Frank Piemme. Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive
Piemme is a product of his environment: as tough as the rattlesnakes he collected in his youth, as tireless as his homesteader father, as curious as his professors at Cal Tech and Berkeley, as meticulous as a professional engineer.
Frank Piemme is a native Californian, born in San Bernadino, January 8, 1925. He was raised in the, then, frontier San Joaquin Valley where he learned to swim in the Feather River. He collected rattlers on the family homestead on the Sutter Buttes and graduated from Taft High School in oil country, Kern County.
It was at Taft High where Frank, intending to be a diver, was persuaded by swimming Coach Zecher, to try swimming, at least beforeWorld War II curtailed high school sports.
Graduating in 1943, Frank Piemme headed south to Cal Tech in Pasadena where he swam a half-season in 1945 in the Navy at Treasure Island. The next year he got in another half-season in the 50 and 100 free and relays. Piemme considered anything longer a distance event.
After discharge from the Navy in 1946, the young Vet went back to the oil field near Taft where he met his wife, Connie, a nurse. They married in 1949. Returning to college at the University of California, he gave no thought to swimming as he worked toward his degree in mechanical engineering.
Frank Piemme. Photo Courtesy: Bill Morson
Frank worked as an engineer for 26 years for John-Manville Corporation, interrupted only by five years with Lockheed and North American-Rockwell. Most of his working years were spent in Lompoc, on California’s scenic central coast. He retired in 1982 after spending his last nine years at Johns-Manville Headquarters in Denver. It was in Denver while assigned to the J-M Headquarters that Frank joined the Engelmeisters Swim Team in 1980 as a way to lose weight. He realized what he had been missing since 1946.
By 1984, Frank Piemme ranked fifth nationally in the 55-59 age group in the one-hour postal and his Masters swimming career was launched.
To date, this Lompac, California resident has set 49 Masters World Records. He has 133 number one, 57 number two and 33 number three world rankings since 1986, at one time holding all the freestyle number one rankings from 50m to 1500m in his age group.
This tough competitor served as president of the Y.M.C.A. and of the Lompoc Toastmasters. He served as counselor for Junior Achievement, a docent for the La Purisima Mission, and a volunteer for Christmas Cheer.
Masters Hall of Fame swimmer Jurgen Schmidt wrote to the Swimming Hall of Fame:
My best friend Frank Piemme passed away on Thursday. He was 95 and inducted into the masters hall of fame back in 2004 in the 1st group. He passed away peacefully with his wife Connie and daughter Carol by his side. Frank, Graham, and I were the best of friend for decades. Frank was my inspiration in swimming and life.