South Dakota Swimming Icon Dies
I grew up in Lyman County. Smack dab in the middle of South Dakota along Interstate 90. If you’ve ever driven across South Dakota you know the area I’m talking about. Reliance, Kennebec, Presho and Vivian.
So, why would I write about Lyman County? Why today? Because the people of Presho lost a good one over the weekend. Norma ‘Turp’ Johnson.
The way I figure, Turp ‘saved’ at one time or another just about everyone who lives in or has lived around Lyman County. No, she wasn’t a preacher at a local church, (though she would have been a good one) and no, she wasn’t a nurse or a doctor. But she did in fact SAVE almost everyone who grew up in Lyman County. How? By teaching them to swim.
I grew up in Kennebec, SD. While growing up, summer revolved around vacation, 4-H and swimming lessons. We traveled 8 miles west to Presho to see Turp. And to learn how to swim.
Back in the day, the pool was located on main street Presho. It was the Townsquare of Presho during summer months. People from all over the county would bring their precious cargo to the pool so Turp could throw em in and see if they could swim.
That’s not really how it happened. Beginners would blow bubbles and end up knowing how to swim and survive in the water. I mean a TON of people from my hometown learned to swim thanks… to ‘Turp.’
Turp had a style. Oh, she had a smile, but she had a style too. Turp didn’t need a bullhorn or a megaphone. When Turp spoke, you HEARD it! I used to love it when we had to call out our numbers, 1-2-3-4 so we wouldn’t have to swim right next to someone and get kicked. My American Crawl is still pretty decent, but I still can’t frog-kick worth a crap.
Turp KNEW when you knew how to swim. She had a way of engaging and encouraging. She could also smell ‘bull’ from a mile away and she wasn’t afraid to ring her ‘bull*#@@ buzzer when she had to.
Turp taught me how to swim. She taught my brothers and sister too. She taught me rules that I still follow today. Don’t run at the pool. Check to see how shallow is it before you dive. Oh, and hey, let’s use the restroom before we jump in!
I found out later in life that Turp was a country music fan too. Toby Keith was her favorite. I figure anyone who likes Toby and had taught that many kids to swim had to be a pretty good person.
My Mom went to school with Turp. They played basketball together. So I’m not the only one from the area who will be missing her.
I see her funeral will be held in the gym at Presho. That’s what they have to do in small towns when someone like Turp dies. The church wouldn’t be big enough to handle the crowd.
My mom recently took my sons and I to a turkey dinner at the Methodist Church in Presho. Turp was there. Telling folks where to sit. As usual, giving directions with a smile. Without a microphone or a megaphone. I’m glad we went that day. The food was great and it was nice to see Turp, for what turned out to be the last time.
Nice swim Turp.
Norma Turp Johnson. A true South Dakota gem!
Complete Obituary can be found in the Chamberlain Oacoma Sun.