In 1935, I was a senior in journalism, earning pin money by fiddling for square dances about twice a week. One summer morning a woman called from Christian College (now Columbia College) and asked whether I could come for an interview with Eugene Briggs, Christian’s new president, "at 11 o’clock." I arrived on time. Christian needed a swimming teacher, and the physical education staff at MU had advised, "Call Sue Meyers."
This was exciting except that the previous teacher had taught in exchange for room and meals on Christian’s campus. I needed to live at home. Dr. Briggs said he would "shuffle through his very tight budget" and see whether he could pay something. Then a woman showed me around the campus and unlocked the door to the natatorium.
Wow! What a beauty! The pool was white tile with blue tile lane markers; 60 feet long, 25 feet wide, purified by a filtering system like the one at MU. It had a diving board, gray Italian marble walls for showers and dressing stalls. The entire area was clean and bright because of 23 large windows and a skylight!
When I told Mom about it, she said, "They wouldn’t have to pay you to teach there!"
Dr. Briggs called and offered a small salary to start "and more if enrollment stays up." He increased that on my first check, and I continued to fiddle for dances for whatever people dropped in a hat.
Grace Mitchell, director of physical education, was helping students get ready for a Halloween party, and she and I climbed and crawled through their "Spooky Tunnel" inspecting it for safety and decency.
"The girls pay 10 cents a trip, and some go through here several times," she said.
She approved it, and as we crawled out, brushing off dust and straw, she said, "Next year you may want your swimmers to do a short stunt. It helps pay for the year’s athletic awards."
My swimmers were delighted, and we put on a full-blown water show every year after that humble beginning. We did stories, themes, music, costumes, clowns, diving and even eight swimmers at the same time, using underwater lights on arms and legs in the darkened natatorium.
For more than 30 years the students and I wrote show themes, designed and made costumes, composed routines, practiced in evenings and Saturdays, decorated the natatorium and entertained hundreds - no, thousands - of students and local residents. We did it for fun! I occasionally meet old students who relate happy experiences they had in those extracurricular water shows we did for fun.
What happened to this kind of swimming, fun in the water and in staging water shows? Maybe we will see something entirely new in the next generation.