The swimming pool behind Mary Wohlford’s home has had new life breathed into it after a group of neighbors offered to step up and care for what is perhaps Dyersville’s oldest private in-ground pool.
Wohlford, who is now 93, said around 50 years ago her husband, Walt, built an in-ground concrete pool for not only their eight kids, but the rest of the neighborhood’s as well.
“He built it like an interstate highway — it hasn’t cracked or anything,” she said.
Despite the sturdy construction, as the Wohlford kids grew and set out on their own, the pool sat mostly dormant.
But several years ago, neighbors took notice of the commotion during a Wohlford family gathering where the pool had been re-filled.
Ron Wilwert, who is Wohlford’s neighbor from across the alley, said a band of curious neighborhood families approached Wohlford about keeping the pool operational.
“I said if you take care of it and do everything, I really don’t care,” Wohlford recalled and so far, the agreement has been working swimmingly.
For the last three years, the arrangement has fundamentally transformed an otherwise typical Dyersville neighborhood and one thing is for certain — all involved believe the pool has made the area a better place to live.
“We said hi and traded pleasantries, but we didn’t spend as much time as when we started taking care of the pool and running across neighbors on a daily basis,” Wilwert said. “Now we have this meeting place. It’s Mary’s pool, but we all kind of have a stake in the game. The pool has been a nice conduit to get to know and hang out with our neighbors. I don’t think we would have as nice of a neighborhood if we didn’t all work together on the pool.”
Wohlford echoed the sentiment, saying it has turned everyone into a familiar face.
“At my age, it’s nice that I have neighbors like these — they’re helpful and honest and you don’t find that in the big city,” Wohlford said. “We need more neighborly neighbors.”
The pool harbors a lot of memories for Wohlford, and some of them showcase just how much has changed as the decades came and went.
The neighborhood use to have a horde of kids in earlier eras, she said. In fact, Wohlford said the smallest family probably only had four children while the larger ones contained eight to 10.
“We had a lot of kids and no fences, so you could patrol the neighborhood and correct the kids whenever — you don’t have that now,” she said.
But in a sense, Wohlford is still keeping a close eye on the neighborhood “kids.”
“When she’s talking about ‘the kids,’ that’s us — the adult couples,” Wilwert laughed.
Wohlford said she’s lived a full life, from traveling the world with Doctors Without Borders following the death of her husband, to hosting foreign exchange students to caring for foster children.
She said she has no qualms about passing on, as is evident by the custom knotty pine casket she has on display in her front room and the much acclaimed “do not resuscitate” tattoo on her chest.
“At my age I’m ready,” she said.