Onetime Sutter Lawn Swimming coaches Buzz Nolan (bottom right in dark green shirt), Bob Reid (seated in light green shirt) surrounded by (from left) onetime team swimmers Barbara Fackenthal, Mike Leonard, Paul Bernardis and his brother towering over team stars Robin Anderson Hayes and Nancy Mee (wearing black), Beth Leonard Schatz and co-host of lunch Peter Anderson.- Photo by Betty Nolan.
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Gathering for Sutter Lawn Swim Team of Early 1960s
June 24 – 27, 2011
- Updated July 15, 2011
Several photos taken by Betty Nolan of her and husband Buzz Nolan’s visits to his Sacramento High School’s 50th reunion, several former members of the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club swim team he coached in the early 1960s, the graves of family and friends at East Lawn Cemetery and commemorative Rose Garden/Vietnam War Memorial near the California State Capitol are posted at www.kodakgallery.com in various albums registered under Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions how to access the pictures those visits.
By LEWIS NOLAN
June 26, 2011 – Saturday – In
a little time in my once-familiar surroundings near
Later, with a little time on our hands until the scheduled, 3 p.m. reunion gathering of some of the members of the Sutter Lawn swimming team I had coached in the early 1960s, we drove west down Stockton Blvd. to where it turns into Capitol Avenue and then on to the beautiful, lushly planted gardens of the California State Capitol building and grounds on the edge of downtown Sacramento.
lucked into a free parking space directly across the street from a spacious and
well-tended memorial rose garden and monument to deceased state residents
The lunch in my honor organized by my lifelong friend and onetime business partner Bob Reid at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club was scheduled for this afternoon. Both of our families had been members of the fashionable club in the heart of the city in 1950s and 1960s. The club was founded in 1909 and once hosted the National Hard Courts Tennis Tournament and counted former Governor and President Ronald Reagan and family among its members as well as other well-known public figures including the family of onetime Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren.
I had started working at the club when we were young teens. We both lived
nearby and would rise very early to hose off the
grew into our late teens, Bob largely focused on tennis (he went on to play the
sport on the
Back in those days the club was quite sparing in non-tennis operations and conservative in spending the membership’s money on staff and extras.
Mainly because we were members but also because the then-general manager liked us, Bob and I were hired as lifeguards in the early 1960s. We had the use of the pool to offer at a fee American Red Cross-accredited swimming lessons from beginner through senior lifesaving in the mornings. In exchange, we were expected to coach the club’s age-group swimmers from 4 through 16 years old to compete in the Sacramento Swimming and Diving League. We were in a pretty good league and several of our swimmers went on to swim on second-tier college teams; one of the swimmers on another league team later turned out to be a household name, famed Olympian Mark Spitz.
nearly 100 kids ages 4-16 on the Sutter Lawn team, with only about half of that
number available for swimming meets at any given time with teams of other
private clubs in the
One family with whom I became close did me the incredible kindness of paying the Nolan family monthly dues for our club membership for a while when my mother’s divorce (settled with an agreement to modest alimony and child support checks with her retaining the house on 41st Street near Folsum Blvd. and caring for three growing boys at home) put her finances in a difficult situation. I didn’t learn about the private help from a club member with swimming team connections paying the Nolan family club dues until much later.
By working as a credentialed lifeguard almost every day and getting up in the pre-dawn hours to coach and drill the swim team, I had a decent amount of money in my pocket to help pay my college expenses, buy an used, MGA convertible sports car and held possibly maybe the most wonderful job of my life. In long-after retrospect, by later standards the pay and my share of the swimming lessons’ income was rather meager and I determined that working as a lifeguard and part-time swimming coach was not going to be the course of my life, as fun and satisfying as it was at the time.
Sutter Lawn was a national powerhouse in state and national tennis circles in those times, which strictly enforced formal and informal “rules” like requiring all-white clothing on tennis courts. However, during my years of swimming and coaching there we never had the best team in the local league and our kids got creamed by standout Mark Spitz on another team.
