The first of three F-16 fighter jets from Naval Air Station Fort Worth screams overhead, and Arthur Allis, treading water in the Ridglea Swimming Pool, stops talking midsentence.
At 91, he’s in no hurry to finish his sentence. Or his swim — a mile almost every summer day since he retired from General Dynamics in 1988.
“They may be noisy,” he says of the planes. “But I say it’s the sound of peace. I look up, and I darn near want to salute ’em.”
With that, Allis, the oldest active charter member of the pool, which opened in 1957, pushes off and resumes his easy strokes. The Olympic-size, L-shaped pool has the 50-meter lanes he loves, plus a two-level diving platform.
Sixteen laps give him his mile. He loves that simple math, to the point that he rarely goes to other pools.
So I think swimming has been a great help.
Arthur Allis, 91
He was at the 58-mile mark after Wednesday’s session and was confident he would reach 60 by Labor Day, when the pool closes for the offseason. That’s over 1,600 miles of swimming since his retirement.
He loves the outdoor environment of the Ridglea pool, even with the trade-off — it’s shuttered nine months a year. And since he doesn’t enjoy other indoor — and smaller — pools he’s tried in the area, he often goes long stretches in the offseason without swimming.
75minutes is how long it takes him to swim a mile
What will Allis do in the offseason? LuAnn Mancini, 58, a 15-year Ridglea member, interrupts with a mock scolding tone.
“He’s going to meet me at the Y and start a new habit,” she says sternly.
Allis chuckles away the suggestion.
It’s not like he hibernates, he says.
“I do a little walking, about a mile a day, as often as possible.”
But he admits that when he returns to swimming in June, he can’t pick up exactly where he left off.
“Coming in, it was all I could do to swim eight laps, some 800 meters,” he said. “And I was pooped.”
1,600 miles he has swum since 1988
Allis used to swim a mile in an hour, but in recent years, it’s taken him closer to an hour and 15 minutes. About 10 years ago, he learned he had a partially blocked artery, but because of his solid exercise regimen, his cardiologist opted for less-invasive treatment, putting him on hypertension and cholesterol medication.
“So I think swimming has been a great help,” he says.
Allis’ physical condition is reaching its peak for the year just as he readies for surgery to repair a hernia in his groin. He’s even lost 8 pounds over the summer, dropping to 147. On Thursday, his doctor cleared him for surgery. Allis says he’ll be on the operating table at 7 a.m. Friday.
“Yeah, I’m a little nervous,” he says, sitting in a shady spot near the pool. He previously had hernia surgery to get his “left side done.” “But I was a lot younger. Everything was a piece of cake back then.”
‘I just got in and started swimming’
Allis was born May 4, 1924, in the Bronx and was raised there, a few miles from Yankee Stadium. His first memories of swimming were at a beach in the unincorporated community of Leonardo, N.J., where his grandfather had built a bungalow not far from Sandy Hook. Allis said his family packed up every summer and headed to the bungalow.
“We spent the whole summer down there, swimming, playing baseball, everything kids do,” he recalls. That despite the condition of the beach. “It was not pristine. It had seaweed in it, and jellyfish. I don’t know how I learned to swim in that. But I just got in and started swimming.”
He made his high school swim team in his senior year, but said he “was no great swimmer.”
He apparently was a very good student, though. He graduated from high school at 16 and enrolled in New York University. His daughters bragged on his intelligence, but Allis shrugged it off.
“They had something called rapid advancement, and they kept moving me ahead,” he said.
Allis was drawn to New York University because of his interest in airplanes, mainly through building models. “They had a wind tunnel, which was unusual,” he said. He was on his way to a career as an aeronautical engineer.
But first, as an ROTC member in his junior year of college, the Army inducted him and his entire ROTC class. Allis joined the Army Air Corps — a predecessor of the Air Force — and trained to navigate B-25 bombers. He flew 48 missions from a base in far eastern India, crossing a mountain to bomb Japanese targets in Burma, now Myanmar.
Allis earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal during his service.
On Sept. 15, 1946, five months out of the military and five years after he met his future wife, Evelyn —when he was 17 and she 15 — he married her. They started a family, adding four children.
When Allis finished his aeronautical engineering degree, he went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, predecessor of NASA. Then he left in 1954 for a job at General Dynamics, where he worked for 34 years.
His wife died in April at age 89. They had been together almost 75 years.
‘Coming here ever since’
Allis’ family was among a thousand in the surrounding neighborhoods that put up $100 each to design and build the $100,000 pool. The amenities also include a kiddie pool and picnic benches under trellises as well as seating under a roof, and the shade of two large live oak trees in a grassy strip.
“Today, you couldn’t build 10 square feet of that pool for $100,000,” Allis says.
But he also considered it a bargain at the time, when it provided full-time family entertainment every summer in a part of west Fort Worth that didn’t offer many things to do other than spotting the fighter jets ahead of their trailing thunder from their base across Interstate 30.
“The beautiful part of this is the children who learn to swim here,” Allis said.
Including his own three daughters — Janice Meadlin, Joanne Onstott and Judith Rackley, who all live within 20 miles of the house Allis and his wife had lived in since 1955; and a son, Arthur Allis Jr. of Pittsburgh.
“I was born in 1954,” said Onstott, the youngest sibling. “The pool opened in ’57, and I’ve been coming here ever since.”
The Ridglea Pool Association has membership fees and other information at www.ridgleapool.com.