YK Regional Aquatic Center celebrates 5 years The Happiest Place in Bethel

Celebrating 5 Years: From left are Mary Sattler Peltola, Gene Peltola, Beverly Hoffman, and Senator Lyman Hoffman. photo by Kelly Lincoln

by K.J. Lincoln

Friday, November 15th was the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Yukon Kuskokwim Regional Aquatic Center. The community was invited to celebrate five years of operations at the aquatic center with food, raffles, and speeches from local dignitaries and those instrumental in making the facility a reality.

“I can’t believe it sometimes still. I try not to get too overwhelmed whenever I come into this facility,” said YK Delta Lifesaver Beverly Hoffman at the anniversary event. “Whenever anyone comes up to me and tells me about their child – they know how to swim now, or they learned how to swim here, or they took a water safety class – it just warms my heart to hear that. Hundreds of kids have learned how to swim since this facility has opened.”

Hoffman, along with other YK Delta Lifesavers have poured in decades of support for the pool through fundraisers, cookie sales, open gym nights, and other fundraisers.

A history of their efforts was spread over a table – newspaper clippings, photos, memorabilia from years of fundraising for a dream now come true.

Senator Lyman Hoffman and Representative Bob Herron of the Alaska Legislature were instrumental in securing the multi-million dollar state appropriation for the aquatic center back in 2012.

“There have been so many people in all aspects in making this building become a reality,” spoke retired CEO of YKHC Gene Peltola at the event. “Senator Hoffman used his political savvy, his knowledge of the finances within the state and came up with the appropriation of 22.4 million to build this facility. It was a long battle. To be honest with you, if we didn’t get that appropriation that year we would have never got this facility built.”

“Many of us grew up swimming in Brown Slough,” said Senator Hoffman remembering the 1950’s and 1960’s. “I think this was an important project with the death rate and drownings in Bethel. I see that it is being well used and changing many, many lives in Bethel and the region. I am glad to be here with all of you to support the 5th anniversary of the building of this facility.”

Also in attendance were former state representative and City of Bethel council member Mary Sattler Peltola who gave a few comments, and beloved Bethel elder Ella Kinegak who, many years ago, saved all her coins in coffee cans and donated them to the pool building fund.

All these special guests were given gift bags in appreciation for their help. There was also refreshments and cake for everyone.

The aquatic center offers free swimming lessons for children who don’t know how to swim through donations from the YK Delta Lifesavers fund along with half-priced Saturdays. Angstman Law Office also generously sponsors a free swim for kids 12 and under the last Saturday of every month. And Drew’s Foundation sponsors a free swim for teens every Wednesday.

The YK Delta Lifesavers 26th annual Cookie Extravaganza fundraiser is coming up. It is set for December 15th.

“We will all be forever grateful to our community leaders and to the volunteers and the people who stepped up to the plate to make it happen,” said Beverly Hoffman. “I say this is the happiest place in Bethel.”