“There were no lanes marked off, and we didn’t have starting blocks,” Mr. Rowan recalled in a 1984 Inquirer interview. “When we made our turns, the swimmers often slammed into each other. . . . Some of them would be all over the place.”
In the decades that followed, Mr. Rowan logged literally thousands of miles in the water and competed – very successfully – at the high school, college and masters’ levels.
At West Catholic High School, he was undefeated in four years of competition in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle.
From 1932 to 1934, he won the 3 1/2-mile George Pawling Trophy Race on the Schuylkill, earning the title “King of the Schuylkill.” In 1935, he became the first Philadelphian to win the three-mile President’s Cup championship on the Potomac River in Washington.
At Rider College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1938 while on a swimming scholarship, he won all but one race in four years of competition.
Overall, Mr. Rowan held every Middle-Atlantic AAU record from the 50 to the 1,500 during the 1930s and was named the best long-distance swimmer in the East by the AAU.
Mr. Rowan was teaching in Washington, N.J., when he enlisted in the Army in 1941. He served in Europe and saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge. He went on to assist in the development of the Army Combat Survival Swimming Program.
He remained in the Army Reserve and became a training officer with the Signal Corps. He retired from the Reserve as a lieutenant colonel in 1972.
At that point, he resumed competitive swimming in the AAU and U.S. Masters programs. All told, he won 42 national AAU and masters’ age-group titles, setting 26 U.S. and six world records.
Fit and trim, he continued to swim competitively until the late 1980s.
His on-land activities included serving as a judge of elections in Drexel Hill for 10 years. He was commander of American Legion Post 716 and vice commander of Catholic War Veterans Post 731.
Mr. Rowan is survived by his wife of 62 years, Anne; daughters Kathleen Mahoney and Carol Reilly; sons John, David Jr. and Dennis; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A viewing will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. today at Ruffenach Funeral Home, Township Line and Burmont Roads in Drexel Hill. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Dorothy Catholic Church, Township Line and Burmont Roads. Burial will be in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township.
He was a swimming counselor in the 1930s for 6 years