Over the years I’ve known some pretty outstanding individuals that I’ve had the privilege to be associated with. Some of them through service in the military, fire service, law enforcement and emergency medical services.
Many of them, like myself have known the great rush you get when you save a life but have also known the depths of despair when your best efforts fail in that regard due to circumstances beyond your control. In our professions, if you save one life in your career or are involved in a rescue as part of a team effort, you are fortunate and that joy stays with you for years and years, even after you leave that part of your life behind.
I’ve had the privilege of owning on Marco Island now since 1986. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Our wonderful climate, the beaches and the great people I’ve met have been a gift that just continues to pay dividends for the small investment I made over 33 years ago.
Never did I believe that I would meet a professional who was responsible for saving the lives of thousands of children and some adults during my time here.
One of those “gifts” I’ve received from living here so long came right after the year 2000, when I joined the local YMCA’s Board of Directors, when asked by then President James Curran. Having been active within the community for a number of years I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to give back through such a great organization.
It would be on one of my tours of the campus on Sand Hill Drive that I would run head long into one of the most dynamic and energy infused individuals that I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. That was the day I finally met Dottie Weiner, or “Miss Dottie,” as she was so affectionately known by so many of her “children” and their parents.
I guess if you were a woman back in the late ‘40s you had to have confidence in yourself and a drive to exceed expectations. Those were two of the traits that helped to propel Dottie to become the first female lifeguard at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a cover shot on Look Magazine.
Swimming was in her blood and from a young age when she would excel in the sport. As a graduate of Brooklyn College, she would spend a decade teaching young blind students how to swim.
The Deltona Corporation struck gold when they hired Dottie in 1970 to become the Tennis and Aquatics Manager for the Island Country Club. That would begin a 49 year plus love affair with the island and the island with her, until her passing last week.
She would teach swimming day and night as she would travel around the island to facilities with pools to continue to teach safe swimming skills to approximately 10,000 children over her 40 year plus devotion to water safety classes.
In 1989/1990 the YMCA would raise the monies necessary and have their own dedicated pool constructed and Dottie would become a fulltime fixture at the YMCA at the Sand Hill Campus.
Dottie Weiner would become a staple within the community and would be a regular at events and organizations throughout the island. She would earn accolades from her peers, both on and off the island. In 1995, she was named Florida Water Fitness Instructor of the Year and in 1996 was named one of the Top 50 Water Instructors in the United States.
Dottie didn’t see geographical boundaries in her efforts to insure children were able to learn how to swim. From Tommie Barfield and up to Manatee Middle school, she felt an obligation to introduce children to basic water safety. These were her children and she was dedicated to that task.
No matter where she went, she was a lady of style and class. Not a hair out of place, makeup perfectly done and dressed immaculately, she was always the center of attention.
No organization on the island could have ever asked for a better person to sell their 50/50 raffle tickets and she would be disappointed if they hadn’t asked her.
She would have to fight for every dollar as she sought to expand her aquatics programs at the YMCA and would develop the successful annual Dottie’s Duck Derby to bring in additional funding. I still have one of those cute little yellow ducks stuck away somewhere.
It is amazing how many people’s lives have been touched by the hard work and dedication of this wonderful island icon. I can only hope that as the years pass and my time expires, that the stories of the woman who had accomplished so many firsts in her life won’t be forgotten.
Her legacy lives on in the children she taught so well, who today are enrolling their children in swim lessons at the facilities on Sand Hill Road. Jim Prange is one such father, who watched as his children took those important lessons, and now his daughters are looking forward to having their children learn to swim at the YMCA. I’m sure that his daughters Nikki and Amber will tell their stories about Miss Dottie and how they loved the woman who is a role model for other strong women and an advocate for water safety here on our small little island and throughout Collier County and the State of Florida.
Marco Island owes you a debt of gratitude, Miss Dottie, and we will always hold you close to our hearts for all you gave to the community you called home since 1970.