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Push For Swimming Safety Has Special Meaning For Stew Leonard

Stew Leonard Jr. (center), his wife Kim (left of center) and children have raised more than $2 million for swimming education.
Stew Leonard Jr. (center), his wife Kim (left of center) and children have raised more than $2 million for swimming education. Photo Credit: Contributed

NORWALK, Conn. -- For the last 25 years, Stew Leonard Jr. and his family have never forgotten about water safety -- and they won't let you forget, either.

The supermarket mogul who owns four massive stores -- including one in Norwalk where his company is headquartered and one in Danbury -- lost his 21-month-old son Stewie to an accidental drowning in 1989.

After the accident, Leonard and his wife, Kim, decided to use everything in their power to make sure no parent would have to go through the same heartbreak. As of 2014, they have raised $2 million for their charitable work on water safety.

"My wife and I are fanatical about parents and grandparents being aware of their children's water safety," Leonard said. "You need to keep your eyes on your children 100 percent of the time, not 99.9 percent."

Leonard and his wife launched the "Stewie the Duck," campaign, which features a little duck named after their late son, who must learn water safety before swimming with the other ducks.

The campaign has its own book, merchandise, smartphone app and even its own jingle, set to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

"Don't jump in until you learn to swim," Leonard sang.

"Stewie the Duck" teaches parents and their children three important swimming safety rules, corroborated by the American Red Cross: "Don't go near the water without an adult," "Always use a flotation device," and "Take swimming lessons."

Since the Leonard family founded the organization, it has helped fund 30,000 swimming lessons throughout eight YMCAs in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

"For just $100, you can sponsor an underprivileged child who many never get to go near the water for 10 swimming lessons," he said.

According to Leonard, Stewie the Duck has traveled well beyond the tri-state area, making it as far as Florida, California, Australia, England and even Singapore through book and app sales.

Firefighters in California were able to reduce their area's yearly drowning deaths from eight to zero with Stewie's help.

"We are just thrilled the message is getting out," he said.

Leonard and his wife are firm believers in using personal tragedy to help others. Over the years, they have worked with parents who have lost their children, most notably those affected by the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre.

"Helping others has been incredibly therapeutic for my wife and I. We hope other people who have lost children can do the same," he said.

For more information on Leonard's campaign for water safety, visit the website here.


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