Chip Calissie grew up in South Wheeling enjoying carefree summers, playing ball with friends and going to the 36th Street pool most days. His mom worked at the pool; later, he and his sister worked there. They didn’t know that their parents, Margaret and Lou, did much more than collect admission fees and keep an eye on kids.
“They took some kids under their wing,” he said. Maggie would let in kids who didn’t have a quarter for admission. Lou would buy food to quietly send home with children he thought could use it.
After their mother died in 2017 and their father in 2018, “we looked for a way to honor them,” Chip said. Why not increase their pool benevolence? That year and the next, he and his sister, Leigh Ann Koehler, started a Summer Swim Pass program to provide children’s passes to Wheeling’s four municipal pools for families who can’t afford them. COVID made them press pause in 2020, but this year they’re re-energizing this program by partnering with the Wheeling Parks and Recreation department and inviting the community join them.
“It’s a way to honor our parents and hopefully allow some kids to have a similar experience to what we had as children. More carefree and easy,” Calissie said. “The issues kids face today have increased … Any number of things could contribute to them not having a fun, safe place to enjoy their summer.”
Wheeling Native Rochelle Barry, the new Parks and Recreation director, also has fond memories of Wheeling’s pools. She hung out and took swimming lessons at all four — Garden Park in Warwood, Bridge Park in Wheeling Island, Grandview in Wheeling Heights, and 36th Street in South Wheeling. As a college student, she taught swimming lessons for the city. She, too, wants to give more children an enjoyable summer.
“It will give them something to do instead of sitting at home being bored,” Barry said. “A lot of them are able to walk to the pools in their neighborhood.” Once there, she said, children can also learn about free offerings, such as arts and crafts programs and family fun nights with free refreshments. Calissie envisions a community day that might include drug awareness education, with law enforcement responders to “visit the pool, maybe let kids get a little more comfortable with those folks.”
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Grandview Park has a free lunch program on weekdays, and the department is partnering with Jebbia’s Market to offer fresh snacks like fruit and vegetables, like celery cups with ranch dressing, Barry said.
Passes are $30, and the goal is to fund 100 passes, 25 for each pool. Organizers are working with teachers and administrators at Ohio County Schools to identify children who might benefit. At last count, at least 60 had been funded. “It speaks very highly of the character of the people in our community and our city,” Calissie said.
He has heard about his parents’ kindness from various people, including a man he knew when they were boys. Chip’s mother saw him one day and asked if he was going to swim. He said he had no money and she waved him in. From then on, Calissie quotes him as saying, “I had somewhere to go. Your parents became second parents to me … I attribute a lot of who I am to your parents.”
Barry noted that every pool seemed to have someone like them.
Anyone who is interested in donating to this program can make a check payable to “Wheeling Recreation Dept.” with “Summer Pool Passes” in the memo line. They can also designate a particular pool. Checks should be sent to the Wheeling Recreation Department, 2150 Chapline St., Suite 133, Wheeling, WV 26003.
With Wheeling’s four pools opening on Saturday, June 5, this program is even more timely. Hours of operation will be noon to 6 p.m. daily, with moonlight swims until 8:30 on different nights for different pools. Daily admission is $1 for children, $2 for adults. Swim pass donations will give some children timeless memories of the smells of sunscreen and chlorine, the sounds of splashing and laughter, the delights of Marco Polo and the comfort of a beach towel wrapped around shivering shoulders.
Online donations can be made by visiting the city’s website and following the prompts.
A widely-shared Facebook post has yielded many donations so far. “If you have any fond memories of these city pools, I encourage you to buy a pass for a kid so they might have similar memories to reflect on,” Calissie wrote.
For more information, contact Calissie at 304-559-5385 or Barry at 304-234-3641.