Longtime Red Cross swim program directors Kyle and Becky Phillips are retiring this year, but the program is staying afloat under new leadership.
Robyn Kirby will take the reins as the new director. She will be receiving assistance from Janet Phillips, Brittany George and Dana Grissom.
New leadership takes over as registration for this year’s swim classes is approaching June 26 beginning at 5 p.m. at McMinnville Civic Center. The two-week swim lessons begin July 7 and July 21.
Kyle and Becky are retiring after more than three decades with the swim program. Kyle began as an instructor in 1980, followed by Becky in 1983.
Through the years, both were very active in the program, often teaching three classes a night for the entire month of swim lessons. They became co-directors upon the death of Bill Gilley in 2003.
“The goal has always been to teach people to be safe in and around the water,” said Becky.
Added Kyle, “One of the things I like about these free lessons is people from all walks of life come together to volunteer and make it happen. You have doctors and lawyers, teachers and factory workers. They have all taken lessons over the years and they come back to teach.”
When asked about memorable moments, Becky told about a brother and sister who gave her gifts one year after swim lessons were finished. She said the girl gave her a homemade card, while the boy handed her a piece of paper that was folded up.
“It was folded really tight into a small square,” said Becky. “When I unfolded it and got to the middle, he had placed a nickel in there. That nickel might as well have been $1 million because that child did what he could and gave what he had. I still get tears thinking about it.”
With 500 to 550 swimmers coming through the program each year, Kyle estimates they have helped around 17,000 people learn to swim. Becky said they have been with the program so long, they are now teaching grandchildren of people they gave lessons to 30 years ago.
“When you get to that point, it’s time to start thinking about stepping aside,” said Becky, who said they have developed close relationships with many of the swim volunteers. “We have attended graduations and weddings, celebrated births of babies and other special events of instructors and volunteers.”
While teaching children is challenging, Kyle says the adults are usually more difficult because they often have built up a lifetime fear of the water.
“To see them put their face in the water or jump off the diving board for the first time is priceless,” said Kyle.
In turning over the swim program, Kyle and Becky know it will be in capable hands. Kirby says she has a strong core group of volunteers but knows it will take more help.
“These are free swim lessons so we need volunteers to make it happen,” said Kirby. “If we have a large group of volunteers, it prevents a few people from having to do so much.”
Swim lessons are offered in two-week sessions beginning July 7 with classes starting at 6, 7, and 8 p.m. each night. Anyone who wants more information about volunteering can call 808-7417.