Can you imagine loving a job so much that you do it for 65 years? Ray Ames is that man.
As a University of Pittsburgh education student in 1951, a friend told Ray that Allegheny County was hiring lifeguards at the once-grand South Park stone pool. He applied, got the job and took to it as the proverbial fish to water. That's where this story begins - with no end in sight!
When the Allegheny County pool season opens on June 4, Ray, at the age of 84, will take his position once again as the manager of the South Park Wave Pool.
Back when he started, lifeguards earned $3 for a full day of work. Ray's eyes get wide when he compares that to the $11 an hour lifeguards make today, with the option of bonuses for attendance plus a $1,000 college scholarship. The County is still recruiting for lifeguard positions for this summer season. (See the link below.)
Ray worked at the pool every summer while in college. When he became a high school teacher, first in Duquesne and then at the former Peabody High School for 43 years, having the summers off allowed him to keep his second career at the pool.
He's seen many changes since then.
The Stone Pool was designed by
landscape architect Paul Riis with plans drawn up by local architect Stanley Roush as a series of naturalistic stone formations with cascading waters and a combination of deep sections for diving and shallow waters for wading. It measured six acres, required two million gallons of water to fill and cost less than $1 million to build. Daily admission cost 10 cents. The pool drew as many as 15,000 swimmers a day. It was informally referred to as 'the common man's country club.'
But by the 1970s, the pool was leaking and repairs were more costly than building a new one. So the Wave Pool was built and opened in 1978. The stone pool was filled in and became a go-cart track and a miniature golf course.
Ray has weathered all the changes, being promoted to head guard and eventually to pool manager, with each job earning him an extra $1 a day. Once he retired from his teaching job, he took on winter responsibilities as manager of the ice skating rink.
A self-proclaimed "people person," Ray has kept in contact with many of his former employees. "Every doctor I've ever had since I was 18 years old either worked with me or for me," he said.
Clarence Hopson, Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation, is Ray's supervisor and the two share a mutual respect and the lively give and take of longtime friends. "He's been a great employee for me. I tease him that I was born the year he started working at the pool!" he said, laughing.
Ray said he's often asked why he still works there. He's quick with an answer. "This is the best job I've ever had in my life."