Besides his P.E. duties, Rex Edwards also coached swimming and wrestling and was involved in numerous other activities. Here, he poses with his wrestlers. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

Besides his P.E. duties, Rex Edwards also coached swimming and wrestling and was involved in numerous other activities. Here, he poses with his wrestlers. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

First in the Pool — Part 1

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A slightly modified version of this two-part story about former teachers Rex and Beverly Edwards and the advent of a swimming pool in Seldovia in the early 1970s first appeared in the Redoubt Reporter in January 2012.

The Dirty Trick

When Rex Edwards left the swimming pool and returned to the locker room after teaching his elementary P.E. class, most of the little boys had already dressed and headed back to their regular classrooms. Harold was the sole exception.

Harold, a kindergartner at the Susan B. English School in Seldovia, seemed upset. Edwards asked him what the matter was. “Somebody stole my underwear,” Harold claimed.

Edwards saw a pair of underpants nearby. He gestured to the skivvies. “How do you know those aren’t yours?” he asked the boy.

“These have poo in them,” Harold informed him.

A “brief” investigation subsequently revealed that, indeed, the undies had been soiled, and Edwards soon learned the identity of the culprit. The particularly “ornery” kindergartner who had done the soiling had infiltrated Harold’s locker to swap his dirty underpants for some fresher ones.

Peace, pants and order were soon restored.

Rex and his wife Beverly laughed as they recently recalled this incident from the early 1970s. They laughed because the story reminded them fondly of the 12 years they spent in Seldovia and of the novelty back then of having a locker room in that small community. In fact, many of the little Seldovia boys and girls had never before had to change their clothes in front of anyone other than family members.

And most of the youngest children in Seldovia had never even seen a swimming pool before until the new school opened its doors in the fall of 1972. The Seldovia pool was the Kenai Peninsula’s first, installed at least a year before Homer’s first pool, and several years before such a facility existed in Seward or on the central Kenai Peninsula.

The three-lane pool also provided the jobs that prompted the Edwardses to move to Seldovia in the first place.

Long-Term Relationship

Rex and Bev, now both in their mid-70s, met as kindergartners back in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. “We didn’t get serious until we were 18,” Rex said with a smile. Still serious, they both moved on to college in Colorado to study education.

In 1969, in the summer between his junior and senior years, Rex got his first taste of Alaska. Seeking adventure, he and a friend traveled north to Kenai, where they worked in the Columbia Ward cannery throughout the commercial salmon season.

A year later, after earning his degree, Rex was telephoned by then-Kenai Elementary School principal Rodger Schmidt, who needed someone to teach fifth- and sixth-grade P.E. While Bev used her Special Education degree to land a job teaching acoustically handicapped children in Wichita, Rex moved north and found temporary lodging at the parsonage of Soldotna’s Methodist minister, the Rev. Jim Fellers, and his wife Faye—both former Wichita residents.

After spending that year of teaching apart, Rex and Bev were married in Kansas, and they moved into the Bay Arms apartment complex in Kenai. Rex returned to his Kenai Elementary position, while Bev worked through the March of Dimes as a speech therapist for preschool children.

In 1972, because of the opening of Kenai Junior High School and a number of staffing shifts, Rex found himself without a full-time local position. Then a new opportunity emerged. Tom Overman, the principal of the new Seldovia school, called with a job offer: The school’s new swimming pool required a person with a Water Safety Instructor (W.S.I.) certificate who could teach swimming and train lifeguards.

Both Rex and Bev returned to Wichita for the summer to earn their W.S.I.’s, figuring that there might be enough pool-related opportunities for both of them. After that, they weren’t in Kansas anymore.

‘No Pool, No School’

On the staff at the Seldovia School were Greg and Jan Daniels, who had begun teaching there in 1969 in what Greg described as an “ancient three-story wood-sided square school, with the real-deal bell tower and functioning bell.” He said that the old building, even under the “marvelous” work of Principal Don Gilman, attracted few long-term hires. Many faculty and staff members also longed for a connection to the highway system and moved to the “mainland” as soon as jobs there became available.

After Gilman himself transferred to become a principal in Seward, Overman came in just as planning was beginning for a new school. According to Greg Daniels, Walter Ward, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s superintendent of buildings and new construction, began working with the village community to design a building that better met its needs.

“It was a beautiful meeting of the minds,” Daniels said, “and brought the educational and local community together so tightly that, in the end, the school became the center focus of nearly everything that happened in Seldovia.

“The number-one priority of the community,” he continued, “was to build into the plan a swimming pool so their children and themselves could learn to swim. Being a fishing-crabbing village, many people drowned over the years, and two high school kids drowned that summer, 10 feet from shore.”

Daniels, who taught science to grades seven through 12, said that district officials did not believe they could afford to include the pool in the first phase of the building project and did not want to request that taxpayers fund it. “Politics became so thick that the school itself was in jeopardy, and finally came down to the community saying, ‘No pool, no school,’” Daniels said.

So the architect added the pool to the plans, and the funding was put on a borough-wide ballot. After lobbying from the Seldovia community and its teachers, along with “steadfast” support from Ward, Daniels said, voters approved the funding, and construction got under way.

The new building “brought tremendous solidarity to the school and community,” Daniels said. “The school became a showpiece, the principal and teaching staff installed a curriculum based on an open-classroom concept, and each and every child had an advisor that would follow their progress throughout their school years. Teacher shortage became a thing of the past.”

Rex Edwards was hired as the school’s P.E. teacher and swim instructor, and Bev was hired to teach elementary school and be a community swim instructor.

“The pool was packed, and the noise and excitement could be heard far and wide,” Daniels said. “Kids and parents no longer feared the water so much, the pride in their school was obvious, and the curriculum and expertise of the teachers brought test scores soaring. A true success story.”

TO BE CONTINUED….

Besides his P.E. duties, Rex Edwards also coached swimming and wrestling and was involved in numerous other activities. Here, he poses with his wrestlers. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

Besides his P.E. duties, Rex Edwards also coached swimming and wrestling and was involved in numerous other activities. Here, he poses with his wrestlers. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

This is a portion of the swim team page from the 1977 Seldovia Otters yearbook. Rex Edwards can be seen poolside in the upper-left photo. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

This is a portion of the swim team page from the 1977 Seldovia Otters yearbook. Rex Edwards can be seen poolside in the upper-left photo. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

Bev Edwards, too, had duties beyond teaching in the classroom. Here, she poses with the school’s 1973-74 cheerleading squad, for which she was the sponsor. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

Bev Edwards, too, had duties beyond teaching in the classroom. Here, she poses with the school’s 1973-74 cheerleading squad, for which she was the sponsor. (Image courtesy of Rex and Beverly Edwards)

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