Bonnie Kassebaum fondly remembers starting work at the Hebron Municipal Swimming Pool 25 years ago. “I can hardly believe it’s been that long. My earliest lifeguards are almost 40 years old,” she says.
She has taught countless children to swim, turned 60 of the community’s teenagers into lifeguards and provided a very safe summer option for the public. “My first guards were Becky (McLaughlin) McCartney and Greg Johnson,” she said and then laughs as she realizes that Becky has a daughter who just graduated from high school. Both guards were already trained, but Bonnie considers them the first of her “guarding family.”
In 1989, the City of Hebron installed the waterslide. “At first I said no because I didn’t like the risk,” Bonnie recalls. “Then I told the mayor and council I would take on the responsibility if the slide had sides so that kids couldn’t fall off. I was adamant about that, which is how we ended up with the one we have today.”
Bonnie has worked with three mayors including Doug Huber, Randall Hergott and Pat Kenner, and this summer she’ll work with temporary mayor Larry Fangmeier. She credits the mayors and city staff with providing excellent help all 25 years adding to the enjoyment of the job.
The backing and support of those city officials led to Bonnie’s creativity and willingness to expand safety measures on the job. In the early 90’s, she created the first ever river/lake safety course. “A young boy in Fairbury drowned in the river over there and I thought something like that could easily happen here,” she said. The course teaches youth what to do should a boating, canoeing, or tubing emergency occur. For example, Bonnie says, tossing an empty cooler to someone in the water acts much like a life preserver.
And speaking of emergencies, those at the pool have been minimal, Bonnie says while breathing a sigh of relief. She’s personally had five major saves in her life, countless minor ones. “We’ve never had to call the Hebron EMTs,” she comments, “and it’s because I have good guards. They catch the accident before it happens.”
At the Hebron pool, swimming lessons are currently underway. Open to the county’s youth, Bonnie’s guards train anywhere from 100 to 150 students per session. “We have one lifeguard per two kids for the very young, or one guard per four or five students for the older groups,” she says. She’ll take kids four years of age and up, but if a swimmer seems ready at three, she’ll be more than happy to teach them.
While Bonnie is seen as a reliable and knowledgeable pool manager, she is often seen more as an individual who loves children. Her 25 years of experience and all-around caring has impacted countless youth, young adults and families across multiple generations in the communities of Thayer County.