For over 100 years, the Patrol has been a welcome sight to those who enjoy the many offerings of, and the beauty of Geneva Lake. The Patrol, which has grown along with the increased usage and ever-changing demands of the lake community, has received national recognition for excellence from both the American Red Cross and the National Safety Council.
Founded by Simeon B. Chapin in 1920, to the Water Safety Patrol started out as a small group of people dedicated to spreading the word about the importance of safety through posters and bulletins posted at area beaches. Soon, the organization employed a small group of swimming instructors and offered free swimming lessons at various locations. Funding was provided through private donations from area residents. By 1925, the Patrol had begun providing lifeguards at several Geneva Lake beaches, and the organization purchased its first Patrol boat. The boat was used as an extension of the lifeguard services, and provided rescue and assistance for the increasing numbers of boaters using the lake.
Over the years, the organization continued to grow to meet the ever-increasing needs of the lake. H.C. Patterson guided the Patrol through the 1940’s and 50’s as the Operations Director, and he upgraded the boat fleet to add twin engine vessels with more rescue capabilities.
Richard W. (Dick) Scherff took over as Director in the late 1950’s and continued to grow the organization, increasing the staff to over 40 people. In 1976, Scherff helped the Patrol acquire its first fiberglass Patrol boat (Boat #3), a twin-engine inboard 26-ft. Mako from Florida. Scherff died in 1979 after suffering a heart attack while on duty aboard Boat #1. That boat is now named in Scherff’s memory, and it continues to be a vital asset for the Patrol’s fleet.
In 1979, Tom Kwiatkowski stepped in as Director to fill the void left by Scherff. Kwiatkowski, known affectionately as “Kwiker,” added two boats to the fleet during his tenure, bringing the total number to 5. He also took an active role in stepping up the fundraising efforts of the organization, and increased the staff to 60 people. Kwiatkowski stepped away from the management position in 1989, but continued to serve as an active member of the organization’s Board of Directors. Currently he serves as an honorary “Ambassador” for the Patrol.
The current Director, Ted Pankau took over in 1990. The organization now has 6 boats, provides lifeguard services at 12 different locations around the lake, offers swimming lessons, boat safety classes, lifeguard training, and employs a staff of over 80 people.
Though the organization has grown throughout the years, the main focus remains the same…to keep Geneva Lake safe and enjoyable for all.