Q & A Ted Pankau

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol, and At The Lake thought it was only fitting to shine a spotlight on longtime WSP Director Ted Pankau. Ted has served as the Patrol’s director since 1990 and has overseen the upgrade of its boat fleet and the move to a new headquarters in 2001. His first jobs with the Patrol were lifeguard and boat crew member, beginning in 1980. Ted worked at WMAQ-TV, the NBC affiliate, in Chicago, and later for the Primex Corporation in Lake Geneva. He is a graduate of the University of St. Francis.

Why is the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol still a vital part of the community 100 years after its founding?

Safety remains a priority for people in and around the water. The people who started the Patrol 100 years ago recognized the large growth potential for Geneva Lake, and they put in place an organization (WSP) that could grow to meet the ever-changing needs of the lake community.

In 30 years as director, what has been your proudest moment and your greatest challenge?

My proudest moments revolve around the many incidents in which our team members have been on the spot to rescue someone from a life-or-death situation. One moment in particular stands out, when one of our lifeguards (Meredith Diamond) was recognized as the Wisconsin Hero of the Year by the American Red Cross for saving a man from drowning at Fontana Beach. I was so proud of her, but also proud of the entire organization for putting in place a system that allows such life-saving measures to exist. As far as challenges go, it’s always an effort to get the message out regarding our mission and trying to educate the public on safe boating practices and safety around the water.

Many equate the WSP with the boat crews that patrol the lake, but tell us about its lifeguarding and educational programs.

While our Boat Patrol is probably our most visible branch, we also provide valuable lifeguard services for 10 beaches on Geneva Lake, and we offer swim lessons and boat safety classes throughout the summer months.

It doesn’t appear as though other lakes in Wisconsin have organizations like WSP. Why is that?

Geneva Lake is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that it is the state’s busiest body of water (in terms of usage per acre). Because of its size, its depth and its sometimes-treacherous conditions, Geneva Lake has the potential to be quite dangerous. I think the people of this community recognize this and understand the need for such an organization to help keep safety as a priority.

WSP employees have a lot of responsibility. How can you tell if someone is right for the job?

Choosing the right people for our team is the most important part of my job. We look for people who want to make a difference in the community. People who apply for a job with the Patrol are usually people who are already seeking a position of high responsibility. We make sure that they understand that responsibility, and they go through rigorous screening and training before they begin working.

After three decades of serving WSP, what is your vision for the future of the organization?

My vision for the future of the Patrol is probably not that much different than Simeon B. Chapin’s (WSP founder) was 100 years ago. That is to position the Patrol as an organization that can continue to grow and adapt to the changing safety needs of the Geneva Lake community. I would love to see the Patrol continue to grow as a beacon to which people can look to for safety and education.

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