“Kick, kick, kick,” she prompted the young ones. “Good splashes.”
After they churned up the chlorinated water, Konzack gave each baby a ride around the shallow end of the warm pool at the Central Douglas County Family YMCA.
“Are you a happy girl?” she asked a toddler before guiding the girl on her belly through the water.
The infant swim class is one of many Konzack has led. In 42 years as a volunteer swim instructor at the Roseburg YMCA, she’s taught generations of children how to swim.
On Sunday, Konzack will celebrate her 90th birthday. She says she has no plans to quit teaching anytime soon, and that swimming six days a week keeps her healthy and fit.
Konzack, who over the years has given swim lessons to infants through adults, now exclusively teaches the youngest of swimmers. Twice a week, she spends her mornings getting babies and 3-year-olds comfortable in water. She’s taught so many children that these days it’s not uncommon for second generations to pass through her classes, Konzack said.
“They’re all dear to me. I get attached to them,” she said. “I have lots of pictures, lots of scribbly notes, thank-yous that kids have given to me.”
When she’s not teaching, Konzack, a regular swimmer since high school, can still be found at the YMCA swimming laps. While she swims, her husband of 69 years, Clayton, works out in another part of the Y.
“I’m here every day,” Konzack said. “This is my second home, and I really appreciate being able to do this for the Y. There are so many lovely people. I have some dear friends.
“I’m so old I’m a mother to most of these people here.” As a volunteer swim instructor, it’s especially worthwhile teaching children water safety, Konzack said.
“At some time or another (everybody) will have to encounter water,” she said. “That’s what I like the best. I’m helping them to maybe save their lives.”
Recently, one of her students, a 2-year-old, fell into a reservoir, Konzack said. Thanks to swim lessons, he calmly paddled his way out, she said.
“It didn’t bother him,” Konzack said. “He didn’t panic because he was used to the water.” Konzack has been volunteering at the YMCA for so long that when an employee tried to look up her file recently she didn’t have one.
“They said, ‘You don’t have a file,’” Konzack said. “I said, ‘No, I never filled out an application.’ ”
Konzack started volunteering after she went to the tot swim class with a friend who had a baby. A mother of two adopted daughters, Konzack was looking for something to fill her time after they left home.
Konzack recalls the instructor was so impressed with her she asked Konzack to teach the class when she couldn’t anymore. A note from that swim instructor asking Konzack to take over more than 40 years ago was the closest she came to filling out an application.
“I still have that note,” Konzack said. “It’s in my file.”
The YMCA has changed a lot since she started volunteering there, Konzack said.
“I’ve seen the Y grow from a family to a big business,” she said. The Y only had one pool when she started, Konzack said. She remembers when the roof collapsed into that pool sometime in the 1980s.
“It pushed the water right out the front door,” she said. “I’m thankful it was at 10 o’clock at night and not at 10 o’clock in the morning. I wouldn’t be here.”
On the YMCA pool deck, Konzack is a recognizable face.
“I want to be like you when I’m 90,” a woman climbing the ladder out of the lap pool said to Konzack.
Konzack said she’s gotten used to such remarks. “I’ve had more people that come up to me and say, ‘You’re my role model,’ ” she said.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet keep her young, Konzack said.
“I’m vegetarian, I don’t smoke — I don’t even drink colas,” she said. Swimming at the Y also often washes away her worries, Konzack said.
“This has been my outlet,” she said. “Sometimes I come in here stressed out and the minute I dunk my head under the water, it’s just great.”
Denise Dammann of Roseburg has had a kid in one of Konzack’s classes for the past five years. Recently she brought her 2-year-old daughter, Hannah, to Konzack’s infant class. Dammann said she appreciates that Konzack teaches such young children water safety and how to go underwater.
“She’s got a real way of teaching babies to do that,” Dammann said. “She’s really wonderful with them. A real blessing to have.”
YMCA aquatic instructor coordinator Jeanette Dever said Konzack has just the right touch when it comes to teaching children to swim.
“She’s patient, but makes sure that they do what they’re capable of doing,” she said. “Boy, I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
The YMCA plans to host a birthday party for Konzack at 10 a.m. Tuesday and to honor her for volunteering for 42 years, Dever said.
“We have to make sure she knows this is not a going-away party,” she said. The children are what keep her coming back, Konzack said.
“I can’t keep from kissing them. I kiss their feet, I kiss their hands and then put them in the pool,” she said.
After more than 40 years, she said she can’t see herself leaving that behind anytime soon.
“I’d like to go to 50 or 100. That would be unheard of,” Konzack said, laughing. As long as her health cooperates, she sees herself as a regular fixture at the YMCA.
“I’m going to keep going until I can’t make it,” she said. “I always say, ‘You can wheel me over in a wheelchair and dump me in the water, and I’ll teach those babies.’ ”
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