ANDOVER — At 16, Paul D’Ambrosio signed up to be a lifeguard at Pomps Pond, hoping he’d earn enough at the summer job to buy a car.
More than a decade later, the Andover native has gone on to complete his doctorate in philosophy at Peking University in Beijing. He now travels the world teaching philosophy and attending conferences on the subject as well.
Yet every summer, he puts his worldly travels on hold and returns to Pomps Pond as director. He calls it the calm, little center of his world.
“It’s a really nice place to be,” said the now 27-year-old. “Suburban areas are really nice overall, and Andover is an especially nice one.”
D’Ambrosio began his travels around the world soon after he first started working at Pomps.
As a freshman at Andover High School, he started taking night classes at Merrimack College. By the time he graduated high school, he had two years’ worth of college work under his belt, he said.
But most colleges in the U.S. wouldn’t accept the credits, so he enrolled at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. Later, his quest for a master’s degree took him to University College Cork in Ireland and he eventually landed in Beijing to pursue his Ph.D.
But no matter where he was during the school year, he would always return to Andover and Pomps Pond for the summer.
In his early years as a lifeguard, D’Ambrosio developed a close relationship with then-director Brian Parker, who recently left his post at Pomps after suffering a stroke.
Over time, his duties at the pond expanded. He ran maintenance, became the head lifeguard and then eventually joined his mentor, Parker, as a co-director.
“There wasn’t a (co-director) spot before,” D’Ambrosio said. “We were splitting up things and (Parker) decided I should be bumped up.”
With Parker’s departure, D’Ambrosio now shares the director’s role with Caroline O’Malley. The two oversee everything at Pomps — from its opening and closing and schedule of programs to every staff member, swimmer and summertime memory.
What keeps him coming back every summer to a small pond in the center of Andover?
“I have two extremes when I was in Ireland and China,” he said. “(In) Beijing, you have almost 20 million people during the work week. It’s super crowded; it’s smoggy and dirty. There isn’t really any sort of plant life. Then in Ireland, I used to live in my professor’s house because he had an extra room, which was out in the countryside. That was just farm lands, nothing there.
“Andover is a nice in-the-middle place. You’re close to Boston, close to the oceans, you have nice places like down here, where it’s naturey,” he said.
But while D’Ambrosio’s sees his work at Pomps as an opportunity to come home and keep the pond in his community running, Andover’s recreation department, which oversees the pond, views his impact differently. They say his contribution means the world to some.
“He knows what it’s like to be new staff and to continue improving on skills, becoming a water safety instructor, becoming director of the pond,” Mary Montbleau, director of the town’s Department of Community Services, said. “He knows how the young staff feels.”
Even if they start working at the pond just to get cash for a car, where new lifeguards go at season’s end is influenced by their time at Pomps, according to Montbleau.
“We have many people, many young adults who are in the same type of position (as D’Ambrosio),” Montbleau said. “They’ve grown up with the program, and they come back.”