Sami Jo Pool celebrates 15 years, honors life
Mon, 07/03/2017 - 4:56pm admin
A vital part of the New Underwood community will celebrate its 15th anniversary of being in operation later this summer.
The Sami Jo Memorial Pool was officially opened in the late summer of 2002. Now a source of happy memories for many children in the area, the pool was birthed out of the heartache of losing a child.
Tammy Bills was traveling with her mother and her 10-year-old daughter, Sami Jo, on July 27, 1998, when they lost control of the Ford Bronco they were driving because of washboards on the Hereford Road. The Bronco careened into the ditch, rolling several times. Sami Jo was ejected and perished.
After the initial shock and grief of losing Sami Jo hit her family, (Tammy, stepfather, Roger Bills, two older brothers Tyler and Riley, and twin one-year-old siblings Wyatt and Keoni) decided that they wanted to perpetuate Sami Jo’s memory by contributing to the wellbeing of other children in the area in a way that would further unite the New underwood community. Prior to her death, Sami Jo had enjoyed swimming lessons at the YMCA in Rapid City. The idea of a swimming pool in New Underwood was born.
By 2001, plans were well underway. Under the fiery motivation and dedication of Tammy, a committee of interested people had been formed. This committee consisted of community members dedicated to raising the funds needed for the pool. Auctions and meals brought in the finances, while donated labor and materials were pledged to make the pool a true community effort. It was a family affair as well as a community one: Tyler, donated his engineering expertise in the plans for the pool and locker areas.
Though it had been Tammy’s hope that the pool would be in operation in 2001, 2002 found them still working to prepare for the groundbreaking. The pool had originally been slated to sit directly behind the city hall. This was changed to the site of the former lumberyard to the east of the community center. Finally, in April 2002, the land had been purchased, and a groundbreaking ceremony occurred.
What happened over the next few months was a testimony to the spirit of cooperation frequently seen in New Underwood. Dozens of volunteers, sometimes 40 at a time, came to help with everything from pouring the concrete to painting. Documents from the time record that the concrete was hauled in wheelbarrows and five gallon buckets. By the time the project was finished, the $40,000 raised had been stretched to cover the cost of the swimming pool. Operation of the swimming pool was delegated to the city of New Underwood, lifeguards were trained at the YMCA, and the pool opened.
On its first day in operation, Wyatt and Keoni, played in the pool alongside some of Sami Jo’s friends and classmates, now in their early teen years.
Initially, the City of New Underwood was in charge of setting the fee for swimming, and season passes were available. Currently, due to donations from area residents and businesses, the pool can be used free of charge by area residents. In addition to open swim times, there are also family swim sessions and adult swim sessions. Swimming lessons are also offered.
Sami Jo would be 30 years old in December if she were still alive. Despite the 19 years that have passed, Tammy admits that there are still little things that trigger memories. For those who knew Sami Jo, her memory is honored and her life continues to touch the lives of others in her community as new memories are made, one swim session at a time.