Four decades of poolside summers


July 02, 2008|By JANENE HOLZBERG

Ken Zachmann became smitten with Columbia in 1969.

That's when he became assistant manager of the pool in the new Running Brook neighborhood, and his devotion to the community's pools has endured such that he has returned this year for his 40th season with the Columbia Association.

Zachmann, 58, said he doesn't know of a better way to spend summer break away from his regular job as science department chairman at Hammond High School. While he long ago traded in his lifeguard's whistle for a manager's clipboard, he's yet to grow weary of working poolside.

"It was really easy to fall in love with that kind of life," the Ellicott City resident said of his early years as a lifeguard, which also included teaching swimming classes. "Young kids look up to you, and there's nothing more rewarding than giving them a power they didn't have before."

Though he has long since given up leading swim classes, Zachmann still is teaching youngsters important lessons, said John Herdson, aquatics director for the CA.

"He loves teaching these young managers how to be better individuals and to prepare for life after lifeguarding," Herdson said.

Zachmann, who supervises the 12 pools east of U.S. 29, grew up in Essex. He was a student at Kenwood High School when he first heard about Columbia. A social studies teacher talked enthusiastically about the planned community and its "very novel approach to living," he recalled.

In late 1968, Zachmann's family moved to Chestnut Hill Estates in Ellicott City. It was a turning point in his life, he said, because it brought him closer to the community he'd heard so much about.

While driving around the next summer, he stumbled upon the Faulkner Ridge pool and decided to check it out. CA employees told him a new pool was opening at Running Brook, so he drove there and was hired on the spot. That job was his first taste of the CA's way of doing things, he said.

"Civility wasn't taught back then; it was imprinted," he said. "Even so, I had never been exposed to such a positive group of people who always dealt with issues in a calm and relaxed manner."

During his early CA years, Zachmann attended the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1971. After graduation, he worked for a short time at a research lab, but he quickly decided solitary work didn't suit him.

He said a mentor convinced him he'd be good at working with kids, and he decided to become a chemistry teacher. After receiving his master's degree in biochemistry from Maryland in 1975, he took a position at Hammond and has been there since.

All the while, he returned each summer to work at Columbia's pools.

"The biggest thing that sets Ken apart is that he's 100 percent a teacher, all of the time," said Brittany Whiteford, who manages the Kendall Ridge and Locust Park pools. "He is always looking for a teachable moment."

Whiteford, who will be a junior at Maryland in the fall, has worked for Zachmann for six years, becoming a manager two years ago. Her brother, Brooks, graduated from St. Mary's College in May. The manager of the Phelps Luck pool, Brooks Whiteford also has worked for Zachmann for several years. Before that, the Whitefords were members of the Phelps Luck Snappers swim team for more than a dozen years.

"Ken tends to see things in a positive way, and it's infectious," she said. "He is genuinely invested in not only what his managers are learning, but in helping us to help the lifeguards develop into potential managers."

A unique feature of CA's pool system is the way it draws neighbors from different villages together, said Zachmann, a married father of two grown children. The new water park in Swansfield has been hugely successful in doing just that, he said.

Herdson estimated that the crowds at Swansfield have quadrupled since the water park opened. The new section features a 104-foot water slide and a splash pad, where dumping buckets and spraying hoses keep participants wet and cool. Hopewell is the site of the CA's other water park.

Much has changed over the years. A summer outdoor pools membership for a family averaged about $35 when Zachmann came onboard in 1969, he said. Now the average cost is $305. There were four pools then - now there are 23.

But much has remained the same, Zachmann said.

"We are still a diverse community, and that diversity is what defines our county and makes us strong," he said. "It's amazing what you can do when you team up."


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg wants to know about it. E-mail Janene at or call 410-461-4150.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.