Columbia was but a fledgling community more than four decades ago, and Ken Zachmann was still a teenager when he began working in it. Columbia turned 45 this year, and Zachmann has been with Columbia Association (CA) for 43 of those years — longer than anyone else.
There were only three neighborhood pools open in town before Zachmann began working for CA. Swimmers in this fledgling community could go to Bryant Woods and Faulkner Ridge pools in Wilde Lake and Longfellow Pool in Harper’s Choice (the Columbia Swim Center in Wilde Lake also was available).
In 1969, Zachmann got a job as an assistant manager at Running Brook Pool, one of a few new pools to open that year. Several positions and several decades later, he is now the supervisor for all 12 pools on the east side of Columbia.
Zachmann was 19, approaching 20, back when he was hired. Now 63, he has worked at CA longer than any other employee.
John Herdson, CA’s aquatics director, first met Zachmann 28 years ago when Herdson’s kids took swimming lessons with him. They have worked together for 24 years, and Herdson has been Zachmann’s supervisor for 14.
“He has a teaching role with all of our staff,” Herdson said. “Most of them are in their first year of employment, and Ken can give them a working knowledge and an understanding of what to do and how to do it.”
It’s a familiar role for Zachmann, who also spent 36 years as a chemistry teacher (35 of those at Hammond High School) before retiring earlier this year. The former Owen Brown and Kings Contrivance resident now lives in Ellicott City with his wife, Dorothy, with whom he has one daughter, 31, and a son, 28. Ken and Dorothy also have a 2-year-old granddaughter.
CAToday recently spoke with Zachmann about his many, many years at Columbia Association:
What brought you to Columbia Association?
“When I was in junior high school in Baltimore County, my civics teacher told us of this great new idea, a planned city. Three or four years later my father changed jobs, and we came to Howard County, and I just thought, ‘Here’s a great opportunity. I’ll go out and see this place.’ I ran across some people over at the Faulkner Ridge swimming pool, and I asked if they needed anyone. They just happened to. I was very fortunate. I lucked into it. They needed a lifeguard. In 1969 they were opening up the Running Brook swimming pool. They had to get some staff quickly.”
What changes in CA, as well as Columbia, have you seen in the past 43 years?
“Cities are like children; they grow. When I first came here, it was amazing. Everything was new. The philosophy was fresh. The people were energized. And there was a lot of space. It was just so open. And then we grew, and grew, and grew, and as we did a whole lot of adjustments had to be made. Interestingly enough, those adjustments kept consistent with the philosophy.
“To this day, the one thing that I think is most impressive about Columbia Association employees is that they’re happy. They may not be happy, but they project it all the time, and that’s the consistency that I’ve seen throughout all these years. Even with all the changes and adjustments and the economic shifts that had to occur, we stayed true to the philosophy and stayed true to our mission.”
What do you enjoy most about your job? Why have you stayed with CA all these years?
“I was a teacher in the county for 36 years, and it was such a great opportunity to interact with the students at a different level. I was a swim team coach, and you just see a different facet of the child when they’re playing. It was so enjoyable to be a fun part of their lives. That’s what kept me here for all of these years, and of course I lived here, too. You’re a part of the community, and in CA you want to give back in some capacity. Being able to coach and being able to bring some joy to their lives was, and still, is, a great pleasure.”
What makes your job special?
“Interacting with the people. I come here as a supervisor, but when I walk around and people come up to me and talk to me about how well my staff’s doing, or a certain program, or I see a child just learning to swim and they’re just so happy — and it’s unbelievable how excited they are — and to be able to say to them, ‘Wow, that is really great,’ and they just beam. That dynamic would bring anyone back every single year. That’s the best part of the job, without a doubt.”
-Interview by David Greisman. Video by Erin McPhail.