Swimming up stream - The Historic Nile Swim Club

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Visiting campers get a water-safety lesson before hitting the pool. (Ed Hille/Staff Photographer)

SATURDAY, July 11, may not be a notable date for you, but it's of great significance to African-Americans, as we celebrate the 57th year of the Nile Swim Club, the first and only African-American owned-and-operated swim club.

As shocking as it may sound today, as late as 1957, in Yeadon, Pennsylvania, blacks were denied memberships to "white majority" swim clubs, like the Yeadon Swim Club (now closed).

Admittedly, even I was shocked to uncover yet another story, not about the South, but about Pennsylvania's ugly racist and troubled past.

Similar to other black institutions, the Nile was born out of necessity. Boldly and audaciously, the three original founders - Carson Puriefoy, Elmer Stewart and Zoe Mask - after learning that their applications to the Yeadon Swim Club had been trashed, joined forces and purchased a 2-acre tract of land next to the Yeadon Community Park for $8,000.

Since its historic opening on Saturday, July 11, 1959, the Nile has opened both its heart and doors to all people, regardless of race, creed or color. Throughout the years, and to this day, the Nile has faced much adversity, but it continues to provide swimming and other recreational services to the entire community.

In more recent years, the Nile has weathered many tough financial storms, and was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2010, as the club struggled to expand and keep memberships afloat.

Though bowed, the Nile is not broken.

"While we're not in the best financial shape," said board president, Ed Fairfax, "I am convinced we can turn things around and continue to serve families and the surrounding community with excellence."

Always plugging away, Fairfax has lined up several campaigns and fundraising initiatives to get the Nile back in the black.

"Yes, we welcome everybody to come out and celebrate, starting with our 4th of July kick-off celebration, which will feature aquatics, recreational sports, games, music and food that the entire family can enjoy," said the cheerful Fairfax. "We've also kicked off our Sunday Jazz Brunch Fundraisers, which are every weekend in July and August, with the exception of Saturday, July 18, when tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes will be performing. All are welcome."

Every weekend in the summer, the Nile offers free swimming lessons on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon for members; nonmembers pay only $15 per session (4-session minimum package). Swim lessons are entirely free for youth who reside in the Lansdale/Yeadon Elm Street area.

On weekdays, outside camps enjoy recreational swim and summer fun at the Nile, and the club is offering affordable aqua aerobics, aqua yoga, pavilion yoga and poolside massages as some of its recent innovations.

"The Nile Swim Club is wonderful and has been a tremendous resource to the community throughout the years," said long-time Philadelphia resident S. Waters.

It's interesting to note that every time I mentioned the Nile to black people of a certain age, they all knew the proud history and all shared their optimistic visions for the club's future.

Undoubtedly, the historic Nile remains more than a community resource - it is a living testament to black determination, resistance and resilience.