During the Great Depression, Allie Crews was the only employee of the Boone County chapter of the American Red Cross. It surprised me when she called to say, "The board chose you to represent our county at the National Aquatic School in Eureka Springs, Ark. The chapter will pay your expenses for 10 days of advanced training in swimming, life saving, accident prevention and first aid. Do you think you can go?"
I had just earned my senior life-saving badge in Ruby Cline's class at the University of Missouri. A large blond fellow wearing a big "Examiner" badge was in the water and grabbed each of us to determine whether we could release strangle holds, wrist grips, etc. I was frightened by this examiner, but I passed the test.
Then Miss Crews made this great proposal. She didn't spell it out, but I recognized an obligation to use this training later because the chapter was investing a huge sum of money on me -- more than $100! Of course I accepted the offer, knowing how much fun it would be.
We swam in Lake Lucerne, a resort near Eureka Springs, and were busy day and night. For the first time in my life I was at camp, getting to know more than 100 people who lived and breathed the things I loved: swimming, boating, canoeing, life saving. After introductions and orientation, we were assigned to classes and given textbooks and additional materials to read before morning.
Staff and students ate at the same tables, sang camp songs, walked the same paths, used first names and huddled around the same fireplaces. Yes, it was cold!
The Red Cross staged National Aquatic Schools in about five locations throughout the United States, and most were scheduled for early June so lifeguards, teachers and others would be trained before the busy swimming season.
The next morning it was not only cold, it was also raining! They rescheduled classes to have intensive instruction and practice indoors in the Lake Lucerne pavilion and dance hall. We went through the life-saving techniques there, learning to release holds, carry near-drowning victims, do artificial respiration and the rest.
The following day was more of the same, huddling around the big rustic fireplace with the fire roaring. We were about 150 "fish out of water" waving arms as we studied various styles of swimming. We were down on the cold floor for instruction in flutter kick, scissors kick and frog kick.
American Red Cross was one of the organizations that researched swimming and life-saving techniques, always hoping to find more efficient ways of moving through the water or saving lives. The "fly" was unheard of at that time, but an inverted breaststroke was introduced, and it's still my favorite stroke.
The cold rain continued. By the fourth day we went into the water for short sessions and then huddled around the fireplace wrapped in big towels. We were indoors for slides, demonstrations and practice. Boats, canoes and related equipment were moved to the dance floor.
Near the end of the school, we worked in the water most of each class period. On examination day we went in one at a time and released the strangle holds on staff members. The school nurse met us with an army blanket and a cup of hot coffee as we made our way from the lake to the fireplace!
That evening I was awarded that big, important badge that said "Examiner." And I spent many years happily fulfilling my obligation to the Boone County chapter of the American Red Cross.