George Wendt (Big Shoulder Lake Michigan Swim/Facebook/Eric Johnson)

George Wendt, a beloved Fenwick High School teacher and legendary Chicago swimmer, died after drowning in Lake Michigan Sept. 11 during the 30th annual Big Shoulders Open Water Classic.

Wendt, a 73-year-old from River Forest, was found “unresponsive after swimming in the water” around 9 a.m. in the 800 block of North Lake Shore Drive, according to the Chicago Police Department. He was transported to Northwestern Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Wendt’s death was ruled an accidental drowning, the Cook County medical examiner’s office reported. Police said the death is being investigated by Area 3 detectives.

Wendt was president of the Chicago Masters Swim Club and competed in the 2018 U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championships in Indianapolis. He was a two-time winner of Chicago’s Big Shoulders race, according to a 2012 Chicago Tribune story. Wendt, a 1965 Fenwick graduate, was also inducted into his high school’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

George Wendt, 73, of River Forest, was a former teacher at Fenwick and is in the school’s Hall of Fame. This Blackfriars Yearbook photo shows Wendt outstretched in Lane 3 at a meet in 1965. | Courtesy of Fenwick High School/Facebook

Organizers of Big Shoulders released a statement on its website on Sept. 11 addressing Wendt’s death and the legacy he left behind.

“I write this with an incredibly heavy heart,” organizers wrote. “For those who haven’t heard, today we lost George Wendt, a good friend, a role model, a swimming icon, and someone I will miss dearly. George was one of the best people I had the pleasure to call ‘friend.’

“Always positive with a smile, George was the guy who made going to the pool at 5:15 seem like a privilege, rather than a chore. He died doing something he loved, open water swimming. We will have more in the days ahead, but in the meantime, please send any photos you had of George from the race, or from the race in general, to post.”

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