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May 19, 2017     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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May 19, 2017

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PAGE 8B HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 19, 2017 By Christine DeSouza . While having breakfast at Too Jay's one morning in 20'09, as these old friends often did, Wolf Kahn asked Vivian Carrington, "Vivian, what is it that you always wanted to do and never had the opportunity to do in life?" After questioning why he'd ~vant to know, she responded, "Well, I want to become a student at Rollins College." "Then do it!" he replied. "Man, that's crazy!" Car- rington exclaimed. "I'm 69 years old. I can't go to school now." Kahn simply stated, "Yes, you can." After that conversation, Carrington's life was once again changed by the man who'd come into her life when Vivian Carrington today she was 13 years old and taught her, and many other black youths, how to swim. Carrington first met Wolf Kahn in the 1950s at Lake Mann when he was teaching Providing Quality Preventive, Esthetic and Restorative Management for the Oral Health of our Patient Family Dental Associates of Maitland, P.A. Bernard A. Kahn, D.D.S. GENERAL DENTISTRY 926 N. Maitland Avenue Maitland, FL 32751 (407) 629-4220 DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM THE JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER a grouP of black boys how to swim. She asked if he would teach her, too. "I don't teach girls," he responded. But her friends vouched for her and Kahn let her in the class with the 19 boys. This was at the time when Orlando was a segregated town. Blacks were not allowed in many places, including public swimming pools. Black children.and adults swam in Lake Mann, which is near Washington Shores. Kahn saw all this and being a certified swimming instruc- tor, taught the children in the alligator-infested lake. Later, Kahn was able to get access for the black children to Carter Street public pool where he continued his swim- ming instruction. His star pupil was Viv- ian Carrington. She took to the water like a fish and quickly learned his swim- ming style--fast and smooth without making even a ripple in the water. Once, she swam so fast across the lake that the young people watching her said she was walking on the water to get away from the alligators. The only thing she couldn't do was tread water. But Kahn taught her and the others in the class skill by having them jump into the water with a brick tied to them. They had to untie the brick, bring it up to the surface and stay there with the brick held over their heads. Tough. But Carrington learned the skill So well that she can hang vertically in the water with her head above the surface and not move a muscle. That is Carrington--a graceful woman who was ahead of her time. Strong- willed and competitive (she has never lost a competition), she was a body and weight builder from the time she was 8, and lifting 100-pound weights over her head at age 13. At Jones High School, she made best all-around Hall of Famer in swimming, track and field, basketball, rac- A certified swimming quetball, tennis, softball, and took the first place bowling championship for the State of Florida in 1977. But her love was swimming. "I'm thankful for the op- portunity Wolf opened for me," she s~id. She has been a lifeguard and licensed swimming instructor by the Central Florida American Red Cross for 58 years. After high school, Car- rington had a scholarship to go to Tuskegee University, but because of family respon- sibilities (she was the oldest girl in the family and was needed at home), she turned down the opportunity. After the conversation she had with Kahn at breakfast that day, she took that op- portunity and went straight away to Rollins to apply for enrollment. After completing a one-page essay on why she wanted to attend Rollins, the counselor complimented her on her writing ability and said she would be in touch. Before Carrington got home, she had a call from Rollins, telling her she was accepted. "I was so excited!" she said. "I went straight to the Mayflower [where Kahn and his wife, Tybe, lived] to see Wolf. That's how I became a student!" Kahn put his whole self into whatever he would do. "We knew t/s:u was the place." instructor, Vivian taught many young children to swim. He wasn't just a swimming instructor or art or music teacher to these black chil- dren, he became friends with many of them and continued to inspire them throughout their lives. And so it was with Carrington, who remained a dear friend for the rest of Kahn's life. For Kahn's 80th birthday, she contacted as many of his former students as she could to surprise him at the YMCA on Mill Street. Five years later, when Tybe threw him a birthday party, Carrington gave him a kippah and prayer shawl. "Oh[ Who did this?" Kahn inquired as he held up the shawl. Carrington thought she'd done something wrong, but Tybe assured her that this was a very meaningful gift because Kahn's father couldn't give him these items for his bar mitzvah. At that time, Kahn's father was busy escaping from the Nazis to join his family, which had already escaped and were safely in Baltimore. In addition to following in Kahn's footsteps teaching the black children of Orlando to swim, Carrington also be- came a non-denominational pastor of a congregation in Maitland. Kahn would come to her church on occasion and she would go to his synagogue. When Kahn died in April 2010, Carrington was hum- bled and proud to be asked to give a short eulogy. Speaking from her heart, she said in her eulogy, "I miss my friend. He taught me a lot about life. He taught me how to care for people, and taught me not to hate. It was very difficult to not hate when you are treated less than human. You know you are a human being too. That's what he taught me--how to love ev- erybody. 'Don't worry about color, nationality, stuff like that,' he'd say. He told me, 'Be thankful that you are here. You set goals and dreams and aspirations for yourself. You make it happen. And you be happy that you did it. And do it with a smile.' I learned all that from him." At the time of his pass- ing, Carrington had been in college for about a year. It took her six more years, but she graduated from Rol- lins College with a degree in Communication Studies last Saturday, May 13. It wasn't easy because she suffered from a chronic, painful illness that at times debilitated her. Still, she persevered because her athletic competitive nature wouldn't allow her to quit, even to the point of attend- ing class on oxygen. Her daughter, Angle, gave up her nursing job in Wesley Chapel, Fla., to care for her and help her attain her goal. Why did Carrington do this? "Because I'm a com- petitor[ I don't give up. Wolf taught me that," she said firmly. Reflecting on how Kahn influenced her life, Car- rington acknowledged that she might have been a very different person--"like fall- ing into drugs or who knows what"--had she not met Kahn. "I respect him so much, like he was my own father. When you are close to some- one who is so kind and so good, it rubs offon you. That was good for me. Lessons I learned from him--not just to swim, but to learn who I was and to appreciate myself as a person, and be happy in my own skin. I learned that from him and I'm really grateful. "You never know what impact you have on a person's life. You don't know how you empower them, whether by something you say or the way you act." More life-story details on Vivian Carrington can be found on Amazon Kindle.