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Volunteer of the Year: Bea Hartigan

Open-water swim advocate, devoted fundraiser

Bea Hartigan. Photo from Townwide Fund
December 28, 2011 | 01:21 PM
Bea Hartigan's community service and advocacy for a growing sport has earned her The Times of Huntington's recognition as Volunteer of the Year. Her advocacy of open-water swimming and countless hours officiating swim competitions for today's youth is one reason she rose to the top of our list.

Gil Smith met Hartigan through coaching her daughter in swimming at the Huntington YMCA 30 years ago. Since then, he said, he couldn't help but notice her ongoing service to the community.

"Some people volunteer sparingly but not Bea; she volunteers full throttle," he said.

Hartigan teaches first aid courses, including CPR, and has instructed beginner to lifeguard-level swim classes at the YMCA for years. For her level of commitment as swim coach for the YMCA, she was inducted into the Metropolitan Swimming Hall of Fame in 2008.

Hartigan, 70, has met numerous people through her involvement with the national organization USA Swimming.

Steven Munatones has known her for 20 years working on the organizations' open-water committee, advocating for swim athletes and promoting open-water swimming events, which involves aquatic competition outside of a pool, usually in the ocean or a lake.

"It's hard for people to realize how much goes into the organization of any race, it literally takes hundreds of hours and because she has been doing it for decades she has put in thousands of hours promoting events, getting volunteers and donating money over the years," Munatones, 29, of Huntington Beach, Calif., said.

Hartigan has since 1970 been on the board of directors of The Townwide Fund of Huntington, which has raised funds for the community since 1961 through local events and annual campaigns, raising over $9 million.

She chairs the annual four-mile runs, Thanksgiving Day Run and St. Patrick's Run.

To attract even more participants to the St. Patrick's Run, Hartigan and her husband created the Hartigan Challenge, through which they offer a trophy to the high school team with the lowest qualifying time.

Hartigan, a close friend to swimming advocate and champion Fran Schnarr, has helped organize the Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay, since its inception 19 years ago. The Huntington Bay race, held every July through 2010, was a tribute to her friend's life.

Her friend Jacquie Soulier described Hartigan as someone who would get things done. "People don't realize how much work goes into making an event like that run smoothly," Soulier of Flushing, Queens said. She gets permission from Town Hall for parking, informs harbor patrol, the coast guard and other emergency agencies of the event and makes sure there's adequate transportation, Soulier said.

Daughter Meg McConnell, 44, said when her mother organized the 5K swim, she would spot someone driving or walking by, pull out a flier from her car and get them to volunteer.

"It always worked," McConnell said. "Somehow, she could get anyone to come out and help."

At a swimming convention, her daughter's YMCA swim coach Gil Smith noticed Hartigan's close relationship with disabled swimmers.

"She had a knack for dealing with those kids and making them feel good about themselves," Smith said. He saw Hartigan congratulate a boy with a hug and a few words of inspiration, which made his face light up.

Huntington Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia has known Hartigan since she started volunteering with the Townwide Fund over 20 years ago. "There are people who give ideas, but they expect someone else to do it," Raia said. "In Bea's case, if she has an idea of running a fundraiser, she'll run it and in many cases she'll get the volunteers if no one on the board volunteers to do it."

Sometimes with organizing an open-water swim race like the Schnarr 5K in the Bay, swimmers may face certain dangers but the people who choose to organize the events are well aware of them. When Hartigan takes on the responsibility of managing water competitions, Munatones said it's like saying, 'I volunteer my services to put the lives of people under my care.' For someone to do that for almost 20 years with no expectation for any monetary gain is in my opinion very rare in today's society."

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