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Tuesday, July 5, 2022


Success stories often have to do with being in the right place at the right time. But not always.
Take the case of the St. Thomas Swimming Association, which just received $100,000 from Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises and $10,000 from the West Indian Co. Ltd. for the swimming pool project it's been pursuing for 11 years.
In spring of 1998, association executive director Katherine Huttel approached the cruise line about funding for its summer learn-to-swim program. The day a company executive came to St. Thomas to check out the program at Magens Bay, she wasn't here to meet with him.
In her stead, she sent association board president Yvonne Freeman and her teen-age daughter, Marie Freeman, a member of the Stingrays swim team.
The cruise line executive, Alfred Sanchez, was so impressed that the company donated $5,000 for the 1998 summer program.
"The pool project was much bigger dollars and was back-burnered," Huttel recalls. But the subject did come up, and Sanchez did ask that she provide him more information.
With the encouragement of Judith Slosky, Royal Caribbean's St. Thomas manager, "I sent him a pile of stuff," she recalls.
Last March, Sanchez and another Royal Caribbean executive asked again to meet with Huttel — and to see the location of the long-planned pool in Estate Nazareth. This time she was on-island.
They met at the site and "toured" the field, cistern, surge tank for recycling water, perimeter fence and what's left of the excavation for the pool itself, a 25-meter-long hole dug a month before Hurricane Marilyn hit in 1995 and long since partially filled back in by the elements.
"Standing out there in the hot sun, in the bush, with nobody around but the cows," Huttel says, "it was like we were out in the middle of nowhere, and their major question was 'Who's going to use this?' But I told them —- 10,000 students in schools on that end of the island alone, all able to get there by bus."
Wrong time? Wrong place? Wrong!
"They pledged the $100,000 right there on the site, and said they would host a shipboard luncheon to announce it," Huttel says. "I was totally dumbfounded. I cried."
In the back of her mind, a little voice reminded her that "some pledges have not panned out," she remembers, "but I felt I had a commitment from Royal Caribbean and from Judee Slosky."
Last week, Royal Caribbean hosted the luncheon, aboard the 74,000-ton Enchantment of the Seas in port at St. Thomas, and presented the check. Huttel and Sanchez were there. So were 13 youngsters from the learn-to-swim and Stingrays programs. However, the Freemans were away at Carnegie-Mellon University, where Marie is about to begin study. And the pool contractor, Ed O'Brien, was undergoing surgery, and the architect, Voytek Pniewski, was in Poland.
But the place and the time were perfect as far as Huttel's concerned.
The grant is from Royal Caribbean's global G.I.V.E. Project, launched a year ago on St. Thomas. G.I.V.E. and the cruise line's Ocean Fund Program to support marine and environmental projects have together donated more than $280,000 in the territory, Slosky said.
The donations from Royal Caribbean and WICO mean "we can pour the pool," Huttel says. "We could go forward with it in a few weeks, but it will be up to the contractor to decide whether to begin the work now in the midst of hurricane season."
The pouring process takes several months, she explained. "You pour and let it sit and then pour more, but you can't stop in the middle, you can't just pour one lane and take a hiatus."
The aquatic center is being built on public land designated to be developed as the John P. Scott Sports Complex, with the pool as part of the master plan. The not-for-profit swimming association signed a 30-year lease in 1991 with an option to renew for another 30 years.
After the pouring is completed, "easily another hundred thousand" dollars will be needed to get the aquatic center operational, Huttel says.
And so, yes, of course, the association (which has provided lessons to about 8,300 students, most of them children) will hold a 1999 Swim-a-Thon. It'll take place Oct. 16, at Magens Bay. And yes, of course, volunteers are needed. To learn more, call 779-2500.

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