Mountain View resident Bernadette Mary Bennett passed away July 28. She was 87.
Mrs. Bennett was born the fifth of eight children in Cleveland to Adam and Mildred Masarik, both Slovak-born. She moved to Los Angeles at age 18.
She began working as a stylist at the Bullocks Wilshire beauty salon. After being discovered at a local pool, Mrs. Bennett joined the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. She earned many medals and trophies with the team. She was the 13th-fastest in 100-meter freestyle nationally, and tried out for the 1952 U.S. Olympic Team.
At age 26, she married Joe Bennett. After having two sons, the family relocated to Mountain View, and Mrs. Bennett gave birth to four daughters.
As her children grew, Mrs. Bennett began swimming in U.S. Masters Swimming competitions. At 47, she set the national record in the 50-yard freestyle. At 69, she swam the 50-meter freestyle in 41.40 seconds. She was a Masters swimmer into her 80s.
In 1970, Mrs. Bennett opened her own swim school in her backyard pool. Over the years, she taught more than 2,200 children to swim.
After her marriage ended when she was 50, Mrs. Bennett continued her swim school and competitive swimming and ventured into modeling and acting. She traveled with her siblings and children to Kenya, Europe, Hawaii and Bali. A devout Catholic, she made pilgrimages to Lourdes, Nevers and Israel.
Mrs. Bennett also became a clown named Jingles, learning magic and performing at children’s parties. She enjoyed exploring her creativity and delighting hundreds of children.
She wrote a book on teaching children to swim, which sold out its first printing. The e-book version, still available for purchase, has sold thousands worldwide.
Over the years, Mrs. Bennett’s focus turned to her seven grandchildren (teaching them all to swim, of course) and making hospice visits as a Pathways volunteer, including at Villa Siena in Mountain View, where she made her final home.
According to those who knew her, Mrs. Bennett loved people, giving of herself to family, friends and even those she just met. They said her “youthful spirit, kindness, empathy and openness – so often expressed in unabashed laughter” – made her enthusiasm contagious and ultimately inspiring. Her adventurous independence allowed her to touch many lives.
Mrs. Bennett is survived by her children Alex Bennett, Mark Bennett (Donna), Colette Ahrens (Brian), Constance Russo, Rebecca Rohrer (Dan) and Anita Bennett; grandchildren Nicole, Evan and Trevor Bennett, Monique and Marcus Ahrens and Kira and Katy Rohrer; brother Alex; and sisters Ann and Agnes.
A memorial Mass is scheduled 11 a.m. Friday at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, 473 Lincoln Ave., Los Altos.