An Atmore icon

Published 12:45 pm Saturday, June 2, 2012

Betty Warren has seen countless children learn to swim, and learn to teach swimming, over the years. This summer marks her 41st summer as director of Atmore City Pool.

“Baby,…I love you.” If you’ve heard those words around Atmore, especially in that order, complete with the pause, chances are you’ve been speaking to Betty Warren.

To a generation of students Ms. Betty was the strict, but lovable physical education teacher who offered kind words of encouragement in one breath, and sternly made sure they pulled up their gym socks in the next. To the children of many of those P.E. students, she was the principal of Huxford Elementary who swooped in and turned the school into the standard for academic excellence in Escambia County. Today, most kids in Atmore know her as the headmaster at Escambia Academy.

But no matter what her current title may be, all of Atmore, from toddlers to grandparents, know her as the woman in charge at Atmore City Pool. This year, Ms. Betty unlocked the pool’s gates for her 41st summer, and she says she has no plans of stopping any time soon.

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“Baby, I wouldn’t trade this for the world. Are you kidding me? I love it,” she said sitting under an oscillating fan on the deck of the pool, pausing now and again to empty the contents of a child’s pre-assigned drawer so he or she could buy a snack. “I’m going to do this until my health gives out or the city fires me.”

Neither of those scenarios seems very likely, as Ms. Betty has, summer-in and summer-out, directed the city pool since her very first summer in Atmore in 1971.

“I don’t know how I ended up teaching swimming lessons,” she joked. “And I don’t think I knew they put bottoms in pools. You know back home we used to swim at the creek and the only way we got out of the water was if there was a baptism or a snake.”

Regardless of the motivation, she did start teaching swimming lessons that summer, and over forty years later countless children have passed under her supervision and learned a life lesson in the process. From learning a skill that could very well save their lives, to finding a talent or passion, to learning they have a niche for teaching others, Ms. Betty and the city pool have done so much more over the years than simply give Atmore residents a cool place to have fun during the daunting Alabama summer. From going under for the first time, to collecting a first paycheck as a teacher or lifeguard, the pool, and Ms. Betty, have been molding lives in Atmore for years, one summer at a time.

“There are times you have to remind (the teachers) that this kid may take swimming lessons only once, and it may be the difference between life and death,” she said “It’s just so important.”

Ms. Betty said the city pool is simply part of who she is. Seeing children who learned to swim at the city pool bring their children back, she said, is one of her greatest joys.

“The kids who swim here and teach here, they bring their kids back here,” she said. “We have one who lives in Virginia, and she plans her vacations in the summer around swimming lessons down here. She wants to bring her kids to lessons where she came every summer.”

With so much good done already, Ms. Betty humbly nods and says “Oh I don’t know,” but she will say she plans to continue doing what she does for years to come.

“There are two things I don’t ever want to wake up in the morning and not be able to do,” she said. “I don’t ever want to not be able to teach or not be able to come to the city pool. Someone came out here last year and said ‘my lord, are you still here?’ and I said ‘they haven’t filled the pool in yet have they?’