EATON —During Preble County Council on Aging’s Senior Day on Tuesday, May 9, Thelma Swihart was declared the Outstanding Senior of the Year for her contributions to the area.
Council on Aging Executive Director Shelley Ratliff began the award ceremony by presenting the history of the award.
“The process for outstanding Senior Citizens of the Year starts with the Area Agency on Aging and they ask for our county to provide them with names of folks who clearly represent the outstanding in aging field or atmosphere, taking care of seniors. The person needs to be at least 60 or older and have been born in the State of Ohio.
“What happens then is people send in nomination forms, and then the Area Agency on Aging advisory council vote on those. We are notified who received this honored award,” Ratliff said. “One of the really cool things about this award, is the plaque. That plaque stays at the county courthouse all the time, so anybody that comes into the county can actually see who the outstanding seniors are in the county.”
Ratliff then announced Swihart’s as the Outstanding Senior of the Year. Swihart was presented with a certificate and flowers. Wares Chapel United Methodist Church Pastor Laura Thomas took the podium to share why Swihart was nominated.
“It was not only my privilege to fill out and submit the nomination application for Thelma Swihart, but also to share with you the reasons for why we nominated her,” Thomas said, and then she thanked Swihart’s family for helping fill out the documentation. She explained that while she has known Swihart for the last four years, she was not aware of all Swihart had done throughout her life.
Swihart began her teaching career in this community in 1965. Prior to 1965, she had been a substitute teacher. Her full-time teaching career lasted a long 30 years. She was not only a classroom teacher of English, Spanish, and journalism, but she also served as the director and co-director of National Trail student plays, and advisor of the school newspaper and yearbook.
According to Thomas, one of Swihart’s daughters recalled, “Nothing much stopped her, I was in first grade when she started college and it was an adjustment for me. So she sometimes took me to her night classes, in Dayton. She brought materials for me to color and draw with and even had me change into my pj’s before we drove home. I did eventually make the adjustment.”
Thomas continued, “Most intriguing about Swihart’s teaching career is her additional role in the larger educational community. Thelma Swihart taught English as a second language to Japanese in our community. She began doing this in 1996. She has worked with over 20 families in her tutoring career, caring not just for their language skills, but also for their ability to integrate into our community in meaningful ways.”
According to Swihart’s son, she even went to several of the Japanese students’ college visits and orientations.
Her role in education earned her the Martha Holden Jennings award, given to Ohio Public School teachers. The mission of the foundation is to foster the development of young people and to encourage creativity in teaching.
According to Thomas, Swihart has been as committed to her roles at Wares Chapel as in her roles in education.
“Thelma has been a longstanding promoter of the Wesley Center of Dayton. The mission of the Wesley Center is to meet the spiritual and basic needs of families of all ages, offering assistance in Education and training, employment and human assistance, and transitioning families towards self sufficiency,” Thomas added. “Thelma has been a consistent supporter of that mission.”
In addition to her work in education and the church, Swihart’s children remember her feeding many strangers and local people. She would even make food baskets for them. She also had foreign exchange students live with the Swihart family.
“Swihart’s love and service for the community and the church is something that I’ve witnessed in the years that I have known her,” Thomas said. “I am her pastor and I have known her for four years. The first outstanding quality I noticed was her leadership ability.”
Swihart currently teaches one of the the Sunday School classes at Wares Chapel United Methodist church in West Manchester. After serving her term as a leader on the church’s administrative board, Pastor Thomas asked Swihart to read a book she had read in seminary about discipleship. Swihart took notes on the book and came back to Pastor Thomas ready for discussion. Thomas asked Swihart at that point to return to the administrative board.
Last August, Swihart approached her pastor with an idea to create an outdoor prayer service focusing on heroin and opioid abuse. According to Thomas, since that prayer meeting, Wares Chapel has been known as the community church praying about the drug epidemic.
Pastor Thomas added, “It does not take long in a conversation with Swihart to learn her most positive quality: thankfulness. Almost every conversation with her is filled with the presence of gratitude for her friends, her family, her church, and God. She speaks truthfully and directly, but never unkindly or complaining. She is truly a model of grace and perseverance. That is what I admire.
“At 86 years of age, Thelma Swihart proclaims, ‘God still has work for me to do.’ What a blessing she is on this community as she continues to do that work. So let’s recognize Thelma Swihart again as this year’s Outstanding Senior of the Year.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH