LAFAYETTE — When the Sun Valley Pool first tiled the walls in the showers, member families were asked to create their own unique, personalized tiles to include in the display.
That, said Clayton Ross, tells you all you need to know about this pool club.
"I think this tile wall says a lot about the morale of the people in this club," Ross said. "This is much more than just another swim club. This is a unique, friendly, nurturing kind of a place."
Sun Valley is a cooperative pool, meaning members commit to maintaining the pool themselves in exchange for lower dues and longer swimming hours.
And nobody embodies that commitment more than Ross. Most mornings, the 83-year-old is first to arrive. He removes pool covers and checks the water temperature and pH levels before diving in for his daily half-mile.
Ross and his family have been Sun Valley members since 1954, and, like the blue Ross family tile on the wall, he has become a firmly embedded part of the pool community.
"Clayton, he's invaluable. He's a remarkable man. He's kind of our inspiration," said Dave Ridge, a pool board member. He, Ross and another man make up the board's water quality team.
The pool, which opened in 1952, has almost no staff. Members volunteer for everything from cleaning bathrooms to manning the front gate. A sign on the snack shack reads, "Honor snacks: Place $1 in box for every snack you take."
"Any time you help build something
Ross has been around water for much of his life. He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served in the Aleutian Islands after the war. In 1950, on the same day the first of his three children was born, he was told he was headed to Korea.
When he was sent to the naval supply center in Oakland in 1952, he and his wife Jean began looking for a home. They found one just east of what is now the border of Walnut Creek and Lafayette. Two years later, they joined Sun Valley.
"The kids grew up swimming in this pool," Ross said.
After the Navy, he spent 27 years as a math teacher in the Mt. Diablo school district. Jean taught special education.
"One of things I get the biggest kick out of is going into a restaurant once and upon leaving, the cashier said, 'Oh I remember you, you were my math teacher.' And then she gave me the wrong change," he said.
He and Jean also spent two years in the Peace Corps, teaching at a jungle boarding school in Papua New Guinea.
Over the years, the children grew up and moved away. Lafayette and Walnut Creek transformed from quiet outposts to busy commuter towns. Ross and his wife never moved out of the house they found in 1952, and all the while, Ross continued to swim and work at Sun Valley.
During his time at the pool, he has done everything from scraping gum off the deck to installing solar heating panels on the roof.
Wickline said Ross's commitment to work and exercise — he's logged more than 4,000 miles at Sun Valley by one estimate — serves as an example to others.
"I think there's something to be said for all members, and not just kids, when a gentleman in his 80s comes in each and every day, puts on his swimming suit after pulling the covers off, and jumps in," he said.
Ross has a simple reason for coming back for more than 50 years: "I like it," he said.
"Some people figure at vacation time, 'I've got to go away,'"" he said. "Well, hey, where could I go that I would enjoy more than where I already am?"