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Family YMCA

11050 W. 20th, Lakewood, Colorado 80215

Photo by Noah Bryant

On September 18, 2002 Haywood Stewart, a Jeffco YMCA lifeguard, received recognition by the Guinness Records as the oldest lifeguard in the world. He has been a lifeguard since 1938 and is the oldest lifeguard on record at age 86, outdoing the previous record holder by three years.

Haywood Stewart is pictured here keeping an eye on swimmers at the Jeffco YMCA in Lakewood.

(from the Rocky Mountain News, January 14, 2005)

Oldest lifeguard has poolful of memories

by Gary Massaro

Haywood Stewart's summer job during the Great Depression
turned into a career that lasts to this day. Stewart, 88, is the
world's oldest lifeguard, according to the Guinness Book of
. Stewart began lifeguarding in 1936. He currently
works at the Former Jeffco YMCA.

"I got my baptism of water in Lake Michigan," said Stewart, a Chicago native. "I didn't do lifeguarding there, though. Mine was mostly pool work - indoor and outdoor."

He learned to swim in Boy Scouts. He enjoyed a lot of water sports at camp, but really took to swimming.

"I progressed up the ladder to junior lifeguard," he said.

In 1936, he got his first job as a city of Chicago lifeguard.

When World War II came along, Stewart went into the Army, serving in Australia and New Guinea.

"I was in personnel," he said.

He came home after the war and went to the Illinois Institute of Technology, graduating in 1949 with a degree in photography and graphic arts.

He worked as a freelance photographer and landed a full-time job with the Chicago parks department, mostly teaching crafts.

In 1981, he and his family settled in Wheat Ridge.

Today, he's one of about 30 lifeguards at the Jeffco YMCA.

"He's not on deck anymore. (But) he's still on staff, teaching the arthritis group, the in-water exercise class," said Laura Jacobsen, executive director of the Jeffco Family YMCA. "He's an asset."

Stewart said he never made a dramatic rescue. What he enjoyed most was teaching people to swim.

"I like working with people," he said. "I have a sideline of working with the handicapped.

"I've had fair success. Teaching people to swim, you have to overcome their fear and gain their confidence."

He recalled one student who was in a wheelchair.

"I taught her how to swim," he said. "She went on into scuba."

He said he taught a mother and daughter to swim. It was the story that led to the swimming lesson that impressed him most.

The daughter was playing by a mountain river and fell in. She didn't know how to swim and the current carried her away.

Her mom, also unable to swim, jumped in anyway and was caught up as well.

"The girl bumped against a fly fisherman's waders, and he pulled her out," Stewart said. "The mother came along behind, and he pulled her out, too. They came to me with fear of water."

Stewart said he patiently worked with them, earning their trust.

"They were doing laps the last time I saw them," he said.

Another time one summer, Stewart had taken his family to visit Golden. He was beating the heat by licking a chocolate ice cream cone.

"I was sitting on a bench. Here comes this kid running at full speed and he came to a full stop in front of me," Stewart said. " 'Hey, I know you. You taught me to swim at the pool.' That really inflated my ego."

Stewart and his wife moved to Colorado for the Rocky Mountains.

"I love the mountains. When I go down I-70 - after Idaho Springs, when the mountains are high and you're in the bottom - I feel so insignificant," he said. "When I get to the tops, I can see yesterday as well as tomorrow."

Shown below is a reprint of an earlier story as published in the Sentinel.

At 86, lifeguard sets milestone
Photo by Noah Bryant
Haywood Stewart, 86, keeps an eye on a swimmer at the YMCA in Lakewood. He received recognition by Guinness Records as the world's oldest lifeguard Sept. 18. He has been a lifeguard since 1938.

Sentinel and Transcript Newspapers

   Jefferson County YMCA lifeguard Haywood Stewart was shocked to receive recognition by Guinness Records as the oldest lifeguard in the world Sept. 18. He has been a lifeguard since 1938 and is the oldest lifeguard on record at age 86, outdoing the previous record holder by three years.

Nick Clayton, the Jeffco YMCA's aquatic director until May, started corresponding with Guinness Records in Scotland about Stewart's eligibility in April. Clayton had to get copies of Stewart's birth certificate, his driver's license, copies of all his lifeguard certifications and his most recent paystub. In all, Clayton said it took about eight pages of paperwork and 12 to 15 hours of work to nominate Stewart for the record.

The Jeffco YMCA's new aquatic director, Joe Lachermeier, presented Stewart with a cake Sept. 18 with an icing replica of the framed Guinness Record certificate.

"I was in line at King Soopers getting the cake, and the guy asked me if it was a practical joke," Lachermeier said. "He actually still has his lifeguard cert from 1938. He does it all. He teaches [swimming to] newborns, the parents and tots class, all the way up through senior citizens."

Clayton grew up in Chicago. He learned how to swim at Boys Club of America and because his grammar school, Carter elementary, had a swimming pool. He first served as a lifeguard for the Boy Scouts at Owasippe Adventures in Michigan. He then went to Tilden Tech High School in Chicago, where he also served as a lifeguard.

"They had guys on the swim team who could swim circles around me, so I was the lifeguard," Stewart said.

Being near the water was a natural thing for Stewart, leading to a lifetime of lifeguard service and an interest in sailing and building sailboats. He worked as a high school woodshop teacher in Chicago and then for the parks and recreation department before taking up lifeguard service full-time. He moved to Wheat Ridge about 10 years ago with his daughter, Donna Stewart.

"This is fantastic. I am so surprised. I knew he belonged in the book for something, I just didn't know it would be for this," she said.

Clayton said he's only had maybe two to four life-or-death situations during his lifeguard career.

"My theory is, I keep an eye on people. And if they start to look like they're not doing well, I pull them out," he said.

When asked how it feels to be the oldest lifeguard in the world, Stewart hunched over and tried to pretend he's a feeble old man, laughing at himself. But at 86 years old, he's living proof that an active lifestyle, a love for what you do, and a healthy sense of humor can really keep you going.

Published Sept. 26, 2002

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