Ruth Goepfert, Hummelstown Swim Club, Hummelstown, PA She's been the driving force behind the success of the Hummelstown Pool for the past 54 years. She' s 86 years old and still rules the pool with an iron fist and a heart of gold. (UPDATE: Ruth passed away March 15, 2014)
“Is she serious?”
“I don’t….know. She definately looks serious.”
Ruth Geopfert, 86, had just unleashed the unofficial “parent’s lecture” at the Hummelstown Swim Club’s opening day. She was instructing—no, barking at—the parents about the imaginary line they better not cross and the places they dare not venture in their street clothes.
Parents aren’t used to being spoken to this way. But Ruth gets away with it. And she’s been getting away with it for 54 years. Why? Because she loves their children and the pool she created for them. With all of her heart.
In 1944, Palmerton, PA hired its first lifeguard—then Ruth Maiden Name—for the town’s newly constructed community pool. Ruth soon left for college, where she excelled in sports and took with her a fondness for water and outdoor recreation.
After college, Ruth fell in love with and married the school’s football star, Jack Geopfert and the couple moved to Hummelstown, PA to begin their careers as coaches and teachers. From the beginning, Ruth’s sights were set on getting a community pool.
“I had no idea how to start a pool,” Ruth remembered, “but I just wanted it so badly. I researched for years, put a plan together and I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
In 1958 Ruth met with three of the prominent businessmen in town to discuss the idea and got three different levels of support. Finally, to satisfy her pleads, the men told her if she could raise $25,000, the bank would loan her the rest.
“I recruited five people in town to help me sell memberships to this non-existent pool. We printed up membership cards and went door to door selling them. It took us a year, but we raised the money.”
Hummelstown Swim Club opened July 4, 1959 with 250 members. That number has increased more than 10 fold and in 2012 its annual operating budget approaches half a million. But Ruth has never profited from the pool. Instead, she chose to use the pool as a vehicle to service.
By 1975 the “Learn to Swim” program was born and quickly became a “right of passage” for Hummelstown youth. It's a two week long group swim lesson taught by a corps of volunteers.
“You almost can’t grow up in Hummelstown without attending the 'Learn to Swim' program,” mentioned Bradley Miller, mayor of Hummelstown Borough. “She and her volunteers have taught several generations to swim. It's amazing.”
But, surprisingly, there is one thing Ruth does not love about the pool. Parents.
“Parents get in the way. I figure at this age, I can yell at anyone. I’m very, very clear about the rules while they wait for their children and I don’t beat around the bush. Last year, one man said to me, ‘I’ll be back at 10 o’clock tomorrow just to hear that speech again!’ We like to joke about it, but they know where I stand.”
Yes, they do. And so do the kids.
“A lot of people say she’s very strict and yeah, she’s very strict, but she’s almost like a grandmother to us,” commented Dominic Licata, teenage life guard. “You can talk to her about college and life and it’s almost like you’re one of her own grandkids. And she let’s us make decisions and she backs us up.”
“Mrs. G has a tough exterior,” reflected Ann Marie Licata, swim club member. “It’s like ‘my way or the highway,’ but underneath that, there’s a teddy bear, a person who loves these children, who loves the families, who would and has given her life for them to be happy, wholesome and successful.”
Ruth's obituary: http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/871837/Goepfert-Ruth.php