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A Living Legacy

Connie Sue Centrella makes life long impact in the pool industry

In April, Connie Sue Centrella, 76, was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Team Horner,  a manufacturer, wholesale distributor and global exporter of swimming pool equipment and chemicals, where she served as director of education from 2003 to 2017. It’s a small snippet of the industry-wide impact she’s made thus far.

Centrella was instilled with a passion for the pool industry at an early age. Her father, Joe Gibson, began working on pools in the early 1950s; Centrella says he endeavored to bring professionalism to the industry and challenged her to do the same. Joe gave his teenage daughter the opportunity to attend seminars and trade shows, which fueled Centrella’s business acumen while expanding her professional network. She was learning the trade and establishing a name for herself. 

Centrella owes her well-rounded perspective to many life experiences. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Vanderbilt University and spent several years as a computer programmer until her gregariousness got the better of her. “I needed more interactions with people,” Centrella says — so she left the computer field and dove back into pools and spas.  

Later in life, Centrella’s penchant as an influencer landed her in a race for Tennessee State Representative. She garnered 48% of her district’s vote, but did not win the nomination. The support she received, however, was a testament to her keen understanding of what it takes to serve. “[The campaign] taught me how to brand myself,” Centrella says. She describes the experience as great training on how to sell yourself while focusing on what you can do for others.

Time and again, Centrella lives the philosophy of service. Wendy L. Purser, owner of Wendy Purser Pool Consulting, recalls her mother, Mae Miller, admiring Centrella’s “boots-on” personality. 

Circa 1975, Miller and Centrella served as directors of Southeast Region X of the National Spa and Pool Institute. The two were among the organization’s first female directors, which made an impression on then-13-year-old Purser, who was already working part-time in the industry.

“Connie was one of the few women in the business who wasn’t just a bookkeeper or administrator,” Purser says. “Connie was in the field during pool building and service. She did it all. She knew it all.”

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Centrella served as chair of Keiser University’s Aquatic Engineering Technology Department from 2004 to 2014, influencing countless students. Among Centrella’s many awards and credits are five consecutive Instructor of Distinction titles from Keiser University.

Purser remained in contact with Centrella, who developed the industry’s first accredited degree in aquatic engineering for Keiser University during her tenure. In 2011, Purser enrolled in the program and says it taught her more than she thought possible: “I was able to learn concepts of lighting and how it affected and was affected by the environment and type of lighting equipment. I learned slope and load calculations. I doubled down on heat rise, evaporation types, history of pool equipment and so much more.” 

Aquatic engineer Cindy Burdett, who graduated from the program at Keiser in 2012, says Centrella introduced her to D2 Marine Solutions. “She has always been available to answer questions, and I have worked with her on many projects as they relate to the [United States Public Health Vessel Sanitation Program],” Burdett says.

At 64, Centrella earned her master’s in business administration in leadership while running the program at Keiser because she felt a need to broaden her education. Centrella did not let the mores of society dictate her future, but as with most of her generation, Centrella says women were not considered candidates for engineering or related fields such as construction.

Nevertheless, she used her knowledge of chemistry, hydraulics and physics to propel her through the pool industry. She volunteered on regional and national committees, and attended national trade shows, making a point to meet people from all corners of the country, from all facets of the industry. 

Since 2017, Centrella has run her own industry consultancy and has carved a niche in the cruise ship industry, where she provides water-quality consulting services to Royal Caribbean International. In less than a decade, Centrella has provided PHTA CPO certifications to over 800 crew members aboard 112 ships. 

While countless professionals are grateful for Centrella’s mentorship, she recalls with gratitude the many men and women who have encouraged her throughout her career. Centrella says her most impactful mentor, however, is her daughter, Heather, whose unwavering support was evident at a young age when she patiently understood that “mommy had to work.” Continuing in the family tradition, Heather developed an unbridled work ethic and is now vice president of production management for a major television network.

Centrella says she has no plans to stop serving others or learning new technologies. “I would like to be remembered as an individual who dedicated her life to building professionalism in the pool industry,” she says. “A woman who was passionate about improving others as well as herself.”

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