Next year will mark 50 years since the inception of the Master Pools Guild, and the group has a slew of activities to commemorate the occasion.

The guild starts the year with a week-long cruise, beginning New Year’s Eve. Approximately 50 members will leave from New Orleans and travel to Cancun, Grand Cayman and Jamaica.

“We’re kicking the year off in style,” said Dick Covert, executive director of the Richmond, Va.-based group.

The milestone also will be recognized at the group’s two yearly gatherings. In March, Master Pools will meet in Tampa, Fla., and utilize one of the hotel’s closed-circuit television channels to continuously run information and photos showing the guild’s history, including its vendors and award winners.

At the October meeting in Vancouver, retired members will join the current group. “We’re just going to take a walk down memory lane to remember the 50 years,” Covert said. A black tie dinner at the close of the October gathering will include various presentations to mark the anniversary.

The group also developed a 50th anniversary logo (shown), which it will incorporate into its materials throughout the year.

Master Pools Guild was started in 1962 as a group of advisers to help then-equipment manufacturer Swimquip and its owner, Bill Baker, develop products that would work best for the relatively new industry. It began with a small group of Western builders, some of whom would go to the manufacturer’s El Monte, Calif., offices about once a month to share information and provide input on products in development. Baker served as the group’s chairman.

By 1966 the organization had 46 member companies, and hired its first full-time director the following year. Back then, the group was split up into three regions to correspond with the Eastern, Central and Western parts of the country.

Longtime members credit the MPG for helping them find their way in a young industry. “When we first got together, the stories we would share would be of the tragedies that took place in our businesses,” said Al Rizzo, president of Newington, Conn.-based Rizzo Pools, who joined the group in the late 1960s. “We were all growing, and the growing pains were there. We were looking for new products and new ways, and we shared that. There would be a lot of fun about it, but after awhile, each person would get down to business and you’d really learn something.”

In 1984, Swimquip was purchased by another equipment manufacturer, Sta-Rite. Shortly after the acquisition, the Master Pools builders purchased the rights of the trademark from Sta-Rite, spurred on by members who didn’t want to be tethered to one manufacturer and restrained from bringing other vendors into the fold. Rizzo, who was in favor of the change, recalls visiting other regional gatherings to help sell the idea. “At one meeting, I said, ‘I don’t like the fact that the guild is owned by other than guild members because in the long run, we’re not doing for ourselves what we need to get done,’” he said.

In 1989, after the group had purchased an agreed-upon amount of Sta-Rite product, the then-90-member Master Pools Guild became an independent organization.

The group now has 106 members — 10 of them outside the United States. “The Guild has always focused on quality builders, and we’ve intentionally kept the membership small but strong,” Covert said. “Going through these economic times, we still haven’t lost anybody because of our selection of members.”

Though it was referred to as a buying group in its earlier days, Master Pools Guild now is a cooperative. While partnering vendors offer rebates to the organization and members who purchase, the group itself doesn’t negotiate contracts or do the purchasing.