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Jacobi Retires After 22 Years As Aquatic Center Manager | local news

DEWITT — DeWitt Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Lake says he constantly gets compliments on how well the city’s water sports center is run, how competent the lifeguards are, and how much families appreciate that their children are safe while swimming at the facility .

As much as Lake loves hearing them, he insists he can’t claim the praises for himself.

According to Lake, the person responsible for making the DeWitt Aquatic Center a reliable, efficient, and fun place is his longtime manager, Penny Jacobi.

The 2022 swim season was not only Jacobi’s 22nd year as director of the facility, but also her last year on the job.

As Lake works with city officials to find someone to fill her spot in time for next year, he marvels at how many lives Jacobi has touched during her tenure at the aquatic center.

“It’s generational,” he said. “She met kids when they were going through the swimming lesson program, then again when some of those kids became lifeguards, and then when they grew up and started taking their own kids to the pool. She was such a safety advocate; the constant training with our guards and skill work. It was so great working with her. I can’t believe she’s been here for 22 years.”

Jacobi, who lives in Wheatland with her husband Randy, said she’s also a little taken aback that it’s been more than two decades since – Cary Conger, the DeWitt city manager, called to see if she’d consider it to manage the water sports center.

At that time, the plant was just a year old. Jacobi, who retired after many years as a physical education and health teacher at Calamus-Wheatland Elementary, had ample pool management experience when she accepted the position.

Since her sophomore year, Jacobi has spent her summers managing the pool at Wapsi Oaks Country Club in Calamus, as well as other facilities.

“I did various pool work,” she said. “I was at Tipton for a couple of years, then Clinton. Then Cary called me and asked if I would be interested in running the facility (DeWitt). I honestly didn’t know what to do; I thought this was a deal. It was a very different and larger facility than I was used to. It took some thought and prayer on my part…Randy and I agreed I would try it for a year and see how it went.”

The years passed and Jacobi remained as manager. Lake said she really helped make the facility, its staff and its swim instruction program what it is today.

Jacobi noted that throughout her 22 years, she’s always focused on one thing – safety.

“I was thinking about safety the whole time,” she shared. “Guest safety; Whatever happens to the children or the adults ends up with me and my staff. So I worked a lot on it. I self-certified my guards. I found that hiring and getting to know her really helped me. It was helpful to put together a really competent staff.”

When it came to hiring lifeguards, Jacobi said she was “really blessed” to attract the “best kids” to work at the facility.

She was also grateful for the support from Lake and the city and its employees. Without their help, the pool might not have survived some of the tougher times it has faced.

For example, during the COVID pandemic in the summer of 2020, the DeWitt Aquatic Center was one of the few facilities of its kind in the area to have a consistent instructional program throughout the summer. Scheduling had to be completely restructured, but it worked.

Now, Jacobi said, it’s time to take back her summers and devote more time to her husband and grandchildren. However, it is not easy for her to give up her long-term job.

“I really, really liked this job,” says Jacobi with a smile. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed. It wasn’t just a job for me; it was something I looked forward to. I had a lot of fun during those years and looking back it was a very positive experience for me.

“I’ll say this… DeWitt is fortunate to have this facility. It is wonderful. DeWitt is so full of great things. There’s so much here and it’s so progressive. The water sports center is one of the things they added earlier than many other places and it’s been great for the people here and in the surrounding towns. It was a great community to work in.”

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