By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald
---- — Clinton, Iowa, is definitely a swimming city due in part to being a river town.
The logging industry was key to its early history, and countless inhabitants have owed their livelihood, and occasionally their fatal end, to the mighty Mississippi. Early on, people of Clinton wanted to develop pools, because the river was so turbulent and dangerous at this point. Therefore, being a swimming city is equally attributable to the great swimming leadership that this city has enjoyed over the years.
The spiritualist camp had the area’s first outdoor pool at the turn of the 20th Century. The YMCA opened the first public-use pool, where Bill Jacobsen taught the athletic/gymnast Howard Judd to be a swimmer; he later became a legendary coach. The World War II Schick Hospital, in Lyons, knew the importance of swimming for rehabilitation of wounded soldiers, and they had a fantastic pool. Unfortunately, it was never able to be assimilated for public use. Oakhurst had an outdoor pool, which still can be seen.
To my knowledge, there’s been just one indoor pool at a private residence. Bob and Frances Bickelhaupt were avid swimmers, who loved its curative aspects for their arthritis. They built a pool in their home on the grounds of the Bickelhaupt Arboretum and, for many years, swam daily. Sadly, Mrs. Frances (Kershner) Bickelhaupt, who was 97, died this past week — and swimming, nature and Clinton have lost a fine supporter.
The old pool under the bleachers at Clinton High School was woefully inadequate, but the one under Yourd Gym (1960) was a big improvement and lasted about 50 years. The newest CHS pool (2010) is now open for all to see and use. Yes, swimming has surely been enhanced through Clinton’s schools.
We have had great nationally known swimmers, such as Gary Morris, the great coach Howard Judd (1901-1978), and some sad events involving great swimmers, too — like the drowning of one Richard P. Eagan, who swam from bridge to bridge in 27 minutes in 1913 and then tragically drowned a year later while being chased by police. It turns out that they only wanted to question him about someone else’s altercation, but he had been drinking before fleeing to the river, which was usually his friend.
Former Councilman Mike Kearney and a small group bravely re-enacted the 1913 feat above by swimming from bridge to bridge three years ago. Kearney’s name is on the 1958 CHS state championship trophy, and his brothers’ names (Ed and Bud Kearney) appear on the 1962 state trophy. That’s the only instance of three brothers all having their names on state championship trophies from Clinton. Ed’s name is also on the 1961 runner-up trophy, and Bud’s was on the ‘63 and ‘64 runner-up trophies. (It is sad to note that the 1964 trophy would have been a state championship trophy if one swimmer had not gotten overly excited and jumped back into the pool before all the other swimmers had finished, thereby disqualifying CHS for the relay that, otherwise, would have been the winning event.)
Kearney continues as a daily swimming enthusiast to this day, and is a leader and historian on it, as well. In discussing our new Clinton High School Hall of Fame (to be unveiled in the fall), he notes several swimmers are included, adding, “You know, Clinton swimmers could have their own Hall of Fame and easily fill it with highly acclaimed state and national champions of note.”
Back in 1941, Hubert “Hubie” Norman and his brother, Del, were the star swimmers at CHS, and were both named All-Americans. “Hubie” had only one leg and had to get special permission in order to compete, but had many fine wins to his credit. My wife’s mother, Pearl Jackson, was a classmate and spoke of him fondly years ago, saying, “He was the nicest boy you could hope to meet, and very popular. He never let his handicap get in his way, nor did he accept any special treatment because of it.”
The All-American designation places an athlete in an elite group (top 20) of the finest in the nation in their particular event. Clinton can be extremely proud of the 43 individuals who were named All-American swimmers — a total 83 times. The first CHS All-American swimmer was James Edgar, in 1934, and the last was Larry Stover in 1965.
Between 1938 and 1968, Howard Judd’s teams won 26 of 31 state championships — an unheard of record. They often competed against New Trier High School, Proviso East and others from the Chicago suburbs, until those schools balked at CHS’ tiny pool and insisted upon at least a longer pool-length, which was created in 1960. It was dedicated in February of that year, and was called the “Howard G. Judd Pool.”
It bears noting that Howard was a very gregarious fellow who talked to every kid in town. I recall memorable chats with that wonderful gentleman, and I wasn’t even a swimmer. He spoke on a broad range of topics and was well-versed in all of them. It was a common sight years ago, particularly on balmy summer evenings, to see Howard and his wife, Elsie, walking hand-in-hand downtown or along Clinton’s riverfront.
Sources: Mike Kearney, Clinton Herald archives. Dedicated to Bob and Frances Bicklehaupt, avid swimmers of Clinton’s distinguished past. Next time, Part 2 of Swimming in Clinton.
Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist.