Edgy Mama: Ms. Jean retires after teaching generations of WNC kids to swim

Raise your hand if you, your kids, or someone you know learned to swim at the Asheville YWCA under the tutelage of Jean Coile and her teaching staff.

Both of my kids’ hands just went up — as did hands all over Asheville and Western North Carolina. Ms. Jean, YWCA director of aquatics and beloved swim instructor, will retire this week after more than 32 years of teaching thousands of kids of all ages to swim.

“This was been such a fun and rewarding thing to do,” Jean says. “Swimming is a gift you can give to a kid or adult that will last forever.”

Over the years, Jean took The Red Cross’ basic swim program and adapted and expanded it. She came up with the current multiple levels of swim classes that gently but firmly run the gamut from teaching babies to hold their breath underwater, kids to perform basic strokes, teenagers to learn lifesaving skills, and adults to get over what may be long-term fears.

If you or your kids learned how to swim on your back by reciting “monkey airplane rocket” to remember the arm motions, you know what I’m talking about.

“Ms. Jean has enhanced the safety, confidence and well-being of literally thousands of children in our community. Seeing the impact she has made is such a profound lifetime achievement that the rest of us can dream of modeling our own commitments on those Ms. Jean has made,” says Holly Jones, YWCA executive director.

Ms. Jean has taught at least two generations of folks from several local families to swim. And for one family, make it three generations.

Jennifer Ward’s son, Jackson, 2, currently is learning to swim at the YW. Her husband, Bryan, and mother-in-law, Mary Ward, also took swimming lessons there, as adults.

“(Jackson) knows and loves Ms. Jean and Ms. Tonna,” Ward says. “And I know that if he falls into the water now, he can get to the side.”

The YW’s program also has included the daycare students there, as well as classes from various area schools. One of the aquatics program’s goals has been to teach children who might not otherwise get the chance to learn this lifesaving skill, according to Ms. Jean.

In that spirit, the YW has established Jean’s “Teach the Children to Swim Fund” — to provide funding for children whose families otherwise may not be able to afford swim lessons. To contribute, call Tami Ruckman at 254-7206 x206 or email her at tami.ruckman@ywcaofasheville.org.

Ms. Jean’s position will be divided into two parts when she leaves. Tonna Davis, currently the assistant aquatics director, will take over as Aquatics Coordinator, and will be in charge of the swim program and pool maintenance. Club W’s Health and Fitness Director, Susan Macdonald, will direct the Club W swim sessions, including lap and family swim times.

An Asheville native, Jean raised four children here. She now has seven grandchildren and her first great-grandchild is on the way. After retiring, she’ll move to Maryville, Tenn., just a couple of miles from a daughter and grandchild.

Jean says her new house has a pool, and she’ll probably hold private swim lessons there. She says she can’t imagine not teaching at all.

Ms. Jean expresses mixed emotions about retiring.

“I’m looking forward to having less responsibility, but I will so much miss my YWCA family. My staff is like my kids. All these kids are like my family,” she says.

There will be a Jean Coile “Bon Voyage” party on Sunday, May 23, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the YWCA. There will be refreshments, live music from the band Kon Tiki, and the pool will be open. Wear your favorite Hawaiian and beach clothes.

We’ll miss you, Ms. Jean. Thanks for all you’ve given our community and our kids.

Leave a comment if you have a Ms. Jean story to share.

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