By Cherri Gregg
YEADON, Pa. (CBS) — The Nile Swim Club has weathered some serious financial trouble over the past few years. Now, the country’s oldest African-American-owned swim club is hoping to fight its way back from the brink of extinction and build a greater legacy.
Located on Union Avenue in Yeadon, the historic club has for decades served as a symbol of black economic power, but more recently has become the poster child for a changing economy.
“The Nile Swim Club is a victim of its own success and the success of the civil rights struggles of that time,” says Bernard Harris, who grew up at the club and became president of the board of governors in February. “Sports integrated and ended the Negro Leagues. Colleges integrated, closing many historically black colleges. Places opened up and we were no longer the only game in town.”
The 53-year-old organization recently got a reprieve from a sheriff’s sale. Harris, 59, says the Nile was slated for foreclosure sale twice in the past three years, but was saved most recently when attorneys discovered a discrepancy in the club’s tax assessments.
Harris, whose father was a club founder, says other children of founders, including Kenneth Green and Richard Barnes, have recently come together to help the 16-member board.
Harris says with the new energy, the organization is hoping to expand.
“To expand our mission, expand our programming, and expand our target audience, to offer the same quality of services and the same quality of facilities that other organizations offer people,” he tells KYW Newsradio.
“A place like the Nile Swim Club was the place for children,” says Gretchen Allen, a member of the board who has been involved with the club for 46 years. She brought her daughter, Bridgette, to the club for the first time when she was just two years old.
“Everyone knew one another, it was family oriented, and our children grew up with the other children at the club,” Allen recalls. She says saving the club is now personal.
“I am doing this because of the legacy we look forward to living,” she says. “We want to hold onto that legacy and do what it takes.”
Part of the effort will include year-round programming, partnerships with universities, and more.
“We are even beginning a drama guild for the youth, a chew-and-chat session for our seniors. We are planning a lot to keep the Nile alive,” says Allen.
The club is scheduled to open for the season on May 27th.