Street to be named for Reta Lee, renowned swimming teacher
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Reta Lee, who spent decades teaching town kids how to swim in her backyard pool, died May 26.
She was 89.
On June 16, the town council voted to rename Miami Lakeway South near her family’s home in the Lake Katherine neighborhood “Reta Lee Way.”
Councilman Joshua Dieguez, a former pupil of Lee’s, sponsored the resolution.
He shared a photo of them that was taken during a lesson when he was a little boy.
“She touched so many lives,” Dieguez said. “She was a special lady who left her mark on the community and impacted kids’ lives who went through her program.”
Rodriguez said Lee also taught his children to swim.
When he first was elected to the council in 2018, he proposed honoring Lee for her efforts.
“But she said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Rodriguez said. “She was a neighbor and a friend and a humble person. I think it’s great to honor her posthumously for her family.”
John Lee, 90, said the recognition of his wife reflects the impact she had upon kids in Miami Lakes.
It is a town with 23 lakes, several canals and countless swimming pools.
“I think it’s fabulous to rename a street for someone who dedicated her life to teaching kids how to swim,” he said. “And she probably saved a lot of lives.”
Lee, a retired salesman, said his wife taught swimming at their home for 55 years, charging a modest fee for lessons until last year, when she became ill.
Reta Lee was born in
Canada. Her family lived in North Carolina and then moved to Tampa.
That’s where Lee took a course with the American Red Cross and became a certified swimming instruction and lifeguard, her husband said.
They married in 1951 in St. Petersburg, where Lee co-owned a sandwich shop with a sister.
The Lees moved to
Miami Lakes in the 1960s and raised three children.
Among the kids she taught to be capable in the water: children from the fourth generation of the town’s founders, the Graham family.
Christina Lee, 31, said her grandmother also made sure her own nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren were confident swimmers.
She said while growing up, she visited her grandparents every summer and got to watch Reta Lee in action.
During those vacations, Christina Lee saw
hundreds of kids learning to perform the backstroke,
breaststroke and butterfly.
“There were so many kids, she had to put them on a waiting list,” she said.
Reta Lee’s former students will never forget how she encouraged them.
“She always would say, ‘Kick, kick, kick, pull, pull, pull, aiiiiirrr!” or ‘Rapido, rapido, rapido!’ as the
children made their way across the pool,” she said.
“If you mention her name to anyone that knew her, I guarantee they remember [hearing] those words, over and over,” Christina Lee said.