Longtime YMCA Swimming Official Don Varner Dies at the Age of 91

Longtime YMCA Swimming official Don “Donnie” Varner died on May 22 at the age of 91.

The Elton, PA native served the YMCA community for more than 40 years. Most recently, he was affiliated with the Greater Johnstown YMCA, where his daughter was the former head coach and two of his grandsons swam as members of the GJY Mavericks.

As an official, Varner spent many weekends working on the pool deck, and always made it to Fort Lauderdale for the YMCA National Championships.

He was a clinic instructor for over 25 years, training hundreds of YMCA officials. Additionally, he served as the Director of officials for 13 years and was on the YMCA Advisory Committee for 22 years.

As a swimmer himself, Varner held several national age group records and maintained a spot in the top 16 national age group rankings.

After his age group career, Varner served as a member of the US Army in the Korean War and earned an honorable discharge as a Sargent.

In 1989, he was awarded the Conrad “Connie” Carroll Award, which is given to someone who “best represents the ideals of a YMCA Swimming Official and the example set by Connie Carrol”. Additionally, he received the Joseph G. Rodgers Award at YMCA Short Course Nationals in 2002, given “For Dedication, Accomplishments and Excellence in YMCA Competitive Swimming and Diving.”

Speaking to Varner’s impact on the YMCA community, fellow official and close friend of his
Jack Ver Helst recalled, “Don and I worked many YMCA National Swim Championship together. I have many fond memories of Don and his wife Barb. Don will be missed very much.”

Press Release courtesy of Greg Eggert:

Don Varner, dedicated YMCA swimming official leaves the pool deck at age 91.

Don Varner of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was a fixture on the pool deck of the YMCA Swimming National Championships for many years. Scores of western Pennsylvania swimmers, a legion of coaches and all of his fellow YMCA officials will recall his friendly smile and remember his diligent service at the highest level of YMCA swimming competition. Don was always on hand when the YMCA Swimming & Diving Championships were held in Fort Lauderdale. For every week in Florida sun (and rain), there were likely 25 or more other weekends that he spent on the Pennsylvania pool decks officiating dual meets, invitationals, league and regional championships.

Don was a member of the National YMCA Advisory Committee for 22 years and served as the Director of Officials for 13 years. He served as a YMCA clinic instructor for over 25 years and has trained hundreds of YMCA swimming officials nationwide. In 1989 Don was honored by his peers with the Conrad “Connie” Carroll Award as the person who best represents the ideals of a YMCA Swimming Official. He also served as the YMCA representative on the USA Swimming Rules committee for more than a decade.

Jack Ver Helst, a close friend and veteran swimming official recalled, “Don and I worked many YMCA National Swim Championship together. I have many fond memories of Don and his wife Barb. Don will be missed very much.”

Don was the recipient of the Joseph G. Rogers Award which recognizes dedication, accomplishment and excellence in YMCA Competitive Swimming and Diving. The Joseph G. Rogers Award statue is permanently location in the museum of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A replica of the statue was presented to Don at the awards ceremony, attended by many family members, held in conjunction with the 2002 National YMCA Short Course Swimming Championships at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.

Don dedicated his life as a YMCA, high school and NCAA collegiate swimming official, locally and nationally. He was affiliated with the Greater Johnstown YMCA where his daughter Sheri once served as the swimming coach and where two of his grandsons were members of the YMCA swim team. Varner was so proud of his hometown, best known for the devastating Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 that his email address included: “floodcity.net”

Don served his country in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was honorably discharged as a Sergeant. He had a lifetime career with A&P Grocery as a Store Manager and District Manager in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Don was born on July 19, 1928 in Elton, Pennsylvania and passed away on May 22, 2020. Don and his wife, Barbara (Deitke) celebrated 65 wonderful years of marriage on August 7. He is also survived by two daughters, Debbie Gorzelsky, and her husband Bill; and Sherri Kofmehl and her husband Paul.

Remembering Don are the pride of his life, his five grandsons: Craig Gorzelsky and wife Sarah; Brett Gorzelsky and wife, Jenn; Scott Gorzelsky and wife Sarah; Jason Kofmehl and wife, Megan; and Jonathan Kofmehl and his significant other, Kelsey Preston. Don had four great-grandchildren, Luke and Max Gorzelsky; and Jacob and Macey Kofmehl.

Don enjoyed many hours on his fishing boat, often with friends from the Allegheny Mountain Bass Anglers Club. He loved to spend time camping at Lake Raystown with “Barbie” and his family. Don enjoyed watching the Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers and Penguins. “Donnie” was dedicated to his family and loved anytime the gang was together. He was long time member of Beulah United Methodist Church.

A Memorial Service will be held at a later date. Military rites will be conducted by Menoher Post #155 VFW Ritual Team. The family suggests contributions be directed to Alzheimer’s Association, 1086 Franklin Street, Johnstown, PA 15905 or Beulah United Methodist Church, 716 Bedford Street, Johnstown, PA 15902 in memory of Don.

Online condolences may be posted to www.wharrisfuneralhome.com

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