A Conversation with HACSPA Board Member Wendy Willoughby

Willoughby Family

We recently sat down with HACSPA Board Vice Chair, Wendy Willoughby, and chatted about her time on the Board and the future of HCAC. Her passion for this work and the community of Holland is inspiring!

What interested you in being a part of HCAC?

Willoughby Family
Harry, Wendy and Brad Willoughby

I’ve spent a lot of time at the pool since my son (Harry) was about 6 years old. Diana taught him how to swim. And after he learned how to swim he went into the age group swim and eventually MLA, along with school swim teams. He loved it and I ended up running a bunch of stuff for the team at the high school level. So I spent a lot of time here. When he graduated from high school I felt a real void about not being here and I realized  how much I enjoyed this place and what service it was to the whole community. So, I decided to see if I could get on the board. I had recently finished up other volunteer commitments and I thought it was time to dig in. I ended up being selected to be on the board in 2010. It was a much different place then. It was a lot of work. Sara (Giesler) and I worked very hard to keep the doors open. It was a steep learning curve for me, because I didn’t have anyone to tell me what a board person was supposed to do. Sara and I came up with a strategic plan for the pool, which had never been done before. This gave us a road map to move forward.  We ended up replacing the executive director and that’s when the tides turned. It’s been such an amazing journey.

What do you love about being on the Board?

It’s been the best unpaid job I’ve ever had. You know, I think about my favorite places in town and HCAC is number one. I not only love what it is, an Aquatic Center that is beautiful, clean, with lovely people, but I love what it represents. Interestingly enough, when my son graduated from the Naval Academy, I asked him “What did you learn from high school, what did you carry with you that was important to you in your naval leadership at school?” He said, “I don’t remember anything scholastically from High School. What I remember is from my swim team. Being a captain of that team, I learned how to lose, I learned how to win. I learned perseverance, disappointment. I learned how to lead. All that lateral learning that’s really not taught in the classroom but it’s much more valuable and stays with you forever and you can build on it.” That was so meaningful and I look here every day and to think that we basically try to drown proof 5000 kids a year for free. That is huge. That a community is so invested in its youth, that it supports this program with their tax dollars every year. I love being a part of that and I love that we’ve have Rock Steady Boxing for people with Parkinson’s. I love that we have special needs swim with autistic kids and kids with problems. I think we’re meeting most of the needs of our community. I see this as being the hub the community for me. And that’s a large part to the wonderful people that are here. The employees here have given so much over the last 5 years. It’s been unbelievable to see and I get choked up because people don’t understand what you guys have all put in to make HCAC successful. So successful, that we were able to pass a 26.35 bond millage with taxpayer dollars. We go to the taxpayers every 5 years for operating money and the fact that they entrust us and see what wonderful things we’re doing that they’ve agreed to give us another 26 million for expansion and renovation, to me is amazing and fantastic and I think that’s what I’m most proud of.  I feel like I’ve been a part of something larger than myself and I think that’s really important. This has been my main connection with my community so I’ve tried to dig deep, to have fun work hard, enjoy the people and it’s been an amazing experience. I am so honored and privileged to be here.

Wendy and friend, Roseanne
Wendy and friend, Roseanne

What are you looking forward to the most with the expansion and renovation?

It’s been so exciting to be a part of the design team. It gets me up in the morning and gets me excited. Those meeting are so interactive. I feel, as a board person on the design committee I’ve been very respected and been able to give my input. Everyone has done a lot of homework in order to make this the best place it can be to serve every population. For instance, the universal design making it great for people in wheel chairs and kids to be able to get in the water without having to navigate steps. Even our front entrance, to not have steps and hopefully an automatic door so you’re not clumsily pushing things. Just no barriers. That’s so exciting to me and I’m really excited about the idea of being able to serve all of our constituencies at once. We’ll be able to have a big state meet going on but we can have members of the community come with their little kids and be able to access the community portion of the pool without having to really interface too much, except for in the entrance, with those folks in the competitive world. I think it’s going to be so amazing but I don’t think people realize just how wonderful it is going to be yet. To have that accessibility, anytime. Open to be able to go wherever you need to go without having to navigate your way through hundreds and hundreds of people. We’ve been very thoughtful about what it looks like for all of our constituencies once they even hop out of a car. We’ve been really thoughtful about what it looks like as soon as you take that first step on the property and navigate your way through the building, depending on what you want to do. We’re trying to make everything as seamless as possible. Trying to make that experience so much better than we’ve been able to deliver before.

What makes this volunteer position different than other ones you’ve done?

Well I’ve done a lot of things with kids in the past but this I see not only serves children and students but every age group. It’s multi-generational, HCAC serves the whole community and I’m really passionate about that. Plus I’m passionate about swimming now. I myself am a swimmer. When I turned 50 I started taking up swimming and now I swim Masters. I see what it’s done in my life, how helpful and healthy it’s been in terms of my wellness. I think as a wellness facility HCAC is second to none in town. I’m very passionate about this place and that’s what giving me the energy to stay with it. It’s been such fun to see people do so well.