But a few of our swimmers were the best in our league in their events. The team “sweetheart” was Nancy Mee, who set long-standing club and league records in the butterfly events when in the 12-and-under girls and later the 14-and-under girls, plus in the record times logged by her relay teams. Her male counterpart in age, leadership and swimming speed was mighty Billy Stillwell, a broad-shouldered speedster who was unfailingly polite.
Billy had suffered from rheumatic fever as an infant. He died of a heart
malfunction at the age of 45, long after swimming in AAU meets and later
coaching a team of youngsters. His manliness and determination overcame his
birth disadvantaged heart through much-admired dedication.
of Billy’s death at such a young age came like a body blow to me. I wrote a
somewhat emotion-laden letter about my enduring love for the swimmers I coached
over the years. I learned many years later that Nancy Mee had treasured her
copy of my letter and had kept it in a top drawer in her home in the state of
Billy and Nancy later dated some when they were both living in
once I moved to
I was in my late teens when I worked at Sutter Lawn during the swimming seasons that started in the spring and went through the summer months. Following the wise counsel of my much admired coach Dick Boyd (once a member of the U.S. Olympic diving team), I always strived to be extremely careful around the budding young ladies around the pool after I learned that young females sometimes developed “crushes” on physically fit lifeguards and their young coaches.
Among the great lookers I coached were budding teens Nancy Mee, Beth Leonard and her sister Nancy Leonard, early maturing Paula Korngold and boy-loving, go-getter Linda Ellison. Among the exceptional boys with strong competitive abilities I came to depend on were Billy Stillwell and his big brother Bob Stillwell, plus brothers Marc and Scott Rush. There were many more standout teens in my memory plus several swimmers who were 10 years old or younger or were only briefly on the team during my years at Sutter Lawn including Mike Leonard, Barbara Fackenthal and Paul Bernardis. Many of them did quite well in swimming long after I moved on.
During this trip and at an earlier lunch with some of the above I confided in the group of now mature adults that one of the really fun parts about coaching adolescent females was how I never knew exactly who I was talking to – they seemingly could switch without warning from being little girls to emerging young ladies with the looks and bodies to match. One of them cracked, “that’s because we didn’t want you to know.”
Among those at the lunch provided by the Sutter Lawn snack bar June 24 hosted by honorary member Bob Reid and Peter Anderson (a standout swimmer when he was a young teen who subsequently worked for the California State Legislature as a legislative analyst and briefly for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association as a lobbyist) were a great group of former swimmers. Among them were the following: Nancy Mee (flying from her home in Seattle to making a surprise appearance in honor of our long friendship and to renew our mutual admiration), siblings Beth Leonard (now a vice president and commercial loan officer with the Bank of America) and Mike Leonard, head of marketing for a casino resort for an Indian Tribe not far from Sacramento); Robin Anderson Hayes, young sister of Peter Anderson, with her children; Barbara Fackenthall, a school teacher who would squeal with delight many years ago when I would take her and another young team swimmer named Chrissy Fletcher on errands when driving my MGA convertible; and Paul Bernardis. Paul was with his younger brother. Of course Betty and I were there for the duration of the lunch, served rather casually since individual orders for assorted sandwiches and salads were taken by the club staff. Missing was a key employee on this day and the lunch was somewhat delayed as individual orders had to be carried up stairs to a meeting room with a great view of the nearby tennis courts.
I was interested to see the significant improvements in the clubhouse, swimming pool area and club grounds since my time there a half-century ago.
Both Barbara and Paul became successful in their careers and retained their club memberships as adults. Paul, who now serves on the Sutter Lawn Board of Directors and was largely the empetus behind an honorary membership awarded to our longtime friend Bob Reid. Bob, who had a successful heart transplant a year ago, lives on the top floor of a two-story house within two or three blocks of the club and visits Sutter Lawn frequently.
Bob, who is my age, had retired a year or two ago following a distinguished career mostly spent in government and politics. He had switched from sports promotion and club management when he was starting out.
While I equally loved all my swimmers on the team who worked so hard to be competitive with those at other clubs (which in some cases were far larger than Sutter Lawn), I think I was probably closest to team sweetheart Nancy Mee. She had the heart of a tiger and the physical and mental strength of truly great athletes.
