From left, Rich Stone, Larry Gilbert Sr. and Paul Robinson chat beside the Kennedy Park pool in Lewiston as Abigail Hughes, 7, swims underwater. The three were asked by the Sun Journal to pose for the photo Wednesday. They are among 13 people who donated money to cover a new city fee of $1 per child to use the pool. Because of the donations, the fee is no longer charged. 

LEWISTON — On Wednesday afternoon the sun was shining and many children played and laughed as they swam in the Kennedy Park pool.

It was a sight that pleased Rich Stone, Larry Gilbert Sr. and Paul Robinson, three of a number of people who donated money so kids could swim for free.

Three weeks earlier Gilbert — former police chief and mayor — saw a different sight that bothered him: children standing outside the pool fence looking in.

They wanted to swim but had no money.

“One kid came in, opened his hands and had 17 cents,” Gilbert said. “He asked, ‘Is this enough?’”

After learning about a new city policy that charged $1 a day per child to use the public pool, there was an outpouring of feedback from residents.


Some applauded the move saying it was the least the city could do to cut down on expenses.

Others said the fee was wrong, that it hurt poor children. Gilbert, Stone, Robinson, J. Michael Dostie and others donated money to pay for the fees for the rest of the summer.

City Finance Administrator Heather Hunter announced July 18 that more than a dozen donations — a few substantial — was enough to remove the fees until the pool closes on Aug. 18.

The pool is important to many downtown families, some of whom don’t go to beaches because they lack transportation.

Charging $1 may not sound like a lot, Gilbert said, but it is to many families in the neighborhood.

“You’re talking about the poorest census tract in the state,” he said. “Charging poor children $1 to use the pool? I’ve never seen a charge. When I was the police chief my office overlooked the pool.”


Every summer he’d see children swimming and playing basketball in the park, healthy activities “that keep kids out of mischief. The worst is to be idle.”

Rich Stone of Orbit Hairstyle said he donated money to help cover pool fees because “I thought of the kids in that area who weren’t going to afford to go to the public swimming pool.”

Growing up in the neighborhood, “we used the pool quite a bit during the summer,” he said. He used to work as a lifeguard at the pool. If the fee had been in place when he was a kid, “our parents couldn’t have afforded to pay every day.”

The Kennedy Park pool is “one of the few activities there are for kids to do,” Stone said.

Paul Robinson said he’s from Southern California and grew up around water. “I read in the paper that some kids were being turned away because they didn’t have the money. That’s terrible,” he said.

To be 8, 10 or 12 and to be turned away makes a child feel singled out, Robinson said. “They may not internalize it, but the image they form at that age lingers on.”


Besides, everyone should learn how to swim, he said. “There could be a swimming star out there.”

Gilbert learned about the fee in late June when he and his wife walked by the pool and noticed few kids in the pool. He asked a lifeguard why and was told that the city was charging $1.

Gilbert opposed the fee at a City Council meeting earlier this month, recalling that when he was a young student at St. Peter’s School, a movie was shown once a month for 15 cents. One month he didn’t have the 15 cents.

While his friends watched the movie, “I had to sit in the classroom. It affects your self-worth, your dignity.”

On Wednesday when Stone, Gilbert and Robinson visited the pool, several parents came up and thanked them.

Casey and Amanda Graham said their children were writing thank-you letters to the donors. “My kids were excited,” she said.


“I thought it was real cool for an upscale place like Orbit Hairstyle to pay for poor kids to go to the pool,” he said.

They have four children ages 3, 6, 8 and 10. “They love coming down here,” the father said. When there was a $1 fee their children stayed home. “I make $400 a week. After food and rent, it’s not in the budget.”

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