Endowment Established to Name Kelsey Partridge Bird Natatorium

By Kyle Hornyak, December 3, 2018
Lee ’86 and Linda ’86 Bird honor daughter by creating fund to support costs of indoor pool and facilities.
The Bird family at the ribbon cutting for the Kelsey Partridge Bird Natatorium

(From left) Women's Swim Coach Paula Miller, President Shirley M. Collado, Ashley Bird, Lee Bird '86, Linda Bird '86, Haley Bird, IC's Director of Athletics Susan Bassett '79, and Men's Swim Coach Kevin Markwardt.

(Photo by Sheryl SInkow)

A newly created endowment to Ithaca College’s natatorium in the Athletics and Events Center will sustain the pool’s operational costs for generations of IC and Ithaca community members to enjoy. The Kelsey Partridge Bird Natatorium, named in honor of Kelsey Partridge Bird, daughter of alumni donors Lee ‘86 and Linda ‘86 Bird, was dedicated on Saturday, December 1, during the Bomber Invitational.

“The Athletics and Events Center and natatorium are exceptional resources for our community, with the pool in particular serving as one of the best facilities in the Northeast,” shared Susan Bassett ‘79, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports. “The Kelsey Partridge Bird Natatorium is the first IC facility to benefit from an endowment that will help keep it in top operational condition; this is a truly transformative gift, and our community is deeply grateful to the Bird family for their generosity.”

Lee Bird, an All-American swimmer while at IC, met his wife, Linda, through their high school swim team. Both Lee and Linda graduated from IC’s School of Business. Active in the college community as an undergrad, Lee has maintained his ties to IC since graduating. “During my career journey, I’ve stayed close to my business school professors and my swim coaches who still coach at IC,” Lee says. “When you have those unique friendships, you stay close to the school that way.” Lee has served as a distinguished executive lecturer in the School of Business, and among other appointments served on the Athletics and Events Center National Committee during the facility’s construction from 2009-2011.

“Linda and I wanted to contribute to the naming of the pool because we love IC’s swim program,” Lee says. “IC has the coaches and facilities that provide the best environment for top performance. The program needs a great facility to be a truly top-flight swim program.”

Remembering Kelsey

The Birds’ gift to name the natatorium is not their only contribution to the facility within the Athletics and Events Center, however.  In 2009, the Birds made a gift to name the warming pool housed within the facility. As with the natatorium, the warming pool, known as Kelsey’s Pool, is named after Kelsey Partridge Bird, Lee and Linda’s third child of eight, who was born with a heart condition and lived 13 days.

“We wanted Kelsey to be remembered here on earth and find a way to perpetuate her name,” Lee says. “Those 13 days changed our whole perspective on life, love and community; that’s why we decided to name the warming pool after her.”

Linda says, “Our thinking was because Kelsey isn’t here to experience key moments in life like going off to college, naming the warming pool after her was a perfect opportunity to remember her.” Today, swimmers and divers routinely recharge in Kelsey’s Pool.

Signage that reads Kelsey Partridge Bird Natatorium over swimmers in the pool

The natatorium was dedicated during the Bomber Invitational swim meet on Dec. 1.

(Photo by Sheryl Sinkow/Ithaca College)

Multiple Uses for Pool

While the college’s swimming and diving teams make the most use of the facility’s Olympic-size indoor pool, IC’s track and field team also uses the pool for low-impact resistance training. Additionally, the natatorium is used by athletic trainers to support the rehabilitation of IC’s student-athletes.

Paula Miller and Kevin Markwardt respectively serve as head coaches of IC Women’s and Men’s Swimming and Diving programs. Both Miller and Markwardt coached Lee during his time as a student, and have remained close to the Birds over the years. “Lee and Linda are just wonderful; we’re so thankful to them for their generosity that will allow us to keep our facility looking brand-new and in top condition,” Miller says. “This gift leaves a huge and lasting legacy for future generations of IC athletes and all members of the Ithaca community.”

Along with athletics, the natatorium’s uses extend to academics, as well. Faculty and students from various departments, including the departments of gerontology, recreation and leisure studies, and health promotion and physical education, regularly collaborate in the facility.

Joanie Groome, lecturer in the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, currently serves as instructor for courses in Understanding Disability and Adapted Physical Education. Both courses utilize the pool and focus on working with young people with disabilities. Joanie shares, “I’ve been teaching these courses for a number of years, and it was so exciting to learn that the new pool would have a feature that adjusts the level of the pool’s floor. Students work with preschoolers in the Understanding Disability course. Because the water depth can be adjusted, even the kids who can swim more freely won’t be in water that’s over their heads, so that students have to hold them up the entire class. It’s just an amazing facility.”

A student with a child in the pool

An IC student works with a child in the pool. 

(Photo submitted)

A Lasting Impact on the Community

After their first gift to the natatorium resulted in the naming of Kelsey’s Pool, the Birds began thinking of ways to make an even greater impact on the IC and Ithaca communities. “When we started talking more seriously about making a gift to name the natatorium, we were really looking for something that would have a lasting effect on IC,” Lee says. “The turning point was realizing how much the pool benefits not only the IC community, but also the community at large.”

The Ithaca community can take advantage of this incredible facility through open swim opportunities, swimming lessons for adults and children, and lifeguard training and scuba certification. The pool also hosts numerous regional and state high school swim meets each year, and in 2014 served as the venue for an American Heart Association Fundraising event.

Joanie Groome also points out that, although the Ithaca community is located close to a huge body of water (Cayuga Lake), not all local children have the option to go swimming. “We’re able to start teaching introductory swimming skills at a young age in this amazing facility, and it’s always very exciting for the kids to come to Ithaca College.”

Lee and Linda are humble about their contributions to the Ithaca College and surrounding community, with Lee sharing, “We’ve simply tried to give back along the way.” As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lee and Linda say they are guided and sustained by their faith and their family. “We’ve been blessed with 32 years of a wonderful marriage and amazing children,” Lee says, “and the 13 days of Kelsey’s life taught us to be thankful for the moments we have, and that we should always remember those who have left us.”

This video shows the Kelsey Partridge Bird Natatorium being used by several different community members.