Professors you love

Dorothy Savage

Dorothy Savage

She never got in the water: Remembering Miss Savage's poolside life lessons

By Mary Frances Shuler Johnson ( '48)

Originally published in Summer 2009, this is just one of many stories from Madison magazine's award-winning Professors You Love series, written by JMU students and alumni, about the professors that have made the most impact on their lives — then, and now.

I loved Miss Savage. She taught me how to swim, yet she never once got in the water!

Dorothy L. Savage was an associate professor of physical education in 1948. She wore slacks and knelt at the edge of the pool to show students how to do swimming strokes. I earned my physical education credits in her swimming class. I earned a B.S. in education with a concentration in home economics.

"Miss Savage's swimming instructions, personal talks and life lessons have stayed with me my whole life."

My swim class partner was Mickey Parrotta ('48). She was slightly heavier than me and much stronger, and she was the Porpoise Club president! I had to struggle to "save" Mickey in our swim class exercises because I was very thin and not very strong. In fact, Miss Savage worried about the "dark circles under my eyes." She didn't know that I had been staying up late studying by the dim light in the bathroom of Johnson Hall. I was not a very good eater, either. I wanted to prove that college girls "don't get fat." I was practically anorexic, but you should see me today at the age of 87. I am neither thin nor weak.

Photo of Alma Beatrice Comer Shuler, Mary Frances Shuler Johnson, Eva Shuyler Holtzman

Above: Mary Frances Shuler Johnson ('48), above middle, is a member of one of the largest legacy families in Madison history. Her son earned his undergraduate degree from JMU in 1979. Mary Frances and her sister, Eva Shuler Holtzman ('52), above right, followed their mother's footsteps to Madison. Alma Beatrice Comer Shuler (above left) attended the Harrisonburg State Teachers College in 1922 and 1923. All seven of Alma's sisters -- the Comer sisters -- attended HTC and Madison. Read more about Alma and Mary Ann Comer Kammel ('32), Margaret Virginia Comer Kupiec ('38), Brownie Frances Comer Cave ('39), Grace Marie Comer Shackelford ('39), Beulah Mae Comer Huffman ('39, '59M), Catherine Charlene Comer Nichols ('40) and Nellie Elizabeth Comer Robinson ('45)

Miss Savage instilled in me a lifelong love of swimming. I took my own four children to swim classes at the water babies level and up. Two of my sons earned the Mile Swim Merit Badge as Boy Scouts. I also helped ensure that my three grandsons received swimming lessons. I firmly believe that every child needs swimming lessons.

All of our Madison professors where dedicated to students and taught us life lessons. I also remember economics professor Otto Fredrikson. "Dr. Freddie" sponsored our International Relations Club. He was a short, stocky man and loved to teach. He taught us the importance of living within one's income, and that lesson has guided me throughout life. I have always been creative and able to manage without numerous trips to the store.

Pool named for Professor Savage
The Godwin Hall Olympic-size pool named after Miss Savage.

Dorothy Savage made the most lasting impression on this Madison student. I am proud to see that JMU named the Godwin Hall Olympic-size pool after Miss Savage. She was a wonderful instructor. Around age 12, I had a near-drowning experience at my grandparents' farm near the Shenandoah River. After surviving that experience, I "jumped" at the opportunity to learn to swim at Madison College. Miss Savage's swimming instructions, personal talks and life lessons have stayed with me my whole life. Even though she didn't get in the water; I guess she didn't have to.

About the professor 
Dorothy L. Savage was a physical education professor from the 1940s through the 1960s. The Godwin Hall Savage Natatorium, an Olympic-size pool with spectator seats for 800, is named in her honor.

About the author
Mary Frances Shuler Johnson ('48) of Lynchburg is a retired kindergarten teacher from Bedford County Public Schools. An officer on the Bedford County Education Association and volunteer with the American Heart Association, she represented her church three times at the National Conference of Church Women at Purdue University. She and her husband, John, have visited Alaska, Canada, England, France and Hawaii.

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Published: Monday, June 4, 2012

Last Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021

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