- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Ten swimmers dog-paddled across Hamme Pool early Monday morning in memory of their longtime lap-swimming friend Bob Vaughn.

They wore masks, snorkels and fins. Just like Vaughn.

The five-minute lap swim honored Vaughn, who showed up every morning at 6 a.m. for more than 10 years before dying suddenly of bone cancer Oct. 29.

Vaughn’s obituary was short and to the point, with few personal details. No one reading it would know about the treasured friendships he developed with other swimmers during many years in the early morning hours at Hamme Pool.

No one would know about the time he spent hiking at Denali National Park with fellow bus drivers every summer.

Even his fellow swimmers knew little about him, but they enjoyed his company tremendously.

“This was a man who made the world a better place by his simple friendly presence,” fellow lap swimmer Avalon Wappett said. “He was a friend to every early morning swimmer. He was engaging and delightful.”

Except for summers, when he worked at Denali National Park as a bus driver, he rarely missed a day swimming.

When the Wappetts first started early morning lap swimming 10 years ago, Vaughn was the only swimmer who swam the back stroke. Hence, he was known as Backstroke Bob.

All they knew was he lived alone in a dry cabin and always seemed to be remodeling. He was also writing a detective novel, they said.

Every morning, he parked his car quite a distance from the building.

In Vaughn’s honor, Daniel LaBrosse parked at the far end of the parking lot Monday, but he still can’t figure out why Vaughn always parked so far away. Maybe it was to get more exercise.

“I thought, I’ll do this today, but not on a regular basis,” he laughed.

Vaughn was a practical joker. But then, so were his friends at Hamme Pool.

LaBrosse once rolled up an old boarding pass and stuffed it inside Vaughn’s snorkel, figuring Vaughn would discover it right away.

Vaughn swam with it in place for two weeks, and feared he was suffering a respiratory illness because he couldn’t seem to catch his breath.

Finally, lifeguard Cynthia Ice inspected the snorkel and discovered the paper obstruction.

“And we were worrying he was having breathing issues,” she said.

The group put together a special display in the pool lobby Monday. It included a stuffed dog wearing a mask, a snorkel and fins. And yes, there is a napkin rolled up in the snorkel.

Swimmers said Vaughn switched from backstroke to dog-paddling because of a sore shoulder. Recently, he saw a surgeon, who insisted he visit a cardiologist first.

While waiting on that appointment, Vaughn took a trip to visit his daughter.

“While he was there, he got hurt,” Wappett said. His shoulder pain worsened and he broke some ribs.

When he returned, he “looked pretty rough, but he was still there swimming,” Wappett said.

Turns out the shoulder pain and broken ribs were because of advanced bone cancer. He died several days later. The swimmers learned of it through his obituary in the newspaper.

They all decided to honor him with an early-morning memorial swim, with everyone dog paddling wearing snorkels and fins.

The swimmers discovered dog-

paddling is not as easy as it looks.

“This is hard work,” Wappett gasped after dog-paddling a lap in the pool. “And here we were teasing him.”

“Thank God there’s nothing in my snorkel,” LaBrosse said with a laugh.

“Bob was a man who was loved by all, but in many ways, he was alone in the world,” Wappett said. “He may feel like he never really changed the world. He never completed his detective novel to leave as a monument to a life. But he did change all our lives at the pool in his constancy and kindness. No man was a stranger to Bob.”

This quiet man made a lasting impression on his fellow swimmers.

“Who knows what other friends he has throughout both Fairbanks and Healy?” Wappett said. “We’re gonna miss him.”

The swimmers want to donate a bench at the pool in Vaughn’s honor and are investigating ways to do that.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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