Making Waves

July 2016 View more

NMAG0716_Community_Beach photo 1_800px

Naperville’s favorite summer hangout celebrates 85 years.

Centennial Beach is proudly celebrating its 85th anniversary this summer and no one could be more excited about it than Naperville resident Ann Jansen who has been a regular at the summer cool spot for all of her 78 years. As a baby, she was taken to the beach by her parents, a tradition she continued with her own children. But more than that, she got really involved organizing key events in the water parks’ history. She still teaches water aerobics there three times a week.

“The beach was always the place to go,” said Jansen. “I learned to swim there because my father just threw me in, at least that’s what my 12 brothers and sisters always told me. I don’t think anyone ever took a bath all summer long because we were always in the water! In the early days, the bottom of the pool was still sand and the 15 feet level was rocky.”

The Early Years

The Jackson Avenue site was a quarry until 1913 when water from natural springs beneath the surface began seeping in to fill the void. In 1931, Naperville resident Judge Win Knoch proposed the purchase of the property in honor of the city’s 100th birthday.

Naperville residents have long been known for their generosity, but even in the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s they were able to raise $16,500 to develop the lime stone quarry into what it has become today. When it opened in 1932, Naperville residents were able to use it for free. Out-of-towners paid 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. The first year it was open it brought in more than $6,000 in revenue, attracting around 50,000 visitors.

“Years ago I would see people getting off the train on a Sunday and walking over a mile to the beach. We really appreciated them coming,” said Jansen.

The Birth of The Aquathon

During the 1950s, Centennial Beach became famous for its annual water show, the Aquathon. It showcased the talents of community members performing everything from water polo to synchronized swimming and comedy water ballet. This popular event was re-created for Naperville residents for the beach’s 50th anniversary. Jansen was involved with the program from eighth grade until she eventually chaired one of the events celebrating the aqua park’s 75th anniversary in 2006. She also organized the Bottom-Feeder Ball, a unique fundraiser for the shallow-end slide.

“We held the event in May so the water had not yet been added for the summer season,” Jansen recalled. “We set up tables and chairs for a dinner and everyone wore themed outfits. I remember one couple shared a canoe costume while others wore tuxes with swimming trunks.”

I learned to swim there because my father just threw me in, at least that’s what my 12 brothers and sisters always told me.

Renovations For Future Generations

In 2008, the Park District, who took over Centennial Beach in 1969, began a two-year improvement project that included better accessibility for the disabled. The historic bathhouse was preserved and family locker rooms and separate concession stands were added. Improvements have helped the facility retain its popularity attracting 117,647 visitors in the 2015 season.

Building Community Connections

Jansen is also a founding member of the Beach Bums, a group of beach fans who have been meeting regularly every summer since the 1960s.

“We met each other initially when we took our children to swim, but as they got older and didn’t need to be supervised so much, we became friends,” she explained. “Every year we hold a Thanksgiving dinner at the beach in August to thank God and the Park District for the wonderful summer we have had. Anyone is welcome to join us.”

Turkeys are provided but anyone attending is asked to bring a large dish to share. This year’s event will held on August 14 at 1 p.m.