Ready to take the plunge

Pool: The operators of the popular Padonia Park Club work nearly year-round to make the summer season as fun-filled and relaxing as possible.

May 24, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Some people think summer starts with the first whack of a wooden mallet against a crab shell, with the initial traffic-snarled sojourn "downyoshun" or with the primary whoosh of frostiness emitted by the air conditioner.

Kathy Angstadt's summer starts earlier. Much earlier.

It begins in November when she plans day camp events and movie nights for the Padonia Park Club, the Cockeysville recreation and swim club that has been in her family since the 1960s. Then her summer continues into January and February when she signs up members and interviews lifeguards, swim instructors and camp counselors. And by the time mid-May rolls around, Angstadt's summer is already in full swing as she and her seasonal staff scurry around scrubbing dozens of lounge chairs, vacuuming the bottoms of swimming pools and putting the finishing touches on the place before they open Memorial Day weekend for yet another season.

"A lot of people have the idea that on Memorial Day morning we turn the water on, open the doors, let everybody in and we're ready to go," said Angstadt, 50. "It's not like that."

At Padonia Park and the hundreds of private swim clubs and public swimming pools across Maryland, Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer season. That's when the hordes arrive to take refuge from the summer heat in temperate, chlorine-laced pools.

Before the fun and frolic come months of planning, preparation and hard work.

With less than a week to go before tomorrow's opening at Padonia Park, the list of things to do seemed endless. The floor of one of the kiddie pools lay in shards in a wheelbarrow, waiting to be hauled away and replaced. Several concrete tables in the adults-only seating area were in various stages of construction. Eight new starting blocks at the lap pool sat in cardboard boxes, awaiting installation. The snack bar, while stocked with pounds of french fries, mozzarella sticks and hamburgers, lacked ketchup, marinara sauce and mustard -- not to mention nacho cheese.

And there was the matter of relocating the family of eight Canada geese that had come to call the main pool home during the off season.

"I guess you could say we're gluttons for punishment," said Ira Rigger, 79, Padonia Park's owner and Angstadt's father.

Set on 30 wooded acres not far from Interstate 83, Padonia Park features a lake, tennis and volleyball courts, catering facilities, a day camp and a dizzying array of special events spread throughout the summer ranging from teddy bear picnics and teen nights to crab feasts and luaus. The end result is a place somewhere between a neighborhood pool and a country club with a dash of Love Boat tossed in for good measure.

Rigger, a contractor, was hired to build the main pool at the park in 1960 for 50 families who wanted a neighborhood pool. But this was before the Hunt Valley-Timonium population boom and the construction of nearby Mays Chapel, and the neighborhood pool didn't have enough members to survive. Within a few years, Rigger acquired the privately owned facility and attracted members from beyond the neighborhood. Since the 1970s, he has transformed it into a thriving business where people can join for the entire summer or a small portion of it.

Even with all the bells and whistles Rigger has added to the park over the years, the swimming pools are still the main draw.

There are five in all -- the 250,000-gallon main pool, a 25-meter-long lap pool for the swim and dive teams and three elaborately terraced kiddie pools, each dedicated to a different age group based on depth.

On a busy weekend day, the pools draw hundreds of people from the 1,000 member households as distant as Shrewsbury, Pa., and Ellicott City. Members of the club's 250-person swim team are in the lap pool by 8 a.m. By the time the club opens at midday, the red-suited lifeguards are in their chairs, ready to stand watch over the masses swimming in the main pool. As the afternoon wears on, adult devotees of the club's Cabana Bar belly up to the tikki-style frozen beverage haven for a pina colada or a Tangerine Dream. Beverage manager John Bell knows most of their drink orders by heart.

"It's a madhouse in the middle of summer -- just a fun place to be," said Martha Speno, a Lutherville mother of six and grandmother of nine whose family has been coming to the club for 25 years.

But even with hours to go until opening day, the park was more of an ant hill teaming with quiet activity than a madhouse. At first glance, the sprawling park seemed empty -- the surface of the main pool was glassy and unbroken, no would-be barbecue chefs clustered around the grills dotting the grass outside the pools.

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