Sandy Neely - Ada Herald
An emotional Sandy Neley accpeted the accolades of Ada residents last Friday during an event organized by Bryan Marshall (right)

ADA — An on-going story half a century in the making, and the life and dedication of the person who lived it, was commemorated late last week in Ada. On Friday, June 22, the efforts of Saundra “Sandy” Neely, Ada’s Swimming Lady, were commemorated in bronze at the Ada Pool.
Friends, family and students, past and present, gathered for the unveiling of a plaque recognizing Neely’s 50 years of swimming and water safety instruction.

“Saundra L. Neely, ‘The Swimming Lady’, has taught Red Cross swimming and water wafety for 50 years,” the plaque reads, continuing, “Her meritorious efforts helping youngsters, here at the Ada Pool, overcome their fear of water has likely saved lives. The residents of Ada are thankful for her caring attitude and appreciative of the impact she has made on the community.”

The event came as a complete surprise to Neely, who confided she believed her family was gathering for a photo in the park in preparation for a milestone family event in September, the celebration of her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband, Bruce.

Instead, Neely found herself the center of attention for an entirely different reason.

“I had no idea any of that was going on,” Neely said. “When we drove past the park and the pool, I said, ‘Well, it’s kind of rainy weather, but they must be having a swim meet.’ It wasn’t until we got out of the car and I saw some people I knew who probably weren’t involved in a swim meet that I said, ‘Have I been had? Is there something going on.’”

The long trek to last Friday’s commemorative event began in Neely’s hometown of Medina, where a love of swimming led her to perform synchronized swimming in high school and to a position as lifeguard over summers while she studied at The Ohio State University. In 1968, she received her certification as a swim instructor and since has worked diligently to assure that certification never expired, teaching classes in Medina, Van Wert, and everywhere her family transitioned to. In 1974, that meant Ada, where she approached those operating the pool and offered her services.

For Neely, these efforts have been not only a labor of love — though certainly that — but one of reverence; reverence for community, without whose help and support, she assures, the teaching could never have been effectively accomplished, and for life.

“I just enjoy swimming and saw the need for people to know how to swim,” Neely said. “Over the years, I’ve heard stories about how being able to swim saved someone’s life. More than several times, people have said if they hadn’t been at the pool and known how to swim, they probably wouldn’t be alive right now. That keeps you going. One life, that’s all it takes. You saved one life.”

That sentiment was echoed and reinforced by Todd James, a representative of the American Red Cross, during Friday’s event.

“You have taught hundreds of kids how to swim and enjoy water safely,” James said. “Think of how many lives they have saved. You are truly an example of what the Red Cross is all about.”

After teaching thousands of children and adults how to swim safely over five decades, Neely expressed her belief that this will be her last year of instruction. Once the roughly 75 novice swimmers who have signed up for lessons this year have worked their way through her two-week course, she’s prepared to get out of the pool, at least as an instructor.

“Fifty and out,” Neely said, laughing.