This summer has been a homecoming for J.R. Killigrew, and his home is very glad he came. The Wellesley High alumnus, a familiar sight on the Morses Pond beach during the mid- and late-'90s, when he was a student working as a lifeguard, is back after a decade-long hiatus, now the Recreation Department's director of swim lessons.
"It was weird coming down the main street," Killigrew said of his return to Wellesley. "I hadn't been here in like 11 years."
Though he's a Wellesley native, Killigrew – 30, laid-back, blond-haired – looks more West Coast than Northeast, so it's unsurprising that when he left for Pitzer College near Los Angeles, he found his new locale to be "more (his) pace." Besides a three-year stint in Miami, Killigrew has been an L.A. guy since he enrolled at Pitzer in 1998. Even his career path – more time spent in acting and filmmaking than in economics, his major – has been Hollywoodesque.
But, ironically, it was a movie pursuit that brought him back to the Boston area.
"I was writing a film that takes place here, but it didn't pan out," Killigrew explained.
So in April, he called old friend Jan Kaseta, Wellesley's recreation director, and inquired about a job on the beach he had guarded many summers before.
"I'm so glad to have him," Kaseta said. "It's great to have someone his age in charge. We get no complaints from parents, nobody saying, 'My kid isn't learning anything.'"
To say Killigrew simply slid back into his old role would be unjust. He's codified a swimming curriculum that he described as "iffy at best." He balances organization and flexibility, grouping children by age and ability but allowing swimmers to spend more time with the instructors to whom they gravitate naturally.
"My goal is to help kids develop a love of the water," Killigrew said. "We've had kids who wouldn't even go in the water, and now they're swimming."
Of course, like his old summer job, this one will end with the season. Killigrew isn't sure what he'll do next, but he refuses to stress, preferring to enjoy a few more weeks of his unexpected homecoming.
"Right now, I'm just taking things day by day," he said, smiling.