Naperville recognizes its first female lifeguard

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (WLS) -- A Naperville woman was recognized for being the first female lifeguard in that suburb. The award was 75 years in the making.

Marge Wehrli Walsh is celebrating her 95th birthday this year. But ask her about life guarding at Centennial Beach in 1942, and she remembers it like yesterday.

It was the middle of World War II and the Centennial Beach in Naperville needed protecting.

"It was during the war, see. Of course the lifeguard was always a guy and they were being called into the service," Walsh said.

Walsh thought: "I could do that." So she applied, taking on the physical demands of deep water training and completing her Red Cross certification.

She stood guard from 1942 to 1945 and was one of the first females to take on that role.

"The guys all had the brawn, they were 'grrr,'" Walsh said. "But you had to be able to handle people. That was the most important part."

Naperville marked the beach's 85th year Thursday night by erecting a memorial for Walsh. A white and red Adirondack chair now sits in the sand with Walsh's name inscribed on the bottom.

"They said, 'Now this is Marge's chair, don't let anybody take it.' So I got one all by myself with my name on it now," she said.

Walsh said she saved several people from drowning when she was a lifeguard. She still likes heading down to Centennial Beach when the weather is nice and in the summer she swims laps. She lives only two blocks away.

Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.