April 09, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A fund drive is being launched to keep a popular La Grande School District swim program from sinking.

The school districts May swim program for third-graders is in jeopardy because of district spending reductions. The program provides third-graders with 30-minute swim lessons daily for two weeks at Veterans Memorial Pool.

The program has been in place for three years but may be canceled this year because of its $4,500 expense.

Di Lyn Larsen-Hill, a member of the La Grande Soroptimist Clubs board, is leading an effort to keep the program alive.

Larsen-Hill is launching a drive to raise enough money to fund the program this year. She believes the program is critical because many children learn how to swim through it and water safety instruction is taught. Larsen-Hill noted that several young people in the region have drowned in recent years. She believes the program can reduce the likelihood of similar tragedies in the future.

The Soroptimists have donated $250 to the program each year since it started in 1999. The club has budgeted $250 for the program this year. Larsen-Hill is encouraging the club to boost its donation to $1,000.

The Soroptimist Club makes its donations in memory of Margaret Morris, who was an Eastern Oregon University physical education professor.

Morris taught at Eastern from 1947 through the late 1960s. A long-time Soroptimist Club member, she was a dedicated swimmer who swam at Easterns pool regularly.

Morris was a strong advocate of swim programs for children, Larsen-Hill said.

Larsen-Hill is challenging other service clubs to match or exceed the Soroptimists donation to the swim program. She has sent letters to other clubs in La Grande asking for their help.

The money must be raised by the end of the month to allow the program to continue in May, said Ron Perkins, assistant to the city manager.

If enough money is raised, the school district might be able to provide some funding, said Jay Rowell, the districts personnel and curriculum director.

I think that it is a great program, he said.

Rowell said the district will budget for the program next year.

There originally was funding for the program in this years budget. It was cut because of a spending freeze that took effect this winter.

Anyone who would like to donate to the program should call Larsen-Hill at 963-3104.