42.8209° N, 82.4860° W
St. Clair, Michigan
City of St. Clair Swimming Pool
By Patti Samar
If you grew up in the city of St. Clair between the late 1950s and the present day, chances are you took swimming lessons at the city pool and most likely, you learned to swim under the watchful eyes of St. Clair City Aquatics Coordinator Sue Daniels or Pool Manager Margaret Pauly.
Both women have been fixtures at the city pool for 50 years give or take a few years in either direction: Daniels began working at the pool as a lifeguard when she was in college in 1959 and Pauly began her tenure at the pool in 1967. Together, the two of them have taught multiple generations of St. Clair children – and adults – how to swim.
“You get little old ladies with canes who come up and say, ‘You taught me how to swim,’” Daniels said with a laugh. “Well, not quite that bad, but we’ve taught a lot of generations.”
Pauly said: “Parents now bring their children to the pool and say, ‘She taught me how to swim and now she’s going to teach you!’”
Though both Daniels and Pauly began their working lives at the pool as lifeguards, both also pursued other work avenues during the off season. Daniels, a physical education teacher, spent many years working for the East China School District and Pauly worked at St. Mary’s Catholic School in St. Clair for 45 years. Both are now retired from their professional lives outside of swimming.
Both have spent many years cultivating swimming and aquatics talents in the water. The city pool now offers classes that introduce the youth to competitive swimming, and for many years, the city pool hosted a synchronized swimming program which culminated every year with a synchronized swim show.
Despite its long-time popularity – the synchronized swim team celebrated 50 years of participation in 2009 – the past couple of seasons, there has not been a synchronized swimming team due to a lack of participation.
“There are just too many other activities for the kids to get involved in now,” said Daniels. “Back then, this was it…this was where everyone met.”
Daniels, who swam on the synchronized swim team at Eastern Michigan University, was passionate about the sport. In 1961, when she was just 20 years old, she received a challenge from the Independent Press, a small local newspaper.
“In order to get headlines for the synchronized swim show, they challenged me to swim the entire length of the St. Clair River,” she said. “So I did.”
For months prior, she trained with the help of a state police trooper and a member of the county dive team. “They trained me and I would go down to the river and swim against the current.”
And so, on a Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1961, Daniels got greased up and climbed into the water just north of the Blue Water Bridge. It took her nine hours to complete the task, but she did it. And she got her headlines.
Both Daniels and Pauly – both of whom teach swimming year-round for the city recreation department – said the most rewarding part of the job has been watching generations of St. Clair residents grow up.
With the city’s location on the swift waters of the St. Clair River, both women noted the dire importance of having a city pool and swimming lessons available to residents.
“The community built this pool to keep kids out of the river,” said Daniels. “We have not had a drowning in the St. Clair River in the city limits since this pool was built, where we used to have about one a summer before the pool was built.”
In the early years, Daniels said the pool staff struggled to maintain the pool with limited resources, but noted that over time, the city council and administration have become very supportive of the pool.
“We’d like to thank the city of St. Clair and the city council for their support over the years,” said Daniels.