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Buck Dawson Authors Award

2009 Robert E. Kerper, Jr. (USA)


Their art, planning and production plus aquatic history and trivia


Bob Kerper’s book, Splash! Aquatic Shows from A to Z is a treasured reference book for producers of aquatic shows, patrons of aquatic shows and swimming buffs in general. It is an overview of many of the major aquatic shows produced in the United States as well as a few shows overseas. He has taken ideas and concepts from most of the experts in the field based on their actual experiences as coaches, teachers and performers and placed them into one, easy-to-read source. For those interested in not only knowing what goes on behind the scenes of aquatic shows and exhibitions, but also how to produce these shows, this book provides useful information and tips from a host of knowledgeable and experienced people.


As a youngster, Kerper’s earliest recollection being on the pool deck, was to watch others perform. Whether it was laughing at divers doing some “crazy dives” from the boards or being engulfed in a professionally-cast water show, comedy and entertainment at poolside always brought a sense of fun, relaxation, laughter and total amazement. His interest in water shows spiraled when he attended the 1939 World’s Fair Billy Rose Aquacade in Flushing Meadow, New York, starring heroes JohnnyWeissmuller and Eleanor Holm. Two years later, he was producing his own water shows at the local pool in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was John Spannuth, his next-door neighbor for 30 years and childhood friend in West Reading, Pennsylvania, who encouraged Bob to organize and publish his thoughts in a written text. Splash contains three parts: Part One - a review of major professional and amateur water shows including those at high schools, colleges, YMCA’s, etc.; Part Two - a look at how to produce water shows with little experience; and Part Three - chapters on history, swimming around the world, military aquatics, aquatic personalities, etc.


Kerper is a two-time Pennsylvania State High School backstroke champion in 1941 and 1942, a national prep school champion at Mercersburg Academy in 1943 and a two-time MiddleAtlantic States Collegiate champion in the backstroke and individual medley at West Chester University. He is a 1985 “Distinguished Alumni” of West Chester University. As a U.S. Navy physical training instructor in World War II, Bob taught thousands of new recruits to swim and survive in the water. He worked with the American Red Cross and YMCA as instructor/trainer and coached swimming and taught classes at his alma mater, The Mercersburg Academy.


During the 1950’s he developed a series of water shows on the Schuylkill River and called them “The Rivercade”, for which he was named one of four “Outstanding Young Men” in Pennsylvania in 1955. He was a pioneer in the use of SCUBA in eastern Pennsylvania. He has been active in the YMCA for over 65 years and was a member of the National YMCABoard of Directors for six years. He was also founder and general manager of Reading’s largest summertime event, “Scenic River Days”, for eight years, presenting shows attracting up to 100,000 people in a five-day period.

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