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News Maryland Baltimore County Owings Mills

Family atmosphere is a hit at Glyndon Swim Club

This is how Molly Donatelli spells summer. She goes to the Glyndon Swim Club her family belongs to every day. She meets her friends, brings money to buy a snack and swims in the aquamarine pool.

"It's so nice and cool in the summer," said Molly, 13, a Franklin Middle School student, whose parents, Heather and Eric, and sister, Maggie, 9, live close enough to the pool to walk there.

Katie Karlsen has the same summer routine. Karlsen, 13, a Sacred Heart School student, goes to the community pool almost daily in between her jobs taking care of neighbors' dogs. She hangs out with friends, orders pizza bagels from the snack shop and swims.

"I like jumping into the pool. I like playing games like pool tag," said Katie, whose mother, Kim Karlsen, said she appreciates what she calls the "safe, happy environment" at the pool for Katie and her son, Kace, 10.

Glyndon Swim Club, a community pool, is not visible from the street. Off Central Avenue, a gravel driveway ends in a parking lot. A path lined with flowers leads to the red-brick clubhouse.

The swim club was built in 1931 by a local family that ran it as a private business. In 1959, a community association was formed to buy the club, and its volunteer pool board manages it. Membership is open to all.

On a weekday morning a half hour before noon, a handful of members are lined up waiting for the doors to open. Already, the temperature is in the 80s and climbing. Soon, the serene scene will become a whirlwind of activity as families stake out claims on lounge chairs and picnic tables, teens take to the pool and toddlers squeal as they play on the jungle gym.

The pool is consistently busy throughout the summer but each day has a rhythm. "The grandparents come early in the morning," said Joe Moreno, club co-manager, a Reisterstown resident and 21-year-old college student.

"Families arrive around noon. At 1 p.m. the older teens come. At 4, the families and grandparents leave. At 5, you get the evening crowd with families bringing the kids after work," he said.

Weekends and holidays such as July Fourth and Labor Day draws big crowds, especially if it's hot. "You can have 100 people in the pool," said Joe Stephan, a 19-year old college student and Reisterstown resident, "so we break it up with adult swims."

Both Moreno and Stephan belonged to the pool as children. Their memories of summer echo Molly's and Katie's.

Said Stephan, "I came almost every day. I met friends, played basketball. I learned to swim here. It has a family environment."

Indeed, family-friendly could well be Glyndon Swim Club's motto in more ways than one. A for-profit venture, the club's seven-member board works hard to maintain that feeling, operating on an annual budget of about $140,000 that goes back into improvements and maintenance of the club.

About 150 families have memberships at the swim club at the full-summer season rate of $595. Other membership rates are for seniors, individuals, daily pass and evening/weekend use. Family-friendly attractions include an annual crab feast and a couple of teen and family nights during the summer.

A few years ago, the club initiated movie night, featuring films such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

"We thought it would build over time," said Erik Smist, a 25-year member of the club and board president, "but it was an immediate hit. A couple of hundred people turn out."

The Glyndon Swim Club's membership is a mix of long-timers and newcomers mainly from Glyndon, Reisterstown and Owings Mills.

For some families, the swim club is home to several generations. For example, Stephan's parents and grandparents on both sides belong. His grandfather, John Boyle, a Reisterstown resident and retired Baltimore City police officer, has been coming to the club since he was 12.

"I took a bus from Pimlico with a couple of friends. With a dollar, I could get into the pool, buy a drink or candy bar, return on the bus and have a nickel left over," said Boyle, whose wife, Nancy, is a retired Franklin Middle School staffer.

Boyle remembers when the pool had two diving boards, not one, and the clubhouse was made of wood, not brick. "Otherwise, the layout is the same," he said.

An open-air pavilion has picnic tables and barbecue grills. A volleyball court occupies the "beach," an area covered in sand. The snack shop's prices — $1.25 for a pizza bagel, a popular item — hearken to an earlier era. The pool is not quite Olympic size. A popular feature is a water slide whose 10-foot height can be deceiving.

"Kids get to the top, look down and panic," said Stephan, who doubles as a lifeguard. "I climb up and slide down with them."

After a couple of years coming as a guest, Jenna Perman joined Glyndon Swim Club last year. The Reisterstown resident and marketing consultant says there are other community pools in the area. But she likes the Glyndon club for several reasons.

She said the club is affordable and small enough that she can watch her three children, ages 11 to 16. "There's nowhere to hide," she said.

She feels comfortable dropping off the children at the club. "The place is clean. The staff is friendly. The lifeguards are great. The food is reasonable," she said. "The kids love the pizza bagels."

Rhonda Crowley and her husband, Jim, joined the club 15 years ago. Their children, Jimmy, Dree and Kayla, were young and Crowley brought them every day. Dree, now 18, works in the snack bar.

"I didn't grow up in the area but the club has so many families who did," said Crowley, a project manager and Reisterstown resident who is a member of the club's board.

Even now, thanks to laptop computers and WiFi, which the club installed a few years ago, Crowley is an almost daily visitor. "I sit under an umbrella and work. I get in the water and swim. Sometimes, we come back in the evening and eat here. A lot of people use the barbecue grills," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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