BCF Gives $734,000 to Philomath’s Community Pool; Treasured Resource Can Remain Open for Another Decade

On October 16, 2018, the Benton Community Foundation announced a major gift of $734,000 from the Philomath Community Pool Fund to the Clemens Community Pool in Philomath. This transformational gift will fund essential repairs and upgrades needed to keep the pool open and operating for another decade. Without this influx of funds, this community resource would have been forced to close its doors in the coming months.

“This gift illustrates how the Foundation works on behalf of local donors to support the programs and issues closest to their hearts,” said Chris Quaka, President and CEO of the Benton Community Foundation. “For almost 60 years, the Philomath pool has been a treasured resource for the residents of rural Benton County. With this gift, the pool can continue to serve as a place for children to safely learn to swim and for people of all ages to socialize, exercise, and build community.”

The endowed fund was established in 1994 by Leonard and Kitty Nitka, with the express intent to maintain a community pool for the greater Philomath community. BCF supports the pool with funds from the endowment every year. Because of prudent fund management, the Foundation can make this significant one-time gift while continuing to support annual operations.

The Clemens Community Pool was built in 1960 with a generous donation from Rex and Ethel Clemens. Located at the city’s high school, the pool is owned and operated by the Philomath School District. People of all ages from Philomath, Alsea and outlying rural areas take advantage of this community resource. In addition to the swim classes offered through the schools, the pool offers numerous community programs such as parent-baby and aerobics classes.

“The Philomath schools are very grateful for this gift,” said Melissa Goff, Superintendent of the Philomath School District. “The pool provides immeasurable educational value to our city’s children, who walk to the pool for swimming lessons during their school day. It gives kids a purpose during those important after-school hours, and it fosters a community of competent lifelong swimmers. With this influx of funds from the Foundation’s pool fund, we can keep the facility operating while using the next decade to develop a plan for the future of aquatics in Philomath.”

“We are keeping the Nitka family’s vision alive with this gift. Everyone can contribute to the needs of our community via the Foundation,” added Ilene Kleinsorge, Vice-Chair, BCF Board of Directors. “This could include donating to the Philomath Community Pool Fund to ensure we continue to have an aquatic resource in this community into the future.”

“Even a small seed, in the form of a modest initial donation, can grow over time to create big opportunities for Benton County,” added Quaka.



Why give this gift now? What was going to happen to the pool if these funds didn’t come through?

Earlier this year, the Philomath School Board faced the difficult decision to close the pool if no significant new source of funding was found by January of 2019. The pool is almost 60 years old and it is overdue for major renovations and repairs. The Philomath School District owns the pool and spends the equivalent of 3 full-time employees to keep the pool running. The school district also receives money every year from the Philomath Community Pool Fund, managed by BCF, to help pay for operations, but it’s not enough to cover the needed repairs and renovations.

This gift will have a transformational effect on the pool, funding the work needed to keep it open and running for another ten years. We intend for this gift to serve as a catalyst for the pool over the next 10 years, and for a future solution driven by the community as the pool grows beyond its current facility. BCF is meeting the pool’s current needs while planning for its future.


How much money does BCF already give to the pool?

BCF has been paying out money from the Philomath Community Pool Fund every year since the fund was established 25 years ago. The fund currently provides the school district with about $49,000 annually to support the pool’s operations.


What role does the Clemens Community Pool play in Philomath? What is the importance to the community of having a pool?

The pool was built in 1960 with money from Rex and Ethel Clemens, who wanted the children of the greater Philomath community to have a safe place to learn to swim. The pool is a unique resource for a small community like Philomath, and it is an asset that is treasured and well-used.

People of all ages use the pool, not only to learn to swim, but also to exercise, socialize, develop sportsmanship skills, and build personal connections. Students in the Philomath School District take swimming lessons during their school day, giving them a life-saving skill. The swim team, which welcomes all students to participate, is a place for kids to learn sportsmanship and build friendships. The pool is also a safe place for kids to go after school, giving them a safe place to exercise and be social. Parent-baby programs, exercise programs, and open-swim times provide similar opportunities for adults of all ages in the community.


Why is it important for a community to teach its children to swim?

This activity that may seem purely recreational has a lifelong impact. Drowning is one of the top five causes of death in every age range, according to the Center for Disease Control. But many drownings can be prevented by teaching people basic water safety skills. Swimming is something that anyone can learn to do, from babies to paraplegics to people in their 90s.


