Miller Swim School celebrates 60 years of teaching water safety
May of 2019, Miller Swim School opened its location in the Jenks area.
The Jenks-area location is the second for the swim school. The first location was opened in 1995 on Mingo Rd. between 61st and 71st Streets.
The two facilities allow Miller Swim School to give swim lessons and teach water safety year-round.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the two locations, but Miller Swim School officials vow both facilities are on the path to not only getting back to where they were prior to the pandemic but continuing to grow.
Miller Swim School is one of the more popular swim schools in the state and this region of the country, but many people do not know the history of the school and how it was started.
Larry and Rita Miller moved to Tulsa in 1959. Larry was hired to be a football coach and teacher at Nathan Hale High School.
The couple already had two children and money was tight, so in his first summer in T-town, Larry picked up wood for $5 per hour.
It was the Miller’s second summer in Tulsa where their pool life would begin to take shape.
“I put my application in to manage a pool, Longview Pool, here in Tulsa,” Larry said. “I managed that pool and then I realized I could teach swimming. My wife and I began teaching swimming from 8 a.m. to noon on the days the pool was open, and we made some money.”
The following summer, Longview Pool asked the Millers to not come back with their brand-new swim school, but they did not let that stop them.
“They didn’t want that many people in the pool,” Larry said. “We then rented several pools from Tulsa Public Schools. We started with three pools and then eventually added a fourth. We hired schoolteachers and taught them how to teach swimming. We liked hiring schoolteachers because they have a passion for teaching. We had good people.”
The Millers would spend their summer days at the pools from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. They would do that for 35 years before Larry retired from Nathan High School at the age of 63.
It was at that time the Millers had decided to open the Mingo location Miller Swim School.
“I wrote a business plan and took it to BancFirst on 51st Street and they bought it,” Larry said. “We opened Oct. 4, 1995, which is not a good time to open a swim school. I had my wife, my youngest daughter, oldest daughter, and my son-in-law and the five of us did everything. We taught all the swimming, cleaned the building, we sold the product.”
Despite the excitement around the new facility, the start was not the easiest for the Miller family. In December of that year, Miller Swim School ran out of money.
Larry said after running the numbers, he determined it would take $25,000 to get the swim school through January. He said he believed if he could get Miller Swim School through the month of January, the business would begin to take off.
The Millers had previously purchased three lots of land on 71st Street in Tulsa. A former student of Larry’s at Nathan Hale High School owned a machine shop in the area and was interested in purchasing the land the Miller’s owned.
After a series of back-and-forth negotiation, the Millers sold those three lots for $25,000 on the dot.
“The good Lord was taking care of us,” Larry said. “That money got us around to January and from then on, we took off. We made hay in the summertime and struggled in the winter, but we kept pushing. A lot of people told me it won’t work, but I kept saying, yeah it will. I am very driven, but most of all, I have a wife that puts up with it. She is my right arm. We have been married 67 years.”
Larry said he doesn’t do it for the money, but instead he does it for the challenge and because he enjoys seeing children learn how to swim and learn water safety.
“We had 40 drownings across the state this year, which is horrible,” Larry said. “That is why we teach water safety. We want to teach kids how to get out of trouble.”
Sarah Clavin, who runs the Miller Swim School Jenks location, believed the Jenks-area would be a good fit when a second location was being discussed among the family.
Clavin wrote a business plan and presented it to the family and after crunching the numbers, Larry said he was sold on the Jenks-area location.
“There is a high expectation here in Jenks,” Larry said. “When those kids come to us, they are expected to swim and perform well. You get that in this type of environment here in Jenks. It is a great environment.”