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Madera loses an aquatics legend

For The Madera Tribune

Randy Durbin.


If anyone learned to swim in Madera or became a lifeguard, chances are they were taught by Randy Durbin, or taught by someone that Durbin trained.

For the past 40 years, Durbin was instrumental in working with the American Red Cross by offering swim lessons and teaching water safety classes for the children of Madera. In addition, he was responsible for certifying lifeguards and also taught a CPR class.

Unfortunately, Durbin was found dead in his home Friday afternoon after not reporting to his Madera South classes and leaves a big hole in the Madera aquatics community.

He was found his his home on a wellness check after he didn’t appear for his classes Friday. “It will leave a huge hole in Madera,” said longtime friend and fellow instructor Nancy Sherrod. “He fought for that program. He fought for the pay that the lifeguards and water safety instructors had to have. It was so important to him that children knew how to swim and were safe in the water. It will leave a huge hole. He lived out there running that program. I ran the program for many years. Lisa Bennett took over and Randy took over from her and ran it the last 10 years or so. It’s going to be something the community is going to miss. They missed it this year. He was going to run it. He had lifeguards and instructors ready to go.”

“Randy definitely left a legacy in Madera from teaching so many children how to swim,” said Lisa Bennet, another longtime friend and fellow instructor. “We stuck with Madera Unified for many years. We were just great friends. It was so hard to put into words how much fun we had out there year after year. It was wonderful, wonderful times.”

Durbin worked for many years teaching and certifying lifeguards. He was also a swim and water polo coach for Madera and Madera South while teaching science at Madera South.

“He started doing the Red Cross in the early 1980s,” Bennett said. “He did that all the way up until now. He was the one that did the lifeguard training for us. He would train everybody in Madera who became a lifeguard. Every kid that worked in Madera and even for Island Water Park, where he was the water safety instructor and CPR training for years was taught by Randy.”

Bennett and Sherrod both will miss the fun they had with Durbin.

“I was a water safety instructor with Randy,” Bennett said. “We lifeguarded on weekends. That was a whole lot of fun. Every three years, we had to be certified. Every spring, he was certifying people. Every three years, Nancy (Sherrod) and I would have to get certified. It got harder the older we got. Nancy and I would cheat on the test. We have taken the tests forever. We didn’t really cheat, but helped each other out. Randy knew we did that and he knew we helped each other out. When we struggled in the pool, Randy was extremely patient with everybody.”

“I proably have known him for 40 years, if not more,” Sherrod said. “I worked with him at the Madera Athletic Club. He gave me my job there behind the counter and he transitioned me into being an instructor. I worked with him for 20-plus years at the athletic club. He was my boss. I continued to work there after the sell of the place.”

Bennett said that Durbin tried to get the best out of everybody he taugh and even taught her a few things about water polo.

“He pushed everybody to do their best,” he said. “I watched him give swim lessons, coaching swim and water polo. He had patience, but he instilled these young adults to do their best and be successful. I watched that for years. We coached one year junior varsity water polo. I learned so much about water polo that year from Randy. I was forever grateful for that. He was a science teacher. The patience he had with the students and with the community was great. He’s leaving a legacy and left an impact on Madera.”

“He was the best,” Sherrod said. “He had criteria you needed to follow. It was a big deal to him.

“He was very supportive of Cade (her son), as well,” Sherrod said. “He was a big part of his life. I will miss that guy every day.”

One of the things that Bennett said she will miss is listening to Cher on the pool deck.

“He worked at the Madera Athletic Club for years,” she said. “We all worked together there, too. One thing I’m never going to forget is he loved Cher. He had gone to more than 100 Cher concerts. For my 40th birthday, he brought me a Cher CD. I will keep that forever. I have so many memories with Randy.

“His favorite place to be was on that pool deck teaching kids how to swim, teaching lifeguarding, teaching water safety to all the PE teachers. There was so many things he did for Madera. That swim program needs to be picked up by somebody.”

Statement from Madera Unified School District

It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of one of our esteemed educators, Randy Durbin. Randy was a science teacher at Madera Unified for over 23 years. As we mourn the tragic death of Randy, we offer sympathy, prayers, and comfort to the family, friends, teachers, and everyone who loved him and shared life with him. We will have our clinicians available to all students and staff who may need support in this difficult time. We ask that we continue to show our students and each other as staff members extra compassion, kindness, love, concern, and thoughtfulness. Remember to lean on family and friends and your spiritual community. It is important for us to remember that whether we find ourselves in times of joy or grief, we need to stand together as a family. As a Madera Unified Family, from all our staff members to the Board of Trustees, we offer our prayers and our heartfelt sympathy to the family of Randy Durbin.

Madera South boys swim and water polo coach Richard Petzinger

When I took over as head water polo and swim coach at Madera South eight years ago, Randy and I would sit on the pool deck together during the summer as he was running swim lessons and talk about everything from school, students, how lifeguarding and swimming had changed over the years and his real passion which was health. He was one of the healthiest people I have ever known. He would talk to his lifeguards/instructors, and anyone else who he seemed to care about how they need to be eating better,and taking better care of themselves. He cared deeply about others around him, he had being teaching lessons since the 70’s in Madera so he had grandparents who came on to the pool deck and he would tell me how they were swimmers of his and there was so much respect for him from all those parents, grandparents and those who knew him as their teacher at South, Madera High or Madera community, where he also taught. Randy loved to talk about his house and all the new additions he had or was making to the house. We only spent time together on the pool deck, but Randy was a good friend and will be sorely missed. There is no replacing him! Randy was and is one of a kind.

Madera girls swim and water polo coach Erik Baymiller

Randy was extremely passionate about swim lessons and lifeguarding so when I started working for him my junior year, I had to step up my professionalism and how hard I worked and I really appreciated that. Once I was on his level, his wonderful personality really shined and I could see why so many people loved him. I remember for junior and senior summer water polo, I would park my car, open my door and everyday I would hear the all too familiar sound of Randy blasting Cher on the pool speakers, it was hilarious.

Former Madera swim and water polo coach Kevin Larrivee

It was sad to hear of the loss of Randy. He was a very dedicated teacher and coach. I coached with him for a couple of years at Madera High School. He loved being involved with students and being outside on the pool deck. In fact, if you learned to swim through Madera Unified, Randy Durbin was involved in teaching you how to swim. It was a pleasure getting to know him and learn about what a unique person he was. He never lost his cool and had an amazing way of letting you know of his displeasure in your mistake, usually with a raise of his eyebrow. Randy always made whatever time you spent with him worth it. He was very genuine and an all around good person. He definitely will be missed by his students and past athletes.

Madera South Athletics Director Andrea Devine

I just know he taught (my daughter) Desirae how to swim and he was in charge of the Red Cross for all my other kids. He was just a staple in the Madera swim community. You could count on Randy leading the way for our kids to have an opportunity to learn how to swim. He made sure it happened every year. You knew Randy would be kind, tan, and wearing shorts. Just a really great guy with such a kind, calm demeanor.

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