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Stories From Main Street: Stew Leonard Family Turns Tragedy Into Mission For Water Safety

The book "Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim" helps teach kids about water safety. (credit: Sean Adams/WCBS 880)

The book “Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim” helps teach kids about water safety. (credit: Sean Adams/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Summertime water safety is a serious matter for Stew Leonard, Jr. and his family, who have turned their personal loss into something positive.

Most people know Stew Leonard from his family’s down-home supermarkets but he’s also an advocate for water safety, having lost a son, 21-month-old Stew Leonard III, to an accidental drowning in 1989.

Leonard and his wife Kim each thought the other one was watching the child.

“I thought my son was with her and she thought he was with me and by the time we connected and just minutes passed, we looked down the bottom of the pool and there he was,” Leonard told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.

Listen: Stories From Main Street

main street Stories From Main Street: Stew Leonard Family Turns Tragedy Into Mission For Water Safety
Sean Adams reports

The Leonards started a foundation in their son’s memory and have raised more than $2 million for swimming classes and lifeguard training.

“Right now, we’re so happy it’s over 200,000 lessons for underprivileged kids,” he said.

They’ve also written a book called “Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim.” In the story, Stewie the duck has to learn three rules before he enters the water.

“You have to wear a life vest, you have to take some swimming lessons and the third thing is an adult always has to be watching around the water,” said Leonard.

But Leonard says he has a message for parents too.

“There’s a difference between being around the water with them and watching while they’re around the water,” he said. “So that’s our message so much this summer — keep your eyes glued on your child.”

If they can save a child and spare parents agony,  the Leonards feel a measure of comfort.

“It’s almost therapeutic in a way for my wife and I just to be able to put our head on the pillow at night and say, ‘yes, we did lose our child to a drowning, but look at all the people we’re helping,'” he said.

For more information, visit www.stewietheduck.com.

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