It was the summer of 1969. Americans were glued to their television sets, watching Neil Armstrong bounce on the moon. Peace-seeking music lovers redefined an era at a music festival in upstate New York. The Kansas City Royals launched their first season.
And while history-in-the-making swirled around them, families in Overland Park enjoyed a brand new swimming pool near 103rd Street and Roe Avenue. This weekend, that pool — the oldest outdoor one in the city — is closing.
On Saturday evening, Roe Pool buzzed with life for one of the last times during a “Bon Voyage” party thrown by the city.
Dozens of children splashed around in the light blue water. Some tossed beach balls with their parents, while other giggled with friends.
The scene was a heartwarming moment for many of the pool’s regulars, but it was also a nostalgic one.
“This is what it was like here every summer during the 1980s,” said Overland Park resident Bob Beaver. “Now, you’re lucky if there are a couple people in the pool with you these days. Everything changed when people started moving south.”
Beaver became a regular fixture at Roe Pool in 1980 when he moved nearby. He often spent summer nights floating in the pool and befriending the staff members. Over the past 30 years, his two sons learned to swim and dive at the pool as well. They were one of several families who spent every summer there.
But as the surrounding neighborhood grew older and larger pools with splashier features popped up in the area, the attendance at Roe Pool steadily declined.
In the past few years, only a small following of loyal neighbors still faithfully spent summers at the pool, which is surrounded by the large and shady Roe Park.
“This pool is quiet and it’s in the woods and that draws folks who are looking to relax,” said Larry Miller, who has been the senior pool manager at Roe Pool for 13 years. “It’s a place to meet your neighbors and establish friendships. We’re all very sad it’s closing.”
Roe Pool’s closure is the result of the city’s Comprehensive Park System Master Plan, which was created in 2012 to address the current and future needs of trails, parks, recreational centers and other functions.
Because of the pool’s deteriorating condition and low attendance, the city decided to close and decommission the pool this season, sending notices to nearby residents two years ago.
Roe Park, however, will be revitalized. The wooded area is a popular destination where Overland Park residents play softball, walk on the trails and play on the playground.
New park amenities will include an active playground with climbing features, spinners, slides, stepping pods, a boogie board and swings. There will be separate play areas for 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds.
Other features will include a nature play area and a wet play area with 14 aquatic features. The parking lot will be expanded, and improvements will be made to the restrooms and picnic site.
The park improvements are bittersweet for Roe Pool regulars.
Diane Markley of Overland Park grew up minutes away from the pool. She splashed around the kiddie pool as a toddler, worked the cash register as a teenager and eventually became a senior pool manager as an adult.
“This was the first place I drove to when I got my license,” she said. “It’s a special place for me and for a lot of people. But I do agree it’s time to do something new here. I think the spray features will be appealing to kids. It’s nice that Roe Park will continue to have life after the pool.”
The Bates family, who lives nearby, felt the same way. Ron Bates took his two teenage daughters and their friend to the pool’s last hurrah on Saturday evening.
They swam and relaxed poolside as a DJ blasted Top 40 hits and kids played dress up with props in a photo booth. Outside the pool, a vendor sold hot dogs and other treats.
The liveliness was a far cry from the solitude they’ve known at Roe Pool for the past few years.
“This pool has been a part of our family,” Bates said, who also used to swim at Roe Pool as a kid in the 1970s. “I liked that it was quiet because when you came here, it felt like having your own private pool. And that was especially nice when the kids were little and you didn’t have to worry about them getting lost in the crowd.”
His daughters agreed.
“We’ve been expecting the pool to shut down for a while, but it’s still sad,” said Cami Bates, 15. “I probably won’t go swimming as much now anymore.”
Nearby Overland Park pools include Stonegate Pool near 95th Street and Antioch Road and Tomahawk Ridge Aquatic Center, near 119th and Lowell Ave.
Roe Pool will permanently close following its last day of operation on Sunday, Aug. 9.
Demolition of the pool is set to begin the week of Aug. 17. The new park features should be completed by late spring of 2016.