There are a few people in Missoula who remember when McCormick Pool opened to the public in 1939. Frances Campbell—she was little Frances Rangitsch in those days—is one of them.
Eating lunch at the Missoula Senior Citizens Center on a seasonally chilly October afternoon, Frances recalls those glorious summer days of her youth.
“There were seven kids in my family, and we really liked going there,” she says, brushing off a jab from a fellow at her table about swimming in the irrigation ditches. “Well, we did that too,” she says sharply, adding with a smile, “but we liked the pool better.”
After nearly seven decades of loyal service to generations of Missoula children, city workers began putting the McCormick Pool to rest this week. So far it’s an unremarkable and slow death: The shallow end is dry and littered with leaves and trash; the dismantled ladders lie around pool’s edges like decayed skeletons; weeds grow tall through cracks in the concrete; the diving board hovers ominously above 11 feet of air, a few inches of murky water far beneath it.
A grassy field will replace all of it by next spring.
Delbert Markle hasn’t been to McCormick Park in years, but the pool remains at the center of one of his favorite childhood memories.
“This is a true story. I swear,” Delbert assures as he begins to tell about the summer, it might have been 1944, he became the most popular kid in town.
“They wanted to charge a fee at the pool. So I went around and I got six of the toughest cotton-pickers in Missoula and we barricaded the entrance.”
Delbert and his rag-tag group of rebels refused entrance to the children who showed up with their 15-cent admission.
“We said, ‘either everyone gets in free, or no one gets in at all,’” Delbert recalls, clearly still proud these 60 years later.
The powers that be relented, and children were allowed to swim free of charge for one more summer.
“Every kid in town knew who I was that summer,” he says.