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Walter Swier

Laura Helen Schmidt and Walter SwierIn 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).

Swiers circa 1930
Swiers circa 1930

Later the family would welcome Elizabeth Ann on 4 October 1931 and Dorcas Pauline on 13 March 1933.


1940 Swier Children
1940 Swier Children

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.

Richard L. Swier

Our family was shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of my uncle, Richard Swier, on Sunday, March 27. He was 58 years old.

Rick was my father’s younger brother. He was born in Yakima, Washington on September 13, 1952. His death notice mentions three children: Richard L. Swier