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july 17 lifeguards

July 16, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

Three generations of the Peters family have been lifeguards at the city pool on Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

In 1944, Mary Jane Peters - then Mary Jane Taylor - worked as one of nine "girl" lifeguards at Municipal Pool. World War II was raging, and all the boys were off to battle.

She married Howard Peters - who does a passable doggie paddle - in 1946, had three sons, Barry, Chris and Craig, and taught them all to swim at Hagerstown's Municipal Pool. The pool was named for Hagerstown City Councilman Claude M. Potterfield in the early 1970s.

Peters' technique was simple.

To help them get over any fear, she'd have her boys - when they were younger than 2 years old - jump from the side of the pool, then off the diving board before they could swim a stroke. But she was right there with open arms to catch them. She says they were "petrified" at first, and she never forced them. It was their choice: They either could jump in or they would go home.

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Barry Peters, the oldest son, now 51, remembers crying, not wanting to go in the water. There would be tears, but then he'd get over it and do it, he says.

He credits his mother's persistence with helping chart his life's course. He was a member of a champion Hagerstown YMCA swim team that was undefeated for three years, and worked, as his mother had before him, as a lifeguard at Municipal Pool in the early 1960s.

He says he learned about people and developed good work habits. Protecting lives is a big responsibility for a high school kid, Barry Peters says.

He made friends and memories he'll never forget. Municipal was a nice place to grow up.

"I'd do it again," he says.

In a way, he still is.

Barry Peters is ballroom supervisor and pool operator at Venice Inn in Hagerstown. He's worked there for 26 years. Licensed by the state of Maryland, he also operates the pool at Woodcrest Village. He takes pride in his work, going the extra lap, surpassing state requirements by recertifying his staff annually and checking the water in the pool every hour instead of every three.

"I'm making a living because of my mother. I'm doing what I like to do."

Second son Chris Peters, 49, who lives in Strongsville, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, remembers being on the diving board at Municipal Pool as a toddler. He worked as a lifeguard at Municipal Pool for three summers in the mid-'60s.

"It's not just working on your tan," he says.

Chris Peters' lifeguarding experience paid off when he was drafted into the army during the Vietnam war. He says he was able to avoid some tight situations by working as head lifeguard at the officers' club at Cam Ranh Bay and later in Korea.

"We don't hold our noses in this family," says Craig Peters, 44, the youngest of the brood.

In 1970, he followed in his mother's and brother's wet footsteps as a guard and swimming instructor at Municipal Pool. He took a one-on-one approach and claims there's really nothing special in teaching someone to swim.

"Once you get a person's respect, they can do anything," he says.

His method seems to have worked with his son, Mathew. He never used a swimming bubble and went off the three-meter diving board at the Venice pool before he was 2 years old.

"He'd climb up the ladder, jump off, doggie paddle to dad waiting on the side," Craig Peters says.

Mathew Peters, 17, is a recent South High graduate, and, of course, a lifeguard at Potterfield Pool. His grandmother, Mary Jane Peters, points out that it takes more to be a lifeguard today than it did when she worked at Municipal Pool more than 50 years ago. Mathew has his required certifications in American Red Cross Lifeguarding and CPR for the Professional Rescuer, which includes first aid. He earned his Water Safety Instructor certificate in June, and is working toward lifeguard instructor certification.

Mathew will enroll at Hagerstown Community College in the fall and plans to continue his education, preparing for a career as a physical therapist with a specialty in aquatics.

"I just love being around the water," he says.

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