For a dozen happy years, Edie Willstatter taught half the kids in Ashland how to swim — and, with her Twin Plunges pools, basically provided a community center and day care where parents could confidently drop youngsters off all day long for 75 cents.
This legendary period will be celebrated all afternoon on the Fourth of July with a memorial for Edie Willstatter, who died last year at 80. If you ever met her or swam at Twin Plunges, you're invited to the Historic Armory for the event, which will feature food and music of the times, a slide show and swapping and recording of old memories, to go in a book.
In town for the event, Kurt, Karl and Steve, the sons of Al and Edie Willstatter, reminisced in front of the Ashland Food Cooperative, where the spring-fed Twin Plunges stood until it folded in 1977.
"Mom ran the place and we were raised like free-range chickens, with 200 or 300 brothers and sisters," said Karl, with his brothers each adding more words to the sentence, "and the high school kids all took us under their wing and tossed us around."
Clearly delighted to be together and on the storied ground of youth, the sons told how their mom, short of stature, would command instant attention as she bellowed across the pools, often directing repeat rule-breakers to the "trouble bench" to think things over.
Happening by the gathering in front of the Co-op, childhood pal Ron Smith did hugs and fist-bumps as they summoned tales up from memory's well.
"She'd yell at me a lot," mused Smith. "She only yelled at kids she liked." "And she liked you a lot!" chimed in the brothers, almost in unison.
"She scared the hell out of you and she had total control of those pools. I grew up in the pools," said Smith. "Come summer, my mom would get us a season pass, drop us off and say 'see ya.' "
Noting her dedication to taking care of wounded animals and at-risk young people, Caterina Moore, Edie's old friend and caretaker in the final years of life, said, "She was tenacious, funny, with an acerbic wit — a little person with a huge heart and huge personality."
When a raccoon or dog was found hurt, Edie was the person you called, said the sons, adding that she did much volunteer work at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Wildlife Images — and was director of the Girl Scout Camp and Ashland Middle School's Resident Outdoor School.
Al Willstatter, a Jew, escaped Hitler's Germany in 1938 at age 13, when his parents put him on a ship, alone, to America. Al, now 85, and Edie met at University of Minnesota and were together for 60 years. Al served on the Ashland city council.
Not wanting to raise their children in California, the Willstatters in 1966 quit secure state jobs and moved to idyllic Ashland, where they bought Twin Plunges — a good summer income, but leaving them scratching for work in many other endeavors, said the sons, now in their 50s.
"Everyone thought we were rich, but Dad worked at Mount Ashland, mom recorded the snow phone information, worked in the college bookstore, cleaned dorms and cooked for the bowling alley," says Steve, an Air National Guard plane mechanic living in Portland. "We were broke but we never realized it."
To fulfill her master's degree in outdoor education at Southern Oregon University, Edie wrote a 30-page book, "From 'Nat' to Now," richly illustrating and detailing the history of the Twin Plunges and the Ashland Mineral Springs Natatorium (built 1909) before it, noting, "the good times at the Nat and the Plunges will continue to be part of the fond memories many people have of Ashland."
The nostalgic book describes creation of the Plunges in 1931 and shows shots of buzz-cut Willstatter boys and others goofing with each other, riding the "spin-top" (a floating platform you could spin with a steering wheel), jumping from a 12-foot diving board and generally enjoying a happy paradise that was not to last.
Facing insurmountable problems from costly system upgrades, new regulations and liability — as well as the city's vision of a new public pool at Hunter Park, the Willstatters had to shut it down after the 1977 season, ending a 45-year tradition. Long negotiations for a city takeover of the Plunges failed because of inadequate city offers, the sons said.
The nearly two-acre property, underlain by natural artesian wells that could fill the pool's 390,000 gallon retaining tank in an hour, was sold to Heritage Bank, later Valley of the Rogue and Umpqua banks, who sold the eastern half for construction of the Co-op.
Offering a piece of historic Ashland trivia, the sons said the artesian wells still pipe water to Ashland creek, and can be seen trickling in where Van Ness Street passes over it.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.