SIDNEY — Belinda Hemp, of Sidney, was honored by colleagues, friends and family, Thursday, Dec. 1, for teaching swimming at the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA for more than 40 years.
Hemp, who has no plans to retire any time soon, was celebrated with a luncheon in a room bedecked with photos that chronicled her decades of devotion to getting children and adults into the pool.
“The Y was young at the time,” Hemp said of 1975, when she started as a volunteer. She had moved to Sidney a few years earlier when she married her husband, John, and had taught swimming for the Red Cross at the city pool. When she applied for a job at the YMCA, the personnel office couldn’t reach the people from Dayton she had listed as references. It had been several years since she had worked in Dayton and her various references had moved on.
“So I volunteered for a year,” Hemp said. “I taught the special needs kids.” She joined the staff in January 1976 and has put in close to full-time hours ever since.
As a high school student, she hadn’t planned to become a swimming instructor. After graduation from Washington Township School near Centerville, she attended Miami Jacobs Business College and took a secretarial course. For awhile, she worked in the office of Rike’s department store in downtown Dayton. But by then, she had already put in almost a decade of teaching.
“I started lessons when I was 12. When I was 15 or so, my sister was still taking lessons. The person at the pool told a group of us older kids, ‘Instead of causing trouble, go over and help teach,’” she said. That’s how it started. Eventually, she earned her certificate from the Red Cross and went through a YMCA program for another certificate.
While she has taught a number of adults through the years, most of her time has been spent with children of all ages. The youngest ones are just 6 months old.
“You work with their arms, or you hold their arms and make their legs go and say, ‘Kick.’ You keep working with them and eventually, they take off,” she said.
Even though she has some 50 years of experience, the kids still challenge her: “Getting them coordinated, helping them to understand that they’re there to improve their swimming skills — not just to do them, but to improve,” she said. “I like to watch the kids, the little ones, especially, go from being afraid to trying to improve.”
She has spent as much as 20 hours a week in the pool and has led literally thousands of youngsters to improvement. Some of them who knew “Miss Belinda” when they were 3 or 4 or in progressive classes have stuck with the sport and have swum competitively in high school. Hemp was a competitor in high school, too. She swam the breast stroke for a downtown Dayton YMCA team. Now, she teaches strokes that young athletes must know in order to compete.
Jessica Elliott, the aquatics coordinator at the local YMCA and Hemp’s supervisor, compares the long-time teacher to a mother.
“Miss Belinda’s always here for you,” Elliott said, “with emotional support and in the work environment. She’ll work around your schedule. Just like a mom to her children, she’ll sacrifice her needs for your needs.”
The Hemps have a son, Robert, who is a commander in the Coast Guard. When she’s not in the pool, Hemp enjoys reading Christian-based literature, walking 5K races, cooking and baking — “I like experimenting with new recipes,” she said — gardening and knitting.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.