To the thousands of swimmers, parents, coaches and officials she came across in her 50-plus years of volunteering for the sport, Fort Lauderdale’s Alice Kempthorne was lovingly referred to as Auntie Alice.
“She was instrumental in helping establish the Swimming Hall of Fame, where she established the YMCA National Championships here and did most of the volunteer work, along with Buck Dawson,” said International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) President and CEO Bruce Wigo. “She became a board member and did everything. Talk to most of the coaches and swimmers and she was ‘Auntie Alice.’ She was that for me.”
Kempthorne died April 25 in Roswell, Georgia, where she moved to be near son Jim. She was 88.
Kempthorne became active in swimming circles when her children, Jim and Ann, started swimming for Coach Jack Nelson when he led a team at the Miami Shores Country Club in the early 1960s. The family followed him when he began coaching at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale and later when he founded the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team at the ISHOF complex in the early 1970s.
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She, along with her late husband Dick, were founding members and volunteers with ISHOF since its inception in 1965. There, for more than 33 years, she served the Dames, ISHOF’s volunteer auxiliary women’s group in numerous capacities, president, secretary and treasurer, among them. She helped organize the first of the YMCA Nationals to be held at the Hall of Fame pool in the early 1970s, served as secretary on the ISHOF Executive Committee and received the ISHOF Grand Dame award in 1998.
She was instrumental in helping establish the Swimming Hall of Fame. Talk to most of the coaches and swimmers and she was ‘Auntie Alice.’
ISHOF President and CEO Bruce Wigo on volunteer Alice Kempthorne.
Nelson, a U.S. Olympics swimming coach who died in 2014, said of Kempthorne in a 1994 Sun-Sentinel feature: “She's a great diplomat and a fun human being who has given of herself her entire life to help others. She just has a magic personality and passes on happiness to everyone around her. Everybody calls her Auntie Alice.”
On Thursday, Nelson’s wife of 41 years, Sherrill Nelson, had just returned from a recent visit with Kempthorne. She said that her spirit, the one that charmed swimmers and coaches alike, never flagged. “The best thing about Alice is she was always positive and up. ‘I’m fine. I’m good.’ Always had a smile no matter what she was going through. She loved vodka so I took her vodka in the hospice hospital and she said, ‘Oh, that’s so good!’
“She was a great volunteer for us,” Nelson said.
And what a volunteer. If you swam competitively in the 1970s onward in South Florida, you likely saw or interacted with the kindly woman with the black pixie hair.
Among her duties: She served as a National Championship official on and off the pool deck as clerk of course, turn judge, ready room supervisor and administrator. These administrative duties — making sure all the swimmers’ paperwork, their seeding in events and cards were ready, as well as judging the legality of swim turns and touches at the pool wall for each length of a race, were in Kempthorne’s domain.
She also worked with the coaches and athletes as a team manager of National, International, World and Student Games teams that held trips around the world, including to Germany, Russia, Argentina, Mexico and Japan. She was a three-time head manager for the Olympic Festival, an amateur multi-sport event in the U.S.
In local swimming circles Kempthorne served the governing body, Florida Gold Coast Swimming, for more than 30 years. With that organization she was its age-group, registration, records, member and official verification certification chairman, responsible for thousands of registered swimmers from Palm Beach to the Keys. She was also the rules book editor and treasurer and a volunteer at countless AAU and USA Swimming sanctioned meets.
According to ISHOF, “she was the first name that comes to mind when information or help was needed from an athlete or coach within Florida.”
And to the swimmers turned coaches, like Duffy Dillon, an age-group swimmer for Fort Lauderdale Swim Team in the 1970s and now international director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, Auntie Alice was a godsend.
“Alice was one of the great volunteers in USA swimming history and not just South Florida. In addition to all the various roles she managed for Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Gold Coast and the International Swimming Hall of Fame, she also ran the USA Swimming national team’s travel reimbursement program for decades. She is truly one of swimming’s greatest unsung heroes,” said Dillon. “There will literally be thousands of hearts aching but fond memories of Alice when the news spreads. She was one of a kind.”
Kempthorne is survived by her children James Kempthorne and Ann Kempthorne Kanau, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.