When Marge Burkert of Howell looks out at her backyard, she doesn’t just see a swimming pool. In its sparkling blue water, she sees the reflections of the thousands of kids who have splashed into it over the years for swimming lessons, gaining critical lifesaving skills and self-confidence along the way.
Burkert, who grew up in Pennsylvania, took to the water at an early age, and was working as a lifeguard and teaching swimming lessons at her local pool during her teen years. After she and her husband, a teacher, married and settled in Howell in the late 1970s, she offered to teach the children of one of his colleagues to swim. And just like that, a business was born.
Word spread quickly through the neighborhood that Burkert was teaching small group lessons in her friend’s pool, and before she knew it she was teaching several classes a day. Eventually, demand grew to the point that the Burkerts decided to build their own pool, where she’s taught since 1979.
While she has slowed down a bit, during the peak years Burkert taught more than 200 kids to swim each summer, using the five-level Red Cross Learn to Swim program. She’s never advertised her services, but somehow, each summer, the pool fills up, now with second-generation swim students who are learning from the same teacher as their parents.
Learning to swim, she believes, is not just about picking up a sport or a hobby; it’s an essential life skill. That’s why she emphasizes water safety along with the fundamentals of stroke technique.
“We have water everywhere,” she said. “There’s creeks, rivers, pools, vacations. Everybody should learn how to swim, and know how to stay safe in the water.”
Rick Humphries took his kids to Burkert’s pool for lessons in the 1980s and 1990s, and when it was time for his grandchildren to learn to swim, he knew just where to go.
“I have been a coach of baseball in Howell and really appreciate what she has done through all these years and what she has passed on to young kids,” Humprhies said. “Some of the basic things she teaches have helped our kids and many others stay safe in the water.”
Burkert says many of her former students have gone on to join local swim teams, or to work as lifeguards and swim instructors themselves. But for her, the best part has been helping kids use the water to discover things about themselves.
“The biggest joy or satisfaction I get is when I can take someone who has been afraid of the water and take them down to the deep end. That is just like turning the page on their self esteem.”
You can contact Marge Burkert at firstname.lastname@example.org.