Spending seven to eight hours a day in a classroom is what most envision when they hear ‘teacher’. That is not the case with one of the more noted ‘teachers’ for generations in Jackson County. Rhonda Suhr says she’s taught swimming lessons for so long, she is now teaching her student’s children of years past. Shortly she says, she may even encounter some of her former students’ grandchildren which makes her smile, “That says to me I must have done something right along the way. I honestly hate to say this but I can’t even come close to telling you how many kids I have taught to swim. I know it’s one of the most rewarding things ever, to know that something you teach someone could save their life or allow them to save someone else’s life.
Suhr shared an experience with the TIMES, “I saw a boy recently, I believe the boy’s name was Keith. He saw me at The Oaks and came up to me to tell me thanks for saving his life when he was younger. He said he could not swim and I jumped in and saved him from drowning! The crazy thing is, you would think I would remember that and I don’t. The young man called me by name, ‘Rhonda,’ I said yes and he told me the story.”
Suhr talks about her training as a lifeguard, “I remember taking the lifeguard certification class, Bonnie Williams certified me back in the day. I had to jump in and get an active victim. That victim was a young freshman in college, he was tall and could have taken me under fast! He was so wide in the chest that my arm would not reach around his chest, so my hand stopped at his armpit. Bonnie told the young man to be active, that meant I was about to go under. Thinking quick and that’s what you have to do in those situations, I pinched him in his armpit. I asked him to please kick and the rest is history - I passed the class.”
Suhr says it’s not unusual for her to get 30-40 calls during the ‘season’ which usually starts in June and goes well through August.
Rhonda said she worked at Blue Springs one summer and it was back in the day when you had to take a test to work there.
“In years past, I taught Meghan and Owen Grimsley’s three children. They swim like fish now. I have had the pleasure of teaching Van and Susan Kunde’s four grandchildren. When I coached the Marianna swim team 16 years ago I was pregnant. I can remember teaching a parent how to do butterfly, I swam butterfly to the end alongside the parent. When we got to the end of the pool the parent was upset because he was out of breath and I was asking him did he have anymore questions about the stroke. He could not believe I was not out of breath being so pregnant. I must say God gives everyone a talent. With that being said, some can sing, some can remember names, I believe mine is to teach swimming. It is so rewarding to see a child do it for the first time, even more rewarding to see a parent’s face after the child has done it for the first time. I taught coach J (Jeff Johnson) and Nancy’s daughter back in the day. She was like four or five then.”
Rhonda could go on and on with stories, such as the one from her recent trip to Marianna to visit her brother’s restaurant, “A funny story was my last trip to Marianna I was at The Oaks you know my new hang out place when I come to Marianna, a table full JD, Brooke, Mr. Harold, Blake and Brady Donaldson, their friend James were there. I asked him what his last name was he told me Reiff. I then responded your mom is Beth your dad is Robert and he said yes, and asked how I knew that. I asked him if he knew how to swim and of course he said he did. He had no clue I was the one who taught him how to swim so many years ago. Mr. Harold was the one who told him she taught you how to swim.”
Rhonda says her first job was teaching swimming at Blue Springs that in that very cold water. She and her twin brother Rodney would ride the bus from the old high school to Blue Springs. She says back then children would get on the bus and get free swimming lessons. They were 15 years old. In closing Rhonda said her daughter Laura-Ann reminded her just recently of something she always tells a parent when talking about the importance of swimming lessons, “If you are missing your child and you have a pool look there first. It only take a teaspoon for a child or adult to drown.”