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Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center to celebrate 10-year anniversary

The Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center will mark its 10th anniversary with a special program Wednesday to honor the late Dorothy Olson, whose financial gift a decade ago made the aquatic center possible. The aquatic center opened July 13, 2004, and the grand opening was held six days later. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton) 1 / 4
Tanya Hinrichs said she has been visiting the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center since 2007. She had particular praise for the lifeguards. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)2 / 4
Jennifer Ridler of Willmar became manager a few years ago. Ridler, a fourth-grade teacher in Alexandria, says teaching adaptive swimming is her favorite activity. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton) 3 / 4
LeAnne Freeman, Willmar leisure services supervisor, talks recently about the upcoming program to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)4 / 4

WILLMAR — A special program is set Wednesday morning to honor the late Dorothy Olson whose financial gift a decade ago made possible her dream of having a family-centered aquatic facility in Willmar.

The $1.2 million gift, along with contributions from the city of Willmar and Willmar Municipal Utilities and land donated by the Willmar School District, resulted in construction of the facility, named the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center, at the corner of 15th Avenue and 22nd Street Southwest.

The aquatic center opened July 13, 2004. The grand opening was held six days later.

“We’re going to re-enact the ribbon-cutting ceremony,’’ said LeAnne Freeman, city leisure services supervisor.

Freeman said members of the Olson family, along with special event sponsors and local officials, will attend. Afterward, the aquatic center will be open to the public during regular hours from noon to 7 p.m.

“We’re patting ourselves on the back and I think we deserve to pat ourselves on the back. As a community we need to because this was a big thing. Dorothy Olson was a big part of having this pool here and we can’t thank her or her family enough for what the community has been able to enjoy over these last 10 years,’’ Freeman said.

“We’re celebrating our successes, our accomplishments and celebrating what do we want to look at in 10 years,’’ she said.

Freeman said some very significant program changes have been made at the aquatic center. One is the morning adaptive swim program for children ages 5-17. During the past five years, about 75 children with disabilities have learned how to swim. The Arc advocacy group helped train aquatic center staff in how to teach the kids.

In addition, the aquatic center and staff can be rented for group events, and staff members participate in local fundraising events.

Over the years, Freeman has worked at getting a good consistency in staff.

“We go through a lot of training before we open and then we do training throughout the summer, too, to keep everybody up-to-date on changes that are made or situations or problems that we have,’’ she said.

“We’re open 7 days a week. We consider ourselves like a family out here. We have our good days and we have our bad days as most families do. But everybody is really supportive in helping people out here,’’ Freeman said.

“I think that’s one of our biggest strong points. I think the whole staff has really embraced making sure that we’re customer-friendly, but our facility is clean and neat and people feel safe coming to it.’’

Jennifer Ridler of Willmar started as a lifeguard nine years ago, moved up to head lifeguard and eventually became manager a few years ago. Ridler, a fourth-grade teacher in Alexandria, says teaching adaptive swimming is her favorite activity.

“I come back home for the summer to do this,’’ she says. “I love kids. I love being outside and working with people. It’s just great to come back to this. It’s like we’re all family. I like being able to help people and mentor them along the way, too, so they can hopefully be here just as long as I was.’’

Adults and children enjoy the fun features in the wading pool, the six-lane lap pool and the two big water slides. Tanya Hinrichs of Willmar was among those relaxing on the deck under a sunny sky last week.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years, but it’s been awesome,’’ said Hinrichs, who has been coming to the aquatic center since 2007. Her 8-year-old daughter participates in adaptive swimming.

Hinrichs said the grant from the Olson family was awesome.

“Willmar needs something for the kids,’’ she said.

Also, Hinrichs thinks the lifeguards are amazing.

“They do a good job. I know they rotate stations throughout the day and they never take their eyes off the kids, and they’re strict but the kids listen,’’ she said. “They know the rules. The regulars know the rules. But they’re friendly with the kids and the kids know the lifeguards by name. It’s real nice.’’

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150