WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — Thirteen women who belong to the Nereids Swim Club dressed in flappers, not flippers, at the Worcester YWCA on Wednesday to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the club’s founding.
The club for adult women has been around since the Roaring ’20s, when beaded and sequined flapper dresses were popular.
“We’re dressing the part of our originators,” club president Diane Anderson said.
According to a copy of the original bylaws on display at the celebration, the club held its first swim event at the Ionic Avenue Worcester Boys Club on Sept. 18, 1929, nearly six weeks before the stock market crash. The women named themselves Nereids (nee-ree-uhds), after the sea nymphs of Greek mythology.
The club eventually moved to the Worcester YWCA on Chatham Street, and then to its current Salem Square location in 1961.
After taking part in swimming aerobics Wednesday morning, the women dressed in flappers and made a big splash during lunch at the YWCA.
They danced the Charleston while the popular 1920s song “If You Knew Susie” played on Pandora, and they sang “Happy Birthday” before celebrating with ice cream cake.
They didn’t make waves. They got along swimmingly.
Anderson, 72, of Leicester said the club began with 70 women and another 50 on a waiting list.
“I thought this whole thing about getting out and getting fit,” Anderson said, “was a new phenomenon, but 90 years ago they were thinking about getting exercise in their life.”
The club has fallen off to about 15 active members, and five other women who continue to pay dues even though they’re no longer physically able to swim. Anderson said the club welcomes new members, and to call her at 508-892-3972 to join.
A man has never belonged, but the club is willing to change with the times. You don’t even have to be able to swim to join. You just have to be able to stand in the pool and exercise.
Rose Sands, 90, of Millbury is a few months older than the club. She swam for most of her life before stopping about 10 years ago, but she still attends some of the monthly luncheons.
Asked how it felt to be older than the Nereids club, Sands replied, “It feels great, but I’ve lost so many good friends. So many have passed away.”
Rose Erikson, 87, of Worcester still swims and the YWCA pool has become her personal fountain of youth.
“I get up in the morning without the arthritic pains that a lot of my friends have,” Erikson said. “Most of my friends are walking with canes, but I don’t so far.”
For the celebration, Erikson wore a blue dress, black, long-sleeve gloves, a black feather boa and white pearls and a black feather attached to a headband. She also held a long cigarette holder and stuck a rolled up envelope in it to look like a cigarette.
She ordered most of her clothes on Amazon, because she didn’t have anything from the Roaring ’20s, despite her advanced age. “I was only a baby when I was born,” Erikson said with a laugh.
She has fond memories of the city’s Bell Pond on Belmont Street.
“That’s where we learned to swim and dive, and flirt with the guys,” she said.
Ester Smith swam until she was 98 and celebrated her 100th birthday with the club before she passed away at 102 four years ago. A few years ago, the club had a blind swimmer whose guide dog watched her from poolside.
Cindy Maki, 61, is the youngest member, but she has swum the longest, about 15 years. Her mother and sister used to swim as well before they passed away.
The women don’t compete in the pool, they don’t really even swim. Wearing shower caps, they do water exercises, including jumping jacks and arm exercises with foam barbells for an hour Monday and Wednesday mornings under the instruction of Katie Guritiz.
Anderson joined the club six years ago after she retired as the supervisor of registration at UMass Memorial. She said she didn’t have time to exercise when she worked nine or 10 hours a day.
“I do live on the third floor,” she said. “So I guess I could say I exercised getting home every day.”
The club runs from September through June, and gives the members a reason to get out of the house, even in the dead of winter.
“You’re in a swimming pool in January, which is nice,” Anderson said. “It’s an hour of getting out and making your body move. You wouldn’t do that otherwise.”
Eight of the women also play golf at Hillcrest CC in Leicester and candlepin bowl at Colonial Bowling Center. Anderson said they’re driving the ball farther since they’ve strengthened their arms by joining the swim club.
“It don’t care if it’s five feet,” she said, “it’s still farther, but it’s probably 10, 15, 20 yards farther. But I’m not scoring better because my short game stinks.”
Anderson said swimming also builds up her endurance. She believes too many older women don’t exercise.
“You’re doing your housework,” she said. “You’re doing your grocery shopping. You’re doing something, but it’s not exercise and you don’t realize that exercise is good for you.”
Water aerobics aren’t as painful as some other exercises.
“It’s not like jogging,” Anderson said.
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