Gruender and his wife, Edie, received the Capt. Ransom J. Arthur M.D. Award in 1989
After she moved with her husband, Dan, to Arizona in the early 1970s, Edie Gruender began looking for a pool. When she couldn’t find anything, the two decided to found Arizona Masters Swimming as part of what eventually became U.S. Masters Swimming.
The lack of pools in their area led them to put in a three-lane, 25-yard pool in their backyard. “It didn’t have gutters, but it had racing blocks, and we had lane lines,” says their son, Peter. “It was 6 feet deep in the middle and 5 feet deep at each end. It was a fast, fast pool, and we would have some 40 to 60 people come over.”
Peter remembers there was always an EMT parked in the driveway during meets “for legal reasons, in case there were any problems.” He also worked as a starter in the family business of running Masters competitions.
“I had a starter’s pistol and a bullhorn, and I’d run down the events and call people to the block,” Peter says. “We’d run swim meets right there in the backyard. I thought it was cool.”
Edie and Dan founding Arizona Masters Swimming led to them becoming heavily involved with USMS. He served as president of the organization from 1989-93 and received the Capt. Ransom J. Arthur M.D. Award in conjunction with his wife in 1989 before passing away at the age of 92 on Oct. 16.
The impact the Gruenders made was enormous.
In 2003, the Arizona LMSC established the Edie and Dan Gruender Award in honor of their efforts supporting Arizona Masters Swimming. The award goes to an individual who has demonstrated commitment and outstanding volunteerism to the LMSC.
In an article announcing the award, Helen Bayly, a former member of the Arizona Masters Swim Club, noted that the Gruenders were in large part responsible for the growth of Arizona Masters Swimming from just a few swimmers in 1973 to about 1,000 30 years later.
“For 20 of those 30 years, Edie and Dan led, inspired, organized, and encouraged Arizona Masters Swimming—with no computers, kids!” she wrote.
Their support of Masters Swimming and swimmers extended well beyond Arizona. Michigan Masters member Skip Thompson remembers traveling to the Phoenix area on business and finding a place to swim with Dan’s help.
“Dan’s name was listed in the USMS Places to Swim directory, and I called the number listed hoping I could swim because everything was closed that day,” Thompson says.
They connected, and Gruender gave Thompson an address where he could come swim. When he arrived in front of a home in a suburban subdivision, Thompson expected that Gruender would drive with him to a nearby municipal pool. Instead, “he said, ‘The pool is in my backyard,’” Thompson says. “It was a real nice, three-lane, 25-yard pool. I swam a workout for about an hour and a half, and when I finished, both Dan and his wife, Edie, invited me for lunch in their house. I had a nice visit and was very thankful for this hospitality. I was glad to call him a friend.”
This type of outreach to swimmers all over the country was a hallmark of how the Gruenders saw swimming and their role in helping other adults do more of it.
But when Dan was elected president in 1989, Peter says, it was something of a surprise.
“My mom would go to the annual meeting every year, and she would drag my dad along,” Peter says. “My dad would just go up in the hotel room and do his law work on the phone. It just so happened that he came down during one of the discussions and opened his mouth and the next thing you know, they’re pushing him to become president.”
Dan served one term, during which USMS experienced rapid growth and expansion. The one-day registration option was created to get swimmers to try Masters Swimming and eventually become full-fledged members. A computerized meet program was also developed, allowing every sanctioned meet to be run consistently and feed results back into a main database. Time standards were also developed and imposed to help streamline national championship meets.
These types of things might be taken for granted today, but they represented dramatic steps forward in a pre-Internet era with “no cellphones and no Zoom for conference calls,” Thompson says. “Everything was done by mail, phone calls, and planned meetings at Nationals and [the annual meeting].”
Under Gruender’s watch, SWIM magazine was also offered as a benefit for all registered members. This expansion of the publication’s accessibility helped fill the void left behind by June Krauser’s SWIM-MASTER publication, which was retired at the end of 1991.
Gruender’s willingness to try new things was a staple of his life.
His sister Judy noted in a letter to Peter that Dan had a mischievous spark as a kid and “would always try something new, exciting, adventurous, and not infrequently naughty.”
Her brother got into swimming in high school, and the sport became “a focus in his life throughout his adult years,” Judy wrote. She added that her brother had turned down a swimming scholarship offer from the University of Minnesota because he “did not want to focus on the competition and the anxiety that went with it. He preferred to go to college to learn.”
After college, Dan went into the military and was sent to Japan during World War II. When he returned, he launched his career in law, which Judy described as “a rather drastic turnaround that changed the way he looked at the world.” He defended corporate clients in labor disputes and rose to the rank of partner at the law firm Shimmel, Hill, Bishop, & Gruender in Phoenix.
When Gruender wasn’t dedicating copious amounts of time to swimming or working, he and Edie raised five children: Mitzi, Matt, Adam, Doug, and Peter. He was also grandfather to 10 and great-grandfather of four.
Edie passed away in 2016 after 67 years of marriage, a union that helped make USMS the organization that it is today.
“He and my mom were a team in terms of developing Masters and getting involved with Masters and everything they put into Masters,” Peter says.
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