Wilmington pool named after Joe Biden [video]

 Former Vice President Joe Biden received a portrait of his late son Beau Biden during a ceremony at a Wilmington pool. (Bria Ashley Parker/for NewsWorks)

Former Vice President Joe Biden received a portrait of his late son Beau Biden during a ceremony at a Wilmington pool. (Bria Ashley Parker/for NewsWorks)

A Wilmington pool was named after former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.

A crowd of kids in bathing suits and their parents huddled around former Vice President Joe Biden as he climbed the steps of a lifeguard chair, and looked out at the blue pool of water below.

Minutes earlier he reminisced about his youth, working as a lifeguard at the same pool. All these years later, Biden returned to participate in a ceremony in his honor.

On Monday, the city of Wilmington hosted the unveiling ceremony to name the pool at Brown Burton Winchester Park the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Aquatic Center.

“I know, Joe, it’s not the Medal of Freedom, but for people around here it means every bit as much, if not more, because it’s a gesture steeped in personal relationships and love,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki, D-Wilmington.

During the event, Biden said his experience working there impacted his life significantly. He said he learned a lot about racial inequality during that time, which influenced his passion for civil rights issues.

“I owe you all, I owe this neighborhood, I learned so, so much,” Biden said.

“I wanted to get more involved, I lived in a neighborhood where I turned on the television and I’d see and listen to Dr. King and others, but I didn’t know any black people. I came down and applied to the city of Wilmington for a job, and I was the only white employee here and I learned so much.”

During the ceremony, former NAACP leader Richard “Mouse” Smith, who swam at the pool when Biden was a lifeguard, spoke about Biden’s influence on Wilmington. He said Biden also inspired him to stay on the right track.

“With Joe’s help as a public defender, as a county councilman, as a person who wasn’t scared to walk the community, this pool changed. When Joe came here it changed,” Smith said.

Several city and state political leaders also attended the ceremony.

“Naming this facility after our former vice president is a message to these young people across our state and city about what Joe stood for and continues to stand for,” said Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor our Joe Biden than to name this pool, which meant so much to him, which inspired him in a way to change our country. Joe’s commitment to civil rights and changing our country and state started here with his employment as a lifeguard at this pool.”

Biden told several stories about his time working at the pool. He said he was shocked when a co-worker asked for a can of gas for a journey because gas stations didn’t serve African Americans. Biden said hearing these stories shaped his social and political views.

He and others shared a story about a gang leader who gave him trouble at the pool. Biden had reprimanded him for bouncing on the diving board—but he also called him Hollywood swimmer “Esther Williams.”

After the gang leader threatened to handle the situation “out front,” the city mechanic cut off a chain for Biden to protect himself on his way to his car.

Biden said when he walked to his car, he told the gang leader he stands by kicking him off the diving board, but apologized for the Esther Williams comment.

“He wasn’t afraid to be the only white lifeguard here, he wasn’t afraid to step out of his comfort zone and get to know other people and know about other cultures, but also wasn’t a person to step back, he never shied away, and that’s what he did with us in all the different positions he’s had,” said Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware. “This pool is really representative of this man. A lot of times we name things to remember them, but this pool acts as an inspiration to us.”

At the end of the event, Biden held back tears as he received a portrait of his late son Beau Biden. Artist Kevin Perkins of Bear, who also owns Ink Envy tattoo shop with his wife, was commissioned to paint the portrait.

“I never met the Bidens, but Beau Biden died from cancer and my father died from cancer a couple years back, so I took a lot of passion to this piece of art I created,” he said.

A small plaque in Biden’s name also was attached to a lifeguard chair at the pool.

“You’ve always had my back, the neighborhood has always had my back, and God willing, I’ve always had your back, and I will as long as I’m around,” Biden said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.