While I was careful to “walk the talk” and keep my relationships with swimmers I lifeguarded and coached as correct and professional as I could, I of course noticed that several of the young lasses in their early teens were quite attractive. I correctly suspected they would develop later into beautiful young women.
Following my onetime coach’s advice, I never – at least to my knowledge and intention - improperly touched them nor openly communicated my fondness for any of the young ladies I coached. (As some of the guys might say, I could at times be a real PIA to all my swimmers with tender egos and used making them sit on a bench in the sun or help with pool maintenance chores as punishment for violating the safety rules.
However, I soon learned that on occasion getting a bit assertive with the male teens was sometimes expected and understood in the male hierarchy, which forms when males are young and untested. The unspoken “deal” that requires mutual buy-in largely sets the standards and the rules for all relationship parties of the same sex based on athletic ability and perceived “toughness.” Later, civic and political rank plus wealth and fame enter the process more and more as a consequence of age.
than other competitive swimmers I’ve coached, watched and heard about during
the intervening half-century since we all worked so hard and happily together,
born in 1951 (making her 8 years my junior when I was her swimming coach at
Sutter Lawn). Her parents were her mom,
a member of a distinguished family of Christian missionaries of the
Congregational Church who helped bring Western civilization to the islands of
following January she married John Hubert Mee, and with him lived in Piedmont,
slender and elegant lady at all times who generally treated me with the respect
and affection given members of her own family, Mrs. Mee made with husband Hubert
and three children a loving home in one of
husband, John Hubert Mee Jr. (he preferred to be addressed as “Hubert” or “Mr.
Mee”), also had a distinguished background. He was born in 1915 to a couple
whose parents had emigrated from
later formed his own petroleum and natural gas consulting company and held a
number of offices in various oil, land and social organizations. With his
intervention and position, I got a Standard Oil credit card way before my time
and finances allowed that privilege (I later returned it.) I always called the
hard driving executive “Mr. Mee” and we had a friendly relationship despite our
age differences. In reality it was based on our common admiration for his
Regrettably, my partner Bob Reid and Mr. Mee never achieved quite that equilibrium I enjoyed separately with both.
and Sally married in 1942 and settled in
His quest and expectations of excellence in all things extended to his eldest daughter, Nancy, who was quite simply the best swimmer we had (she never showed any of the “big head” that sometimes accompanies athletic prowess and was a enormous pleasure to coach. The eight-year difference in our ages at the time (with me in college and she still in the grades) formed a barrier to our close and mutually supportive relationship from developing in other directions
Nonetheless, she was a real sweetheart to me and everybody else associated with the swim team.
died at home April 6, 2007 after months of care provided by his family, which
had become far flung once the children had grown up. Wife Sally died a month
later in the same, two-story home only a few blocks from the Sutter Lawn Tennis
Several years before their deaths, the couple had established a foundation housed at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation to recognize with awards the heroic and meritorious acts of members of the Sacramento Fire and Police Departments. The Mee’s children now attend and help host the annual award events held at the upscale Sutter Club and attended by City VIPs.
was as a swimmer, daughter Nancy, now age 59, seems to be a “star” of the Mee
family today. Her younger sister, Catherine Mee, has relocated to
hoped she would show up at this year’s lunch held in my honor, especially since
she was not among those present for a similar “reunion lunch” at Sutter Lawn
two years ago. I had been warned by Bob Reid that a mystery guest who insisted
on advance anonymity would be present at this year’s event. Of course, I had
hoped it would be
current catalog for an art show she and her husband,
show at the ritzy Sun Valley resort in
married but the two artists have kept their separate last names. Their gallery
is called Utopian Heights Studio. It is at
Their show catalog says
She is represented by agents with
His education includes Bachelor and
Master of Fine Arts degrees in Ceramics and Design from the
Both Dennis and Nancy have received
enviable awards for their art work. She served as artist in residence at the
Chateau Beychevelle in
Dennis was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 with its award of its Artist’s Fellowship.