You could say John Whitmore grew up cleaning pools. As a boy in Southern California, his parents put in a backyard swimming pool and though he had six siblings, he became responsible for cleaning and maintaining it. By the time he was a teenager and a member of his high school swimming and water polo teams, Whitmore had come under the wing of a local pool service technician.

His first full-time job in aquatics was for the city of La Mesa, Calif., east of San Diego. Since then, Whitmore has gone on to become the organizational development manager for the city of Denton, Texas. He received NRPA Southwest Region’s Fellow Award in 2009, NRPA’s Exceptional Aquatic Service Award in 1998, and NRPA’s Gold Medal of Aquatics with two different agencies, the city of Denton and APEX Park and Recreation district, outside of Denver.

Whitmore also is the immediate past president of the National Recreation and Park Association’s Aquatic Branch. He serves as chief instructor trainer for NRPA’s Aquatic Facility Operator course, which he helped to develop. It officially launched in the early 1990s.

As with the AFO course, Whitmore’s goal as NRPA Aquatics Branch president focused on education. He has been instrumental in “professionalizing” the industry. “One of the things that has always plagued aquatics is that stigma that we’re not ‘professionals,’” he noted.

As a leader in the industry, he has made it his mission to help aquatics facility operators — and the parks and recreation directors under whom they serve — to see the value in training and continued education.

“[As a result of the VGB Act], I can’t tell you how many parks and recreation directors called me to ask why they didn’t know about it and what training their aquatics professionals need,” he says. “We’re trying to take advantage of that and provide them more of a strategic view.”

Most recently, that strategic view has centered on economics. Given the current recession, Whitmore is helping lead the industry toward more business-minded operations. His focus, he says, is on “the strategic need of aquatics professionals to show the return on investment of their facilities and programs to their communities.”

To help aquatics operators understand that message and relate to leaders in dollars-and-cents terms, Whitmore plans to continue speaking at industry conferences and sharing his experience. He says creating a culture of trust and empowering people through honest and direct personal contact are two key factors that have enabled him to create an award-winning facility, and ultimately change the industry.