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Masters Swimming Ace, Jeanne Merryman, Passes Away at 81 -- July 26, 2004

BERWYN, Penn., July 26. B JEANNE Denison Merryman, 81, of Berwyn, a champion Masters swimmer, died of a stroke Saturday at Paoli Memorial Hospital, two weeks after winning seven medals at the Pennsylvania Seniors Games at Shippensburg University.

For the last 30 years, Mrs. Merryman, who also was an artist and homemaker, competed for the Upper Main Line YMCA Masters Swim Team. She won thousands of medals in the freestyle, medley, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke events and set several Masters age-group records for the 50- and 100-yard backstroke. She traveled with her husband and unofficial coach, John, to international swim meets.

Their daughter, Patricia Gifford, said Mrs. Merryman continued to compete even after developing medical problems. She was on her second pacemaker, Gifford said, which had to be specially programmed for increased heart rate when she raced.

A native of Lawrenceville, Ill., Mrs. Merryman grew up summering at her grandparents' farm in Bowling Green, Va., where her mother taught her to swim in a lake when she was two. She swam competitively while attending the University of Cincinnati, and after graduation, she defended her Amateur Athletic Union title for the 100-yard backstroke for four years.

During World War II, she drew diagrams for the assembly of tanks and aircraft for a company in Baltimore. She later worked as an artist for an advertising firm in Baltimore.

After their marriage in 1948, she and her husband lived in Schenectady, N.Y., and Dover, N.J., before moving to Berwyn in 1957. While raising three children, she was a Cub Scout den mother and a Girl Scout leader; supplied artwork for the PTA and for community fund-raising events; and taught swimming to neighborhood children.

She later became a swimming teacher and coach at the Upper Merion YMCA and began swimming with the Y's Masters team after she turned 50.

By then, she told a reporter in 1990, "The pools were so much better, bathing suits were latex and nylon. I found that some of my times were faster than they were when I was in my 20s."

"It's so fun to compete," she said. "You put forth a lot of effort and afterward you get that tired glow."

Her daughter said Mrs. Merryman enjoyed taking cruises and continued to use her artistic talent to create comic strips for swimming publications. She also made personalized cards for friends and family.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Merryman is survived by a son, Richard, and four grandchildren. Her husband died in 1997, and son Raymond died in 1972.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. tomorrow at United Methodist Church, 140 Waterloo Ave., Berwyn.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, 600 N. Jackson St., Media, Pa. 19063.


--Sally A. Downey
Berwyn Inquirer