Ladies and gentlemen, the year was 1996. It was my senior year at Ohio State, and during the summers of 1995 and ’96, I was a lifeguard at the Parke University Hotel off of Olentangy River Road, a couple of miles away from the OSU campus.

I enjoyed those summers tremendously. I took a couple of summer classes and made some money sitting at the pool and getting a nice tan. I only had to save one person during those two summers. I resided at the University Village student apartment complex, which was located on Stinchcomb Drive just off of Olentangy River Road, so walking to work was a usual occurrence.

It was a nice stroll up Stinchcomb Drive before cutting across Stadium Drive and walking briefly up Harley Drive before arriving at the Damon’s Grill restaurant and clocking in to work. Diehard Ohio State football aficionados might correctly surmise that Stinchcomb Drive is named for Gaylord Roscoe “Pete” Stinchcomb (1895-1973), who was an All-American quarterback and halfback at Ohio State from 1917-20, and Harley Drive is named for Charles William “Chic” Harley (1894-1974), who was a three-time All-American halfback, quarterback, end, kicker, punter and safety for the Buckeyes from 1916-19. Both Harley and Stinchcomb missed one season to serve in World War I.

Parke University Hotel, built in the early 1960s, faced Olentangy River Road and was across the street from the Union Cemetery (Chic Harley is buried there, as is famous OSU coach Woody Hayes). The hotel basically formed a rectangle around the outdoor pool area, with the restaurant connected at the front, left of the 204-room hotel. The pool area had a men’s and women’s cabana bathroom, shower and dressing area that the lifeguards cleaned daily. The pool was good-sized and enclosed by a fence with an entrance in middle where the lifeguard was stationed. There was a service phone right beside the entrance where the lifeguards could phone in food orders for patrons or call for assistance if there were any issues.

Both the Damon’s restaurant and Parke University Hotel were owned by a partnership affiliated with the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (of course, “The Boss” was still alive and kicking back in 1996). Damon’s was one of my favorite restaurants, and one of the perks of the lifeguard gig was getting a free Damon’s lunch/dinner while on duty.

Sadly, there were only a few choices for the workers to choose from, and ribs weren’t on the list, but there were no complaints about a staple of Damon’s burgers and fries.

Steinbrenner’s affiliation with the hotel/restaurant was due to the New York Yankees’ Triple-A team, the Columbus Clippers, who played over at venerable Cooper Stadium. The Clippers stayed at the hotel, and another perk was seeing some of the players from time to time.

Ruben Rivera, who was a highly touted outfield prospect for the Yanks, hung out with me a few times at the pool in the summer of ’96. Rivera, the cousin of longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, never lived up to his 1996 hype. He played for five different big league teams – including the Cincinnati Reds – from 1995-2003, but at the age of 43 still plays baseball in the Mexican League. Other notable players who played for the Clippers in the summers of 1995-96 were Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Mariano Duncan, Todd Benzinger, Andy Pettitte and Willie Hernandez.

Then there was the time John Cooper and the Ohio State football team came over to Parke University Hotel pool. Summer practice was coming to an end, and the players had the freshmen players do a little skit and then tossed the rookies in the pool.

Linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer and wide receiver David Boston were two of the freshmen who got tossed. That OSU team would go on to win the Rose Bowl. Other big names there that day were Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Joe Germaine, Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel.

If memory serves, which I think it does, Vrabel came to the pool with a buddy earlier that summer and I had to blow my whistle at him for diving in the shallow end of the pool. Yep, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound kid studying journalism threatening to kick out a 6-foot-4, 260-pound All-American defensive lineman who went on to be a star player in the NFL and won three Super Bowl titles. Anyway, he stopped diving in the shallow end and didn’t break his neck on my watch.

There was a radio at the pool, and the lifeguards were instructed to always keep it on the “Sunny FM” station (and not play it too loud). I recall hearing over and over again the 1990s classics “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” “All I Wanna Do,” “Only Wanna Be With You,” “Waterfalls,” “Hook,” “Kiss From A Rose,” “Run-Around,” “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and of course, the (infamous) “Macarena.”

Naturally, there were the radio commercials, but I don’t really remember any of those in particular – well, except one. The Columbus Crew soccer team played its inaugural season in 1996, and it seemed those commercials played all the time with the song with the simple lyrics, “Olé, olé, olé, olé; olé, olé.”

The Crew played their first few seasons at Ohio Stadium on the OSU campus before moving to a shiny new home when Columbus Crew Stadium opened in 1999. I remember watching the stadium being built driving up and down I-71 from time to time. The stadium, now called MAPFRE Stadium, was the first soccer-specific facility built by a Major League Soccer team and is less than 20 years old, but apparently isn’t good enough for the team’s owner any longer. Just this week, it was reported that the Crew brass wants
to move the team to Austin, Texas if Columbus doesn’t fork over millions and millions for a new downtown edifice.

Perhaps the Crew is a bit jealous of the Clippers, which left Cooper Stadium in 2008 for Huntington Park in the Arena District in downtown Columbus. Today, Cooper Stadium is still (somewhat) standing, but a recent report described the structure built in 1932 as being in “very, very bad shape, and it looks worse every day.”

Back in 1996, during that sensational summer in the sun, I never imagined that the Parke University Hotel would be a thing of the past in the near future. The hotel was closed in 1999 and demolished, followed by construction of a new hotel. Then, in 2011, the Damon’s was closed and was also bulldozed.

Time marches on, and while that summer in the sun and the old hotel, restaurant and pool off of Olentangy are gone, the golden memories remain.

As far as Crew Stadium? Time will tell.

Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at roush_steve@msn.com.