What is the money going to pay for? What changes will be made at the pool?

A lot of the pool’s infrastructure needs renovation or repair. Amazingly for a pool that is almost 60 years old, the base of the pool is still functional, but much of the other original structures need to be replaced. For example, the locker room tiles and showerheads need to be updated, which will involve asbestos abatement. The pool deck needs to be resurfaced and cracks need to be repaired. The pool needs a new filtration system and a new liner. The whole facility needs better, brighter lighting. The renovation will also create a more inviting space for swimmers and spectators alike.


What is the long-term significance of this gift?

The Clemens Community Pool serves as a hub of the greater Philomath community, but it needs more than the piecemeal fixes it’s been receiving. The reality is that, with the renovation work this gift will make possible, the pool will last another ten years. The school district, pool advisory committee, and numerous community members agree that there needs to be a long-term aquatic-resource plan for the community to re-energize this unique community resource. This plan may take the form of a new, expanded pool facility at the school district, or it may mean a new facility elsewhere in Philomath. With this gift, the community has been given a ten-year head start to develop leadership around this issue and plan for the next steps.


How can I support the endowment for the Clemens Community Pool?

Click here to contribute to the endowment. Choose Philomath Community Pool Fund from the drop-down menu.


History of the Endowment

The Philomath Community Pool story is a tale of neighborly goodwill, community involvement, and a generous and much-needed bequest.  In the spring of 1994, the local papers reported a proposal by the Philomath School District, hit hard by budget cuts, to close the Philomath Pool. The community gathered to show support for the pool. Students sang the pool’s praises, community members organized the “Friends of the Philomath Pool,” but money was still tight and the outcome uncertain. At that time, District Superintendent Chuck Jackson received a visit that changed everything. He was informed that longtime Philomath resident, Leonard Nitka, had bequeathed the Philomath Pool half his estate.

That endowment now provides for the continued operations and maintenance of the pool where his wife Kitty swam daily. Kathryn C. “Kitty” Nitka was born November 21, 1907, in the Bronx borough of New York City to John and Sarah Kelly Cahill. Her favorite childhood memories included family trips to the beach, where she learned to swim at the age of  four. In 1942, Kitty joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, serving as a lieutenant in Gen. Patton’s MASH unit in Europe. She was honorably discharged in 1947. After the war, she remained in Germany, organizing medical services for German civilians. While there, she met Leonard Nitka, who was serving with the U.S. Navy. They married in Alaska, then moved to Corvallis. Kitty studied speech pathology at Oregon State University, earning a bachelor’s degree. After graduating, she helped establish the Benton County Health Department. For many years, she worked as a school nurse for the Corvallis School District.

Leonard and Kitty also raised Dorset sheep on their farm south of Corvallis. Kitty’s true passion in life remained swimming. She once swam the English Channel with her Irish cousins, and she continued the activity throughout her life, swimming in the pond on their farm and at local pools. Leonard S. Nitka was born November 2, 1906, in Virginia, Minnesota, to Lawrence and Frances Pukropp Nitka. As a child, he moved with his family to Washington, where they farmed an apple and cherry orchard. A graduate of Auburn High School in Washington, Leonard later joined the U.S. Navy, serving during World War II from 1942 to 1952, when he retired as a chief warrant officer.

Leonard was an avid pilot who designed, built, and flew small aircraft. He was a past chapter president of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He spoke several languages and traveled extensively throughout the world. Kitty was well-known and loved at the Philomath Pool. According to Gene Bunting, past director of aquatics, Kitty was at the pool every night it was open, and sometimes her husband, Leonard, would watch as she swam laps. “If she didn’t show up or was late, the staff was on the phone, calling to see if Kitty was coming.”

Kitty was killed in a car accident May 21, 1993. In her obituary, the Philomath Pool was listed as the place to leave remembrances. After Kitty’s death, Gretchen Morris, a local attorney, assisted Leonard in setting up a living trust. She explained to him that, without a will, his entire estate would go to the state general fund when he died, since he had no relatives. Leonard decided to name the Philomath Community Pool, to which his wife had been so devoted, as one of the beneficiaries of his estate. He died only five months after Kitty, on October 31, 1993. Because the school didn’t have the staffing to manage or invest the endowment, they transferred the fund to BCF.

The Philomath Community Swimming Pool, housed in the high school, offers many programs including swimming lessons, adult lap swimming, water fitness classes, and swim teams. During the summer, the schedule is especially full, but programs are popular year-round.