Effort continues to save Nile Swim Club

Bernard Harris, new president of theNile Swim Club in Yeadon, is working to keep the club open. He and his staff plan to reopen it May 27.
Bernard Harris, new president of theNile Swim Club in Yeadon, is working to keep the club open. He and his staff plan to reopen it May 27. (SHUMITA BASU / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 10, 2013

For the second time in three years, the historic Nile Swim Club in Yeadon was set to be sold in a tax sale, and for the second time in three years, a last-minute reprieve saved the club.

In 2010, a bankruptcy filing staved off creditors. In December, a deed mix-up halted the scheduled sale.

Then last month, a trio of baby boomers who grew up at the nation's first African American-owned private swim club took over the Nile's leadership.

The group is planning a business-oriented strategy that it hopes will put an end to the financial troubles that have crippled the 54-year-old club, founded because a nearby pool admitted whites only.

"Our parents had the vision to make the Nile what it was," said Bernard Harris, 59, new president of the club's board of governors. "We want to make sure this place is available to our children and grandchildren."

Harris, of West Brandywine Township, and boyhood pals Kenneth Green of Lansdowne and Richard Barnes of Yeadon, along with the club's 16-member board, have a difficult task ahead of them.

The Nile owes $146,947 in delinquent taxes, according to public records. The physical plant is worn, and demographic trends that have forced the closure of nearby swim clubs have battered the Nile as well.

Yeadon is an aging community with fewer young families with children, said Mayor Delores Jones-Butler. There is competition from more modern pool facilities, and the segregation that fueled the founding of the club is no more. African American families can go anywhere.

"It's the same thing that happened to the Negro Leagues and that is happening to black colleges," said Harris, a preventive medicine and public health specialist.

Membership has decreased from 500 to about 90 families. The Nile now has white and Latino members.

Before the new leadership, club officials had been preoccupied with day-to-day survival and making sure the Nile opened on Memorial Day as it has for more than five decades.

"There wasn't much thinking about what we need to do to secure the future," said board member Jacquelynn Puriefoy-Brinkley, whose family was one of the club's founding families.

In the fall, the situation appeared bleak. The former president, Darrell Henderson, had died in his sleep and a sale was imminent.

The club had declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2010 to avoid a scheduled sale and reorganize its finances. The Nile was unable to meet the payment schedule developed in the court proceeding, Harris said. The December sale was scheduled.

But an apparent error in the club's deed halted the sale. A parcel that belongs to the borough has been incorrectly recorded as owned by the club, Harris said.

When the sale was scheduled, the borough property was part of it, Jones-Butler said. The sale was stopped to straighten out the deed issue.

In the meantime, Harris, Green, Barnes, and their childhood friend Arnold Coleman decided they had to step up to help save what had been a staple of their youth.

They met informally, calling themselves Team Nile, and brainstormed. When they took their suggestions to club meetings, members decided that Team Nile should make it official.

"For the first time in a while, we see guys coming back and rolling up their sleeves," said board member Gretchen T. Allen.

Harris was elected president. Green, owner of a contracting business, was named vice president, and Barnes, an electrical lineman for SEPTA, was elected treasurer. Coleman has no office but is a club supporter.

The new leadership has begun networking with members of the banking, business, and philanthropic communities, and soliciting partnerships with colleges that could bring students to the club to work, learn, and teach in exchange for credit.

A dinner-dance fund-raiser is scheduled for Friday at Keya Graves Seafood & Steak in Darby Borough.

On Tuesday, Green and Barnes worked to clean up the pool and prepare for the planned May 27 opening.

Needed facility improvements will have to come through "bartering, negotiating, and partnering," Harris said. Planned programming offers include swimming lessons, a teen drama guild, and activities for seniors.

"Hopefully we can generate enough interest," Green said. "This is history to us. . . . We are here because we love this place."


Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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