started working as the executive director for the Polk County Chapter of the Florida Swimming Pool Association in 1994. The chapter is completely split age-wise. Half of our members are old-timers, and the other half are young bucks. The two generations were divided, and sometimes it was difficult to get them to see eye to eye on anything.

As a chapter, we wanted to grow. One of our goals was to show consumers what licensed pool people are all about and improve our image in the community. We also needed to raise awareness of FSPA.

So we sponsored a local swim team and held pool safety courses through the school system. But we needed something even bigger and, unfortunately, it came to us in a tragic way.

My neighbor, Ron Ginther — a third-class petty officer in the Navy — had been killed in Iraq. Ron had been there just three weeks when it happened. Before leaving, he had promised his daughter, Alayna, and wife Donna that he would build a pool when he returned, so they could all spend time together.

Upon learning of Ron’s promise to his family, I went to our board of directors and asked them to help make it come true.

Many of the board members are in the same age range as Ron and a number have kids the same age as Alayna. They realized how easily it could have been them — “There but by the grace of God go I,” so to speak. They said they would do it right away, even though we’re a service-oriented chapter and none of them were builders.

But first we had to figure out how to raise the funds. So we held an auction and raised $35,000. Coupled with donated time, materials and more money, we were able to break ground in January 2005.

Four months later, we had a 14-by-28-foot, gunite, solar-heated, free-form pool with a beach walkout and landscaping. Led by chapter members Keith Johnson and Tracy Thompson, we got 48 companies involved and completed something I thought would be impossible to achieve.

As for Ron’s family, it changed their lives. Donna was beyond distraught when we first met, almost to the point where it was too uncomfortable to be in her presence. But she said that when people who didn’t even know her or Ron stepped in, things totally changed.

Donna is a different woman now. She has enrolled in college and goes around the state, making speeches to other military wives and families. She and Alayna have met with President Bush and Gov. Bush.

Building that pool also changed our organization. In our chapter, two generations learned to work together. We started to focus on educating the unlicensed people in our industry rather than criticizing them. Some of our younger members have trained to be contractor’s license test proctors for the practical exams, which never would have happened before the Ginthers came into our lives. When you see the direct effect your good work has on other people, it makes you want to do even more.

Now I am campaigning to create a nationwide pool-building program for families of fallen Iraq soldiers. Yes, this is a business and we are giving things away, but it provides us with a lot of publicity. Now homeowners are regularly calling FSPA for pool builder referrals.

The experience also has brought our members much closer together. I had no idea that would happen, but it’s been wonderful. I learned what a group of dedicated “one-polers” can do.

Everyone involved in the project has seen their businesses take off. For example, when we needed to install a screen around the Ginthers’ pool, a company called us to help out. We had never even heard of them before. They were new to the industry and did the entire job for free.

What do you think happened to their business after that? How many of our builders sat up and took notice when they couldn’t get their old screen installers to come out?

As for me, the experience brought me full circle and provided a little closure. My father was a World War II vet and came home to parades and honors. My husband was a Vietnam vet and came home to nothing. I feel like part of me did this for them. This was my husband’s parade.

Today, when I call Donna and Alayna, I hear kids playing in the pool in the background. Nothing beats that sound.

Mary Manion

Executive Director

FSPA Polk County Chapter

Auburndale, Fla.

Lessons Learned

  • Find a common ground and use it. Let it push your differences aside. You’ll be shocked at what your organization or business will accomplish.
  • You never know what tomorrow, or even the next minute, will bring. Run your life and business with this in mind.
  • Think before you criticize. Be open to new ideas and different ways of doing things.The younger generation has much to learn from the older one and vice versa.
  • The best form of advertising is public service and volunteerism. By giving back to the community, not only will you feel good, but you’ll also raise your organization’s profile and business will improve.