The Philomath Community Pool story is a tale of neighborly goodwill, community involvement, and a generous and much-needed bequest. In the spring of 1994, the local papers reported a proposal by the Philomath School District, hit hard by budget cuts, to close the Philomath Pool. The community gathered to show support for the pool. Students sang the pool’s praises, community members organized the “Friends of the Philomath Pool,” but money was still tight and the outcome uncertain. At that time, District Superintendent Chuck Jackson received a visit that changed everything. He was informed that longtime Philomath resident, Leonard Nitka, had bequeathed the Philomath Pool half his estate.
That endowment now provides for the continued operations and maintenance of the pool where his wife Kitty swam daily. Kathryn C. “Kitty” Nitka was born November 21, 1907, in the Bronx borough of New York City to John and Sarah Kelly Cahill. Her favorite childhood memories included family trips to the beach, where she learned to swim at the age of four. In 1942, Kitty joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, serving as a lieutenant in Gen. Patton’s MASH unit in Europe. She was honorably discharged in 1947. After the war, she remained in Germany, organizing medical services for German civilians. While there, she met Leonard Nitka, who was serving with the U.S. Navy. They married in Alaska, then moved to Corvallis. Kitty studied speech pathology at Oregon State University, earning a bachelor’s degree. After graduating, she helped establish the Benton County Health Department. For many years, she worked as a school nurse for the Corvallis School District.
Leonard and Kitty also raised Dorset sheep on their farm south of Corvallis. Kitty’s true passion in life remained swimming. She once swam the English Channel with her Irish cousins, and she continued the activity throughout her life, swimming in the pond on their farm and at local pools. Leonard S. Nitka was born November 2, 1906, in Virginia, Minnesota, to Lawrence and Frances Pukropp Nitka. As a child, he moved with his family to Washington, where they farmed an apple and cherry orchard. A graduate of Auburn High School in Washington, Leonard later joined the U.S. Navy, serving during World War II from 1942 to 1952, when he retired as a chief warrant officer.
Leonard was an avid pilot who designed, built, and flew small aircraft. He was a past chapter president of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He spoke several languages and traveled extensively throughout the world. Kitty was well-known and loved at the Philomath Pool. According to Gene Bunting, past director of aquatics, Kitty was at the pool every night it was open, and sometimes her husband, Leonard, would watch as she swam laps. “If she didn’t show up or was late, the staff was on the phone, calling to see if Kitty was coming.”
Kitty was killed in a car accident May 21, 1993. In her obituary, the Philomath Pool was listed as the place to leave remembrances. After Kitty’s death, Gretchen Morris, a local attorney, assisted Leonard in setting up a living trust. She explained to him that, without a will, his entire estate would go to the state general fund when he died, since he had no relatives. Leonard decided to name the Philomath Community Pool, to which his wife had been so devoted, as one of the beneficiaries of his estate. He died only five months after Kitty, on October 31, 1993. Because the school didn’t have the staffing to manage or invest the endowment, they transferred the fund to BCF.
The Philomath Community Swimming Pool, housed in the high school, offers many programs including swimming lessons, adult lap swimming, water fitness classes, and swim teams. During the summer, the schedule is especially full, but programs are popular year-round.