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Photo by Deborah Bethel
Rich Moore and Eli Succarotte stand at the Granite City Pool, where Moore served as a lifeguard in the 1950s and Succarotte does the same job now.
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GRANITE CITY — More than half a century ago, a member of Granite City’s Moore family launched a lifeguarding tradition.
In the summer of 1951, Rich Moore got his first job for the city of Granite City at the bathhouse. After working there half a year, he was hired as a lifeguard at the city pool.
Moore’s days at the pool didn’t start from simply needing a summer job. For years, he and his friends visited the YMCA to swim and play together.
“I went to the YMCA when I was young and learned to swim,” he said. “We would spend six or seven hours in the pool and then walk home, and one evening I was down at the pool swimming with my friends and the manager offered me a job to teach swimming lessons and be a lifeguard.”
Moore said he was a little nervous for the job; he had never guarded or taught swimming lessons before. But the YMCA manager knew his graduation from the program and his constant swimming would make him a good lifeguard.
A good lifeguard he was, and one who loved the job. On a hot summer’s day in the ‘50s, blocks of ice in the water drew crowds, making the pool one of the city’s most popular destinations.
“Back then, there was no air conditioning, so the swimming pool was where everybody went to,” Moore said. “On a really busy day, we would see 1,600 people from open to close … we were very active.”
On these busy days, it was all too easy for a child to get caught underwater in the crowded pool, or a poor swimmer to not be seen very well. Moore said the three lifeguards would have to be alert to recognize when something was wrong. Although he worked with his buddies and had fun dancing at the pavilion after hours, he took his job seriously while on the clock. In his 3 1/2-year lifeguarding career, Moore made more than 350 saves.
After saving swimmers, especially young children, he would talk to them and swim a couple of laps with them.
“I wanted to be sure they were OK both physically and emotionally, and talking and swimming with them always seemed to work,” he said.
It’s difficult for Moore to remember each save, but people often remembered him. One woman remembered him many years later.
“About two years ago I went to my wife’s cousin’s house, and when I walked in a woman asked if I remembered her,” he said. “I didn’t remember her, but she remembered me. She said when I was lifeguarding, she and her friend jumped off the diving boards even though they didn’t know how to swim, and I saved the both of them along with another guard’s help.”
Moore’s grandson, Eli Succarotte, was impressed by stories of his grandfather’s saves. When it came time to venture out for a summer job, he knew where he wanted to go.
Working for the same city as his grandfather, Succarotte spoke of the need for lifeguards to be responsible and aware.
“I’m in charge of people’s lives up there, so I have to be alert all the time,” he said.
Now, the pool has more square footage, more guards and enhanced training for the guards, the two pointed out.
“We have in-services now where all the guards swim laps, and we go through a week of Red Cross training,” Succarotte said.
The two agreed training might be the biggest difference in lifeguarding since the 1950s.
“At that time, we had some CPR training, but the ticket seller and the manager knew it and would help out if we ever needed it, but we never really had anyone that needed CPR,” Moore said.
With the differences put aside, lifeguarding has the same purpose throughout the years. While Succarotte is just entering his first summer of lifeguarding, he looks up to his grandfather and said he hopes to continue being a great lifeguard, all while making his grandfather proud.