Mentoring young people

Sunday, June 7, 2009
Marjorie Swan of Pocahontas will enter the state 4-H Hall of Fame this autumn after more than 50 years of service with the organization.

Southeast Missouri is defined by its special people and special places. For approximately three decades I have known Marjorie Swan of Pocahontas, and I think she is special in many ways. So do a lot of other people.

A woman of achievement, Marjorie Beatrice Sample Loberg Swan has dedicated her life to family, community and education, which are the areas of focus of the University of Missouri Extension Service, to which she is firmly devoted. In August, "Marjorie," as most people call her, will be inducted into the Missouri 4-H Hall of Fame. She would surely qualify for Hall of Fame status in a number of other categories if they existed. If there was a "Home Made Gooseberry Pie-Maker Hall of Fame," I would nominate her immediately.

Marjorie Sample was born May 16, 1923, on a Bollinger County farm near Patton, Mo., the home of her Niswonger grandparents. Her father, William Sample, lived to be 87, her mother, Reva Niswonger Sample, to the age of 97. Marjorie and her sister and three brothers attended the one-room Flatwoods country school, a short distance from their home. She graduated from Sedgewickville High School in May 1941, a few months before America's entry into World War II.

She thinks of herself as a child of the Depression and of World War II, a period that taught many Americans the lessons of endurance, hard work, sacrifice and loyalty. In June 1941 Marjorie Sample married a former classmate, Denver Loberg, from Sedgevickville, a young man with superb mechanical skills. The young couple moved to St. Louis where Denver proved so capable that he was transferred to larger responsibilities in an Ohio war plant. But, the expanding war motivated Denver to enlist in the military and trained as a gunner on a B-24 bomber.

On his first mission, which fell on Christmas Eve 1944, the crew took off from England with a load of bombs destined for a German target. But the plane developed technical difficulties and the pilot was ordered to release the load of bombs into the English Channel and return to base. Loberg was in the bomb bay putting pins back into the bombs when the pilot opened the doors, dropping him, with the bombs, into the Channel.

Marjorie was a young widow with two small children to raise. She asked herself, "How can I do this?" She recognized that only her family and her faith in God would enable her to overcome her challenges. She has never forgotten that, and she has never let go.

Marjorie later married Norman Swan from Pocahontas, who served four years in the military as a mechanic in the Army Air Corps. Following the war Norman came home to join his brother in taking over his father's Chevrolet dealership in Pocahontas, and in 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Swan moved into the house in Pocahontas where Marjorie has lived since, and from which she has provided clear direction and reassuring love to an active and growing family. Her five children -- Vida, Tina, "Sam," "Reg," and Nina -- possess a strong sense of family, faith and education. For more than 50 years, the family has gathered in Pocahontas at Christmas to renew their devotion to family and tradition.

On June 27, Marjorie's granddaughter will marry while standing in the precise location in St. John's Lutheran Church in Pocahontas where her mother and grandmother took their wedding vows.

The most satisfying service activity of Marjorie's life has been in the 4-H program to which she has dedicated half a century of effort, because as she says, "I have seen what it can be and what it can do for young people."

She has served as a mentor to more than 400 young people, helping to educate them in personal and family skills, the "education of every day life." Marjorie has assisted hundreds of young men and women to understand how adherence to family, community, education, faith and loyalty, can provide the tools to confront the heavy challenges of life. She has unselfishly touched so many lives, and for this, and much more, Mrs. Marjorie Swan will enter the state 4-H Hall of Fame this autumn. Clearly, she is a special person.

Frank Nickell is the director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University. He studies the history of Southeast Missouri and the people in it. You can also hear his award winning program, "Almost Yesterday" at 7:49 a.m., Wednesdays on KRCU, 90.9 FM and KSEF, 88.9 FM, Farmington.

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