I met Scott and Patti Tarkowski for the first time in the summer of 2017. It was my first meeting of the Westmoreland Summer Activities Association, and I wanted to make a good impression, so I wore an expensive navy-blue polo shirt from Macy’s, my best non-cargo khaki shorts, and new black Nike sneakers.
After about five minutes of talking about business Scott jumped up and started cutting through pipes and concrete with a giant saw while Patti continued to take notes. Before I knew it, I was holding the pipe with my bare hands (I didn’t think to bring work gloves) while he hit it with a hammer inches from my hands.
When I got home, I was covered in dust and grime, my hands were chapped, and I was sweaty and tired. My partner Jim asked me what I had thought of the Tarkowskis. “If anyone can get that pool open it’s those two,” I answered. “They are definitely people I want to be friends with.”
I’m proud to say Scott has become one of my best friends, I even became a Mason because of him. I like to think we make an effective team. I know I enjoy every second of working with him and Patti. I felt lucky to be with them last Tuesday when the Westmoreland Volunteer Fire Department hooked their hose to a hydrant and began filling the pool with water for the first time since 2014. Patti sat down on a bench and watched it fill while Scott walked around the perimeter.
“Tarkowskis never quit,” she said pointing to him. “Especially the biggest one.”
“I know Anna Kunz is smiling down on us,” Scott said.
Anna smiled down on us Friday when Walt Zarnock — who was the certified pool operator while Anna was alive and until the pool closed in 2014 — pitched in and shared his expertise when there was a little trouble getting the pump going.
The next day Walt was back for the grand opening.
“I’m glad you’re here to swim today,” Patti said to him. “Last night you were a hero.”
“I’m just pleased to see this back in business again,” he said. “Now the kids will have another 20, 30, 40 years to swim here.
Saturday morning the whole Westmoreland Summer Activities association board arrived around 9. We immediately started decorating and setting up for the big party, blowing up beach balls, tying balloons to tables, and putting hotdogs on the grill as Scott performed the final chemical tests on the pool water.
People began pouring through the changing rooms by 11:30 a.m., putting down blankets and towels on the newly planted grass.
At noon the fire whistle blew, the lifeguards gave the “all clear” and Ryan Tarkowski was the first person to jump in. “I finally got to go in the pool!” he said.
Sue Richards was in attendance on the day the pool originally opened. She was 8 years old. Her mother was one of the original lifeguards. “I remember being down here when everything was opening,” she said, standing next to the flagpole with 1968 written in its base. “It was incredible to be here that day and this day.”
Shirley Strickland, an employee of Stewart’s in Westmoreland set up a table and began dishing out scoops of ice cream. “Stewart’s does so much for the community,” she said. “We’ve donated to the pool through the holiday match program. I love being part of things like this and I love being part of this community.”
Bambi Patterson set up a color selfie station and a table covered with snacks donated by the Westmoreland PTO. There was sign calling it the “Westmoreland Pool Snack Shack,” and all the treats were on sale to raise money for the pool. “I love our community and how we come together for stuff like this,” she said.
“Not every community does that,” Patti pointed out.
“It’s a time forgotten,” Scott said walking over with the hotdogs to give out to guests. “It used to be like that all over. Now it’s like that again here in Westmoreland.”
“The payoff is the appreciation on everybody’s face when they come to shake your hand,” Patti looked around at the crowd. “I’ve had so many people hug me today and say thank you so much.”
“When you’re doing things like this, it takes so much out of you but when everything comes together, that day that everything happens it’s the best feeling,” Bambi added.
Brandon Hilsinger hopped out of the pool and sat at a picnic table eating a hot dog, “This is excellent. Refreshing and relaxing. It came out so good. I love it.”
His girlfriend Kiley Hadley said how she used to come and swim in the pool as a kid and she looked forward to doing it again.
Andrea John was poolside with her son Darrell Myers and his friend Devon Dixon. They both told me how much the liked the pool. “It’s finally open,” Andrea said. “It gives kids something to do. This area was missing something for the summertime.”
“I feel that every kid should learn how to swim, it’s so important,” Kristen Scalise said as she donated a plate of artistically decorated cookies in shapes of sunbursts and water drops. She operates a home business called “The Rolling Pin, ” specializing in sugar cookie cutouts for all occasions and gourmet cupcakes. “My kids learned how to swim at this pool and I’m so glad it’s up and running.”
For Rich Henderson, a Westmoreland Summer Activities board member it was a homecoming. He worked for the pool for the 15 years until it closed. “It took us four years to get it open again but it was worth the effort,” he said. “We’re going to keep it going.
“Rich is one of the most genuinely kind men I have ever met,” Patti said. “He has dedicated himself to this pool for no other reason than he just wants to see these kids enjoy it.”
“This is what Anna would have wanted,” Rich said.
“I’ve met so many people that were Anna’s family that were so kind to introduce themselves and were so kind to make a point to say who they were and thank you and shake my hand,” Patti said, “It’s really touching.”
The afternoon sun started to set, and the air cooled as evening swept in. As Zarnoch made his way out of the building, he stopped at the stone out front. He paused for a moment and looked down and the plaque embedded in the stone that says, “Every child should learn to swim. – Anna Kunz 1905-2005” “Anna was a very beautiful person,” he said. “I worked with Mary Shepard to have this plaque installed. She only missed 100 years by a couple of months. But Anna’s smiling down on us today with her sunny smile on this sunny day.”
I stood at the water’s edge with Scott, told him I was proud of him and asked him how he felt.
“It feels like I’m sure Anna felt when she built it,” he said. “To see all the people swimming around I think it was incredible to see everybody enjoying the pool.”
Scott and Patti Tarkowski had a pool of their own when they took this on in 2014. They did this whole thing for purely altruistic reasons. Scott looked at Ryan who was still happily playing in the pool. Patti walked over and gave him a hug. “Seeing our son swim,” he said pointing to him. “Now, I know why Anna had such a passion for this pool.”
The Westmoreland Town Pool plans to be open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is $5 for swimmers, guardians who are not swimming can enter for free. A one-month season membership is $100 for a family of up to five people, or $50 for an individual.
Ron Klopfanstein welcomes your comments, questions, and story ideas. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.