Pools and Politics Key players recall the creation of Lititz Springs Pool

By on July 20, 2011

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

Photos by Stan Hall
Former borough councilman Wendell Hower (left) and former Jaycees member Stephen Palkovic (right) are the last remaining key figures in the battle for a community pool in the early 1960s.Photos by Stan Hall
Former borough councilman Wendell Hower (left) and former Jaycees member Stephen Palkovic (right) are the last remaining key figures in the battle for a community pool in the early 1960s.

Thousands of Lititz residents will flock to the community pool this week for refuge from the stifling heat index.

Pool manager Andy Amway estimates more than 500 patrons per day during the week, and even more during the weekend. Lititz Springs Pool is the hot spot for summer recreation.

Fifty years ago, it was an equally hot topic as civic leaders battled with borough council members over government’s role in recreation. The cost of building a pool was a tax burden some refused to bear, and when the Lititz Jaycees took to what was then illegal means to raise money for the pool, tempers flared.

Stephen Palkovic is one of two living figures from those heated days, and when he spoke during a brief 50th anniversary ceremony at the pool last Saturday, his mind was on the tumultuous five-year process of getting the pool OK’d.

"I was remembering back to the days when everyone was fighting us, against the pool," he said. "Lititz was small then. We got 500 signatures saying we want a pool. Council twisted the numbers."

Today, borough council is a proud supporter of the Lititz Springs Pool. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, the six-man Republican council was split.

Wendell Hower, the other surviving key figure from the days of the big pool debate, was one of three councilmen in favor of the pool. Having served in borough politics for nearly two decades, both as a former councilman and school board member, he’s a little less critical of the opposition.

"It was difficult," he recalled. "I don’t want to create controversy, but there was already a pool in town (referring to the Woodridge Swim Club, which was and still is a private pool).

The urge to not ruffle feathers with an existing facility was just one hurdle for public pool proponents.

"Some council members felt government didn’t belong in the recreation business," Hower added. "And the third, people were concerned that it was going to cost money, which proved to be false."

Palkovic said council frightened residents in 1960 by sending out a poll with tax forms, asking the question, "Would you favor a tax increase to build a pool?"

The Jaycees finally posed the question to the borough — "What do we need to build a pool?"

The magic number was $20,000, which may be a drop in the bucket by today’s fundraising standards, but back then, Palkovic reminds, it was the cost of a home.

A band of about 15 young businessmen (the Jaycees) met at the late Pat Mastromatteo’s shoe repair store on East Main Street (across from McElroy Pharmacy). Together, they determined that the only way they were going to raise $20,000 would be if they sold 500 raffle tickets a week for a whole year, which at the time was illegal, according to Palkovic.

"We did this for a whole year, starting in 1961," he said.

At first, tickets were sold at the American Legion on Broad Street, which was one of the regular meeting spots for the Jaycees. But raffle sales had to move elsewhere because, according to Palkovic, Lititz’s police chief threatened to raid the veterans club. To avoid local legal wranglings, the final drawing for the covert fund drive was held in East Petersburg.

"We were afraid if we held it in Lititz, they might raid us and take all the money," Palkovic said.

The top prize of $5,000 went to Roy Clair Sr., who ran a neighborhood grocery store with his wife Ellen at Five Points (Cedar and Front streets) from 1952 to 1969. Palkovic said Roy used that money to help his boys, Gene and Roy, develop their interest in the sound business.

Today, Clair Global is an international sound reinforcement provider and audio industry leader in professional touring.

So, the Jaycees reached their $20,000 goal and borough council had a vote to take — three members were in favor of the pool, three were against it.

"I supported it," Hower recalled. "I felt it was something the people would appreciate and use, and I was younger (30)."

Some of the older council members were steadfast in their position that government should not be involved in recreation.

"Plus," Hower added, "the Jaycees provided the money."

To break the tie, Lititz’s first mayor (the mayor position was previously known as "burgess"), Ben Forrest, voted in favor of the pool. According to Palkovic, it was the first and last time a mayor ever voted during a council meeting.

With all the politics out of the way, the Lititz Springs Pool opened for business on May 30, 1962. Ironically, the $20,000 gift from the Jaycees was not even needed and there was no related tax increase. Palkovic said the money from the illegal raffle was used, by the Jaycees, to fund other recreational activities throughout the Lititz community.

Fifty years removed from all that bickering, Palkovic and Hower are the only ones left. Both were at the celebration on Saturday, along with relatives of other key players.

"I was a lot younger when this all started," Hower said when asked what he was thinking as he looked at the inviting blue water. "I was thinking about how it (the pool) has grown, and how it is appreciated, and how it is a beautiful facility."

During his tenure as a councilman, Hower dealt with a number of crucial borough issues, such as water plant expansions, the construction of a multi-million dollar sewer facility and police merger debates.

"There were other issues," he said. "I don’t know that they were quite as controversial (as the pool)." More POOL, page A14

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