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Doris Dannenhirsch Beshunsky, 92, Competitive Swimmer and Coach

May 1, 2008
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Doris Beshunsky

Doris Dannenhirsch Beshunsky, 92, a competitive swimmer and coach, died March 30.

Beshunsky began her competitive swimming career in Rhode Island, capturing titles in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, and also the 100-meter breaststroke, at the New England Junior and Senior Swimming Championships. In 1935, she traveled to Israel (then Palestine) as part of the U.S. team in the second Maccabiah Games.

From 1939-42, Beshunsky and three of her teammates comprised the "Formation Swimmers." They delighted thousands of viewers attending sportsmen shows in cities such as Boston; Providence, R.I.; Cleveland; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh with their water-ballet presentations. This group was recognized as one of the pioneers and forerunners in what today is known as synchronized swimming, now an Olympic sport.

Beshunsky entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1943 and formed one of the nation's first synchronized swimming clubs, the Pennguinettes, in 1946. Beshunsky graduated from Penn with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1947, and stayed on at the university to earn her master's degree in education and to coach swimming.

From 1947-54, her teaching career spanned the field of aquatics and golf. She coached Penn's varsity and junior varsity swimming teams, while also teaching courses in swimming techniques to the physical-education majors, as well as golf. The Pennguinettes went from eight participants at its infancy to 51 student athletes by the 1950s.

In 1955, the Pennguinettes helped found the Association for Synchronized Swimming for college women. The Penn group was a charter member of the organization and took part in many of its conferences. Beshunsky remained with the university as the director of the Pennguinettes until her retirement in 1977.

Throughout those years, she put together 25 consecutive water shows, both on and off campus. She also served as a member of the Academy of Aquatic Art, secretary of the Executive Examining Committee, and as a judge and referee for swimming and diving competitions.

From 1982-83, she sat on the University of Pennsylvania Athletic Advisory Council and the National Board of the United States Committee Sports for Israel. In recognition for her service, achievement and contributions through aquatics, Beshunsky was inducted into the Rhode Island Aquatic Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Swimming Hall of Fame in 1984.

She was also inducted into the Rhode Island Jewish Hall of Fame as its first female mem- ber in 1975. Following this honor, she was inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and the University of Pennsylvania Athletic Hall of Fame in November 2000.

Beshunsky was a member of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Women of Vision and of Women's Philanthropy. She was also a board member of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives and the Hebrew Benevolent Ladies Association, and a national board member of the U.S. Committee Sports for Israel.

During her career, she collected nearly 500 swimming/ aquatic-related cartoons and, in 1994, her collection was donated to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Beshunsky is survived by her husband, Sidney Beshunsky; daughter Etta Miller; sons Stan Bush and David Beshunsky; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her first husband, Morton J. Dannenhirsch, in 1980.

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