: “Remember Bob Thibodeau.”

Preparing for this article, I talked with regular pool users like Jim Carroll, Mike Race, Neil MacKinnon, Michelle Storer and Lisa Phu. With little prompting all extolled the personal benefits they derive from frequent pool use.

I joined Lisa in the recreation pool to talk about her pool use as a mother of two. While we chatted, her 6-year-old daughter Acacia floated in circles around us with the ease of a young seal. Lisa said that both her daughters became acquainted with the pool in their infancies, and now swim with confidence. For me that was an a-ha moment: confidence. It matters not so much your athleticism or grace while swimming: it is confidence that keeps one from panicking upon an unexpected drop into water — or while swimming through ice flows to retrieve the skiff that will get you and your hunting companions off the beach.

* Augustus Brown, an early resident of Juneau, left a bequest to the City of Juneau that helped fund construction of the indoor pool that now bears his name.

• Peter Metcalfe is a longtime patron of the Augustus Brown Pool. He resides in Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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