In some recent posts, I have discussed my natural great-grandfathers on my father’s side, Frank Chatman (or Chapman) and Omar Alfred Gearhart. After Omar Alfred Gearhart’s death, his family sunk into dire poverty. Some of the children, excluding the older children and the baby Omar Alfred Gearhart, Jr., were put up for adoption. My grandfather was adopted by Walter Swier and his wife Laura Helen Schmidt Swier.
I have written about this adoption before. Essentially Gertrude Perkins Gearhart brought her plight—she had heard state authorities were moving to remove her children from her home—to her pastor, who discussed the matter with his church congregation. The members of the church congregation came forward to adopt the children and enabled most of them, with the exception of my grandfather’s brother Frank, to grow up knowing each other and their natural mother.
At the time of the adoption the Swiers had no sons of their own, but they had three daughters: Helen Marie (born 15 March 1921, about nine months older than my grandfather), Carol Mae (born 12 December 1925), and Naomi Ruth (born 2 October 1928).
Later the family would welcome Elizabeth Ann on 4 October 1931 and Dorcas Pauline on 13 March 1933.
From everything I’ve learned about Walter Swier and Laura Schmidt Swier, as well as the rest of their family, I am convinced my grandfather was supremely lucky to become a part of their family. They were kind, generous, intelligent people.
Walter Swier was the son of Dutch immigrants Dirk and Aaltje Swier. He was born on 1 May 1894 in Sioux County, Iowa, after his parents had emigrated to America in March, 1893. Dirk’s decision to immigrate followed the advice of his doctor, who advised him to move to a place with a hot, dry climate to alleviate a lung condition. I’m not sure what his lung condition was, but tubercular patients were often advised to move to warmer climates. They eventually settled in Moxee, Washington, near Yakima.
Walter married Laura Helen Schmidt on 15 March 1920. By the 1930 census, the family were living in Cowiche, Washington, where they held huge family gatherings that my dad recalls attending. Walter grew apples, which seems to be one of most typically “Washington” occupations to have.
I cannot find his World War I draft registration card, but the 1930 Census lists him as a World War I veteran. There is a Walter Swier who appears on muster rolls for the US Marine Corps during the war, but I cannot be certain he is my great-grandfather because another Walter Swier born the year after my grandfather in South Dakota does have a World War I draft registration card.
On the occasion of his parents’ 50th anniversary, Walter Swier wrote a tribute to his parents that was read at a family gathering by Walter’s daughter Betty.
Because of adoption and other more mysterious family events, my father has four grandfathers instead of two. Of the four grandfathers, Walter Swier is the only one he knew in his lifetime, as his other grandfathers were either deceased or not a part of his life. My father has very fond memories of Walter Swier. Before he shipped out for service in Vietnam, my father visited his family, including his grandfather Walter, in Washington. It would be the last time he would see his grandfather, who died on 5 July 1974.