Virgina May Enos, Grant 1950

Virginia May EnosVirginia May Enos

Virgina May Enos, Grant 1950

August 2022 ~

Virginia May Enos (Grant, 1950) bursts out in a hearty laugh when asked for details of her early life and days as a star swimmer for Grant High.

“I’m 90 years old. I’ll try to remember,” she says by phone from her home near the Pacific Ocean in Honolulu.

The highlights of her girlhood successes are in the record books, though, as needed for reference. They include:

  • Three swimming letters for Grant
  • State champion in the 100-yard backstroke as a junior in 1948
  • State champion in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1949
  • State champ on the 150-yard medley relay team in 1949
  • A key member of Grant’s 1949 girls swimming state championship team

What does she recall about those races?

“I just remember that I was trying really, really hard,” she says.

After graduating from Grant in 1950, young Virginia May was off to the University of Washington and University of Hawaii – but not to swim for those schools. In those days, the colleges did not have women’s swimming.

She chose UW because it gave her proximity to the club swim team at Washington Athletic Club.

A couple of years later, she went to Hawaii for a year to swim club as well, this time under a legendary coach, Soichi Sakamoto, now a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

She’s always loved to be in the water.

“Oh, yes. I should have been born a frog,” she says.

Ginny, as she has always been called, last competed at age 69, when she placed fourth nationally in her Masters age-group backstroke.

“My mother never could swim, but I loved it,” she says. “She took me to the YMCA when I was 5 for swimming lessons so that when we would spend summers in Washougal, Washington with my grandmother, I could swim in the Columbia River.

“My mother would sit on the shore and just shake because I was swimming all over the place. She was afraid I would drown.”

Having the opportunity to swim so early and so much was just one of many life events that seem like they were destined to happen to her – those times when one thing led to another and she seemed to be in the right place at the right time to meet the right people.

For example, she was born in Spokane and given up for adoption. But the doctor who delivered her soon became her father.

“He and his wife couldn’t have children,” Enos says. “He knew all about my birth parents. When I was nine months old, he asked my birth mother, ‘Would you mind if I went up to the orphanage and adopted your daughter?’”

The new three-member family later moved to Portland in time for Enos to enter the first grade at Irvington Elementary.

When Ginny got to Grant, she learned that the high school had a girls swimming team. She was very interested.

The Generals swam at Buckman Pool, as she recalls, and through workouts and meets with the high school team she caught the eye of a Buckman lifeguard who was going to swim for a local AAU team, the Portland Athletic Club.

“The lifeguard saw how interested I was in swimming, and she told me there was a fellow who had just retired from the Navy and was trying to round up an AAU team for the offseason, outside the high-school season,” Enos said.

Ginny jumped at that chance.

“I always enjoyed competing,” she says.

Enos, who lived at Northeast 12th Avenue and Brazee Street, would take a bus to Buckman on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for 5 p.m. practices, then take the bus home.

She remembers Grant as a “great” school and “wonderful” time in her life.

“I’m a very proud Grantonian,” she says. “We had good teachers and a good social life with the school clubs. It was a very friendly school. I ran around with this gang of girls, and we all tried to do things for the school. We had service clubs and sold cookies at lunch time to make money for improvements for the school.”

Grant won the state football title in 1949 and 1950, and she remembers that “a gang of us would ride the bus downtown to the stadium at the end of the season for those games. Going to the football games was great fun.”

If memory serves, the Grant girls swim team had about seven members. In addition to being on the ‘49 state championship squad, she swam for the 1948 team that placed second, just one point behind Lincoln in the first Oregon School Activities Association state meet for girls.

And the Grant girls finished second by one point again in 1950, this time to West Linn.

All state meets from 1948-58 took place at Leighton Pool on the University of Oregon campus.

Enos was a backstroker who also swam a lot of the 100 and 200 breaststroke and the individual medley, which consisted of three strokes instead of four at the time, before the butterfly was added.

“I don’t know how I got into the backstroke, I was just more comfortable doing it,” she says. “In the medley, I felt I could hold my own on the breaststroke, get ahead on the backstroke, and then it was a race to the finish in the freestyle.”

One of her Grant teammates was Judy Cornell, who was one year younger. Cornell won the state high school championship in the 1949 100-yard backstroke.

“The Multnomah Athletic Club picked her up right away,” Enos says.

Cornell went on to be a national breaststroke champion and Olympian in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Cornell was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2001; Enos entered in 2012.

Enos did not compete in other sports.

“No, because I loved swimming so much,” she says. “Even during the offseason, I was swimming for the AAU team. I remember we would go to Jantzen Beach, where they had this beautiful swimming complex with a 50-yard, eight-lane competitive pool.”

Individual races she doesn’t remember well, though she recalls one relay in Seattle where she stayed right with a Stanford swimmer who was the national backstroke champion.

Ginny came back to UW to finish her education in 1954, then spent that summer as a lifeguard.

“I wanted to earn enough money to go back to Hawaii,” she says.

She returned to Oahu in the fall of ‘54.

“The day after I arrived, I went to Waikiki Beach and ran into some friends,” she says. “One of them said, ‘I want you to go on a blind date with a friend. He’ll call you tonight.’”

The phone rang, and it was Edward Enos, a native of Honolulu who was about eight years older than Ginny.

They went to the Honolulu Airport.

“The thing to do in those days was to go up to the second-floor lounge and watch the planes coming in,” she says.

Sounds romantic.

She married him four months later.

“I knew on that very first date that he was the one,” she says. “He told me he knew, too. It was love at first sight.”

Why did she have this sudden knowing?

“He was very good-looking,” she says with another one of her many easy, comfortable laughs. “Half-Hawaiian, part Japanese, part Portuguese.”

Edward was a fireman who became a captain and had a long, successful career.

The newly married couple moved in with his mother, two sisters and two nephews.

“All of us were in a three-bedroom house for five years,” she says.

Ginny and Edward saved the money for a down payment on their own place at Ewa Beach, about the time the sisters got married.

Ginny and Edward had four children, starting with boys Eugene, James and Ed Jr., and ending with daughter Nancy, now 56.

Eugene lives in the Eugene area, though the city that is home to the University of Oregon had nothing to do with the selection of his first name.

“Not at all. My husband used to call me Jeannie instead of Ginny, so we got Eugene from that,” Enos said.

When she attended Washington, Ginny wanted to study premed and become a doctor.

“My father didn’t like that idea,” she says. “He said he wouldn’t pay for medical school. Probably he was a little concerned about the challenge of the work and the lifestyle – and probably he was a little bit prejudiced against woman doctors.

“But when I met my husband, that was that, I had no thoughts of a professional life.”

As a young woman in Honolulu, she got to know a lot of the local surfers.

“I’d ask to ride with them on their board,” she says. “Sometimes I’d surf myself, but I preferred swimming.”

Later in life, she played a lot of tennis.

“My husband and I won a coed doubles tournament (for seniors) in Las Vegas,” she ways.

Ginny and Edward lived there for a time, but they moved back to Oahu around 2016, and he died in Honolulu in 2018 at age 94.

Today, Ginny likes to exercise in the pool at her condo, and watch sports on TV.

“Anything sports I watch,” she says. “Right now, I’m watching a tennis match in Europe. Somebody from England is playing somebody from Germany.”

She’s always loved being on the island.

“Hawaii has warm weather and the water – my two favorite things,” she says. “I live one block from the ocean, on the 18th floor with a deck where I can sit and watch the Honolulu harbor. It’s gorgeous.”

 – – – 
~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)


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