The Summer of 1969: Remembering My Kind Teacher

By Richard Mabey Jr.


Throughout the month of July, every Wednesday and Saturday morning, my dear mom drove me to the YMCA in Paterson, for swimming lessons to help me to earn the coveted Swimming Merit Badge. For the past two summers, I had taken the Swimming Merit Badge course at a dock and diving board setup at the Rockaway River in Boonton Township. The merit badge counselor was not kind to me at all. He would often mock me by saying, “okay Mabey you’re turn to dive, maybe you’ll get it right this time.”


I failed the Swimming Merit Badge classes two years in a row, during the Summers of 1967 and 1968. In late August of 1968 the Swimming Merit Badge Counselor told me to give up on my dream to become an Eagle Scout that I would never pass the Swimming Merit Badge. But, I was determined to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout and nothing could stop me. So, it was in the Summer of 1969, I began taking swimming classes at the YMCA in Paterson.


My swimming instructor was a most wonderful young woman by the name of Lisa Ann. She had long brown hair, had a kind heart and had just completed her freshman year of college at William Paterson State College. And, I confess, I became a bit smitten with her.


One of the things that Lisa Ann taught me was to think of my body as a big balloon that was filled with air. That I could easily float on the water. Lisa Ann helped me to overcome my fear of drowning. She would have me float, looking up at the ceiling, while she simply placed her hands beneath my back to give me the security that I was not going to drown.


I was all of 15 years old. Lisa Ann was 19. She once told me that her birthday was in April. My birthday was in September. She was a kind young woman, with so very much patience, and she wanted very much to see me earn the Swimming Merit Badge.


At the swimming pool in the YMCA, the water was calm and peaceful, there was no current like there was in the Rockaway River. The water was relatively warm, not chilling cold like it was in the Rockaway River. Lisa Ann was kind and considerate of my fear of drowning, unlike the rude swimming merit badge counselor that I had during the Summers of 1967 and 1968.


Throughout the month of July, every Wednesday and Saturday, Lisa Ann filled my heart with encouragement. She helped me to gain confidence in my ability to become a good swimmer. She once told me that I was her most improved swimming student.


By the middle of July, Lisa Ann became my friend as well as my swimming teacher. And, one time, while we took a break sitting at the bench beside the indoor pool, I got the courage to ask Lisa Ann if she wanted to go to my church youth group’s ice cream social with me. I remember how kindly Lisa Ann turned me down. I think Lisa Ann realized that I had grown very fond of her. With immense compassion, she explained to me that she was very proud of my progress in becoming a stronger and more confident swimmer. But that she was my swimming teacher and not the girl for me to take to my church’s youth group’s ice cream social.


That was over 50 years ago. To this day, the memory of Lisa Ann holds a very dear and special place in my heart. I don’t think that I would have ever earned scouting’s highest rank, that of Eagle Scout, without Lisa Ann’s kind help and guidance. I often think of Lisa Ann. In quiet solitude, I pray that if she is still with us on this side of Heaven’s Gate that she is safe and well.


To be continued.


Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Please place the wording “My Life Weekly” in the subject line.

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