A longtime La Plata County resident donated $10,000 to help provide swim lessons for children in honor of Durango swim coach Bill Palmer, who died Dec. 30 at age 82.
Walt Dear, 88, donated the money this month to the Cristian Korte Memorial Swim Fund, which provides financial assistance for youth swim lessons. Palmer had a 60-year career as a swim coach in Durango and New Jersey, where he trained multiple national team members, record-breakers and Olympians.
He was a constant presence at the Durango Community Recreation Center, where he and Dear often interacted.
“It makes me very sad that Mr. Palmer died the other day,” Dear said. Dear, an avid swimmer since he was 8 years old, immediately recalled Palmer’s booming voice while coaching the Durango Masters Swim Team.
“He was a very brilliant guy,” Dear said.
Dear called learning to swim as a child “the gift of a lifetime.” His donation will help provide lessons for children through the memorial swim fund, a program set up after Cristian Korte drowned at Navajo Lake while celebrating his 6th birthday in August 2014.
The program seeks to provide financial assistance to families with low incomes to enroll their children in certified swim programs at locations around the Four Corners.
“I’m absolutely thrilled about it. Swimming is a fantastic thing,” Dear said. “They have infants learning how to swim. If you can learn how to swim as a child, it’s the gift that goes on forever.”
Before moving to Durango, Palmer founded the Central Jersey Aquatic Club in 1961 and was head coach until 1988.
During his tenure, the club produced 14 Olympic trial qualifiers, four of whom became Olympians. Six CJAC team members broke world records and six joined the national team, according to the CJAC website.
“The recreation center was fortunate to have such a high-quality coach bring the Masters Swim program to the Durango community,” said Kelli Jaycox, assistant recreation director. Palmer coached the program until his health failed in November 2019.
Mary Anne Nelson, Palmer’s wife, said her husband had what is known as the “X factor” in coaching.
“With the Durango masters, if he said go, you had better go,” Nelson said. “He pushed people to go farther and faster. He just expected it, and people did it.”
She kept a pile of letters from swimmers who said after they had Palmer as a coach, they felt they could accomplish anything.
“He gave them such confidence that anything would be possible,” she said.
Nelson hoped the children who benefited from the memorial fund would be able to find the same motivation through swimming. The donation, she said, not only honored her late husband but also the swimmers he helped.
“It was a very generous donation to a cause that Bill would have approved of,” Nelson said.
Palmer had passions for skiing, biking and triathlons, according to his obituary. He competed in almost 200 triathlons, including the Hawaii Ironman. He was known for saying exactly what he thought and had many close friends.
While he was successful in business, he was likely better known as a coach.
“He never got tired of it. He coached until he died,” Nelson said. “How many people stick with their career and love it that much?”