Career bookends

Warren man, 68, returns to teenage job as lifeguard

WARREN — As he enters his seventh decade, Warren native Jay Wonders is returning to a childhood recreation. He is, once again, at the pool and sitting in the lifeguard chair.

“We had a pool right across the street from my parents’ house in Palmyra Heights SW. I would go there and swim every day that I could in the summer,” Wonders said.

Growing up as a swimmer led to Wonders’ his first job.

“My older sister became a lifeguard. I decided to do the same thing,” Wonders, 68, said. “I was a lifeguard at Warren Olympic Club on Tod Avenue when I was 16. It was my first job.”

Also lifeguarding fellow Western Reserve High School students was his wife, Shelley.

“I saw him at a football game and I wondered who is that guy wearing a lifeguard jacket,” Shelley Wonders said of the upper classman she’d noticed. “I had been a lifeguard for one year at Packard Pool.”

Her family was one of the original members of Warren Olympic Club. The private swim and tennis club opened in 1964.

Jay Wonders worked there for one summer and then as a lifeguard at Willow Lake before leaving for Kent State University.

Wonders attended Kent State University and worked at several positions including drafting and as a Machine Tool Builder. He retired in 2012.

“I had time on my hands, so I decided to start swimming again. I swam at the Warren G. Harding High School pool. I even participated in a regional swim competition at 66.”

Competing helped Jay Wonders realize that he preferred recreational swimming and that he wanted to go back to lifeguarding.

“In May 2017, I renewed my lifeguarding certificate,” Wonders said.

One thing that had changed since he got his initial lifeguard certification as a teenager was how the classes are taught. The American Red Cross offers a traditional classroom-setting course or a blended format which is taught partially online.

The American Red Cross Lifeguard Training Course provides instruction in CPR, First Aid skills, how to recognize warning signs if a swimmer is in danger and how to approach swimmers to let them know they are in a potentially harmful situation — for example a beginning swimmer drifting toward the deeper water.

“The best part of the job is being outside, the people I meet, and the worst part of the job is worrying that I will have to put into practice what I have been trained to do,” Wonders said.

Swimming is once again a part of Jay Wonders and also his wife’s daily activities.

“Jay and I swim the 50 meters long course at Warren Olympic Club before Jay’s shift and the pool is open,” Shelley Wonders said.

Jay Wonders appreciates the results of his daily swims.

“I think there are health benefits and it is also good to stay active,” he said.

Jesse Wonders, president of the board of directors at Warren Olympic Club and Jay’s son, said he sees only positive benefits for the pool having a senior lifeguard.

“It is a neat experience for the younger lifeguards because he shares his knowledge. He mentors them,” he said.

Lead lifeguard Josh Barker of Southington said, “I definitely look up to him. It is exciting to see how much he loves to lifeguard. We have a lot of conversations where we talk about lifeguarding.”

They also talk about music, he said. Jay Wonders plays guitar and sings at area nightspots, often with Jesse.

Lifeguard Alyssa Simms of Cortland, a Youngstown State University student, said she sees a lot of positive aspects to her senior lifeguard co-worker.

“I think it’s nice to see that he can still work here and that you can do this after you retire.”

Jay Wonders said he has noticed a positive aspect of his lifeguard duties now as compared to when he was a teenager: “When you are 16, it is harder for people to pay attention to what you are saying. Now, I am more of an authority figure and they will listen.”

Jesse Wonders has an additional positive reason for having a senior lifeguard work at the Olympic club.

“We are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. A lot of the high school and college age lifeguards go back to school in August. He can work the morning shifts while they are at school.”

According to Shelley, lifeguarding will continue to be a part of Jay’ life.

“He’ll continue to do it as long as it is fun. He likes being around the young people. He only works when he wants. He wants to make sure the kids make money for college,” she said.

Her husband agreed.

“I will lifeguard as long as I can and I will continue to swim recreationally.”

As a teen, Wonders most likely did not see himself at the same place 50-some years later.

“I think he wanted to bookend his work career. His first job was as a lifeguard at Warren Olympic Club and this will be his last job. It is as a lifeguard at Warren Olympic Club when he decides to retire,” Jesse Wonders said.