John Phipps: Everybody Back in the Pool!

09:21AM Nov 11, 2019
John Phipps
What do you get when you cross the intellect of an engineer, the heart of a farmer and the charm of a TV commentator? The ever-witty John Phipps.
( Lindsey Benne )

Almost 15 years ago, I wrote about our in-ground pool. I have made many foolish spending decisions, but all seemed like a good idea at the time. Conversely, I have made a handful of very wise purchases that seemed extravagant and thoughtless at the time. OK — to be totally accurate, a total of two. Chief among these has been the in-ground pool.

In 1987 we invested the enormous sum of $15,000 for a 17'x35' oval pool. This was equivalent to a new pickup, which I also wanted. Since then we have spent probably five times that amount in pool chemicals alone. We are also installing our fourth vinyl liner this fall.

We have built and replaced a pool building, paved the patio around it in stages, and hosted about 300 pool parties for our children, grandchildren and a few groups we didn’t realize we belonged to.

Toads, Salamanders and Voles

We have provided habitat for an enormous number of toads, who apparently seek out our small body of water from miles away. One recent morning, Jan extracted a new record of 35 toads, 1 salamander and 1 dead vole from the pool. (The salamander and vole do not count toward the Lifetime Achievement Award, of course, but this is still an impressive haul.) We were only one bubbling treasure chest from an aquarium. Her gardener heart will not allow her to exterminate these free-swimmers, so many are recycled daily. I think she’s starting to name the cute ones, which I find worrying.

Effort Versus Expenses

Non-owners often overestimate the effort it takes to maintain a pool. This is only true if you follow the instructions. On the other hand, nobody overestimates the expense. We now know taking a water sample to a pool store always ends up costing at least $120. It’s like asking a barber if you need a haircut.

One big breakthrough for pool owners has been the introduction of trampoline-like winter covers, instead of vinyl tarps that collect water on top and eventually end up on one corner, while the opposite side flaps wildly in our prairie winter breezes. We’re on our third tarp.

Set against all these chores and costs, however, has been decades of immediate and repeatable pleasure of cool water. The first and last swim are benchmarks of the seasons, like changing leaves or reprogramming the house thermostat. Above all, we’ve discovered even Methodists can learn to love immersion.

To read John’s October 2005 column reflecting on their decision to build a backyard pool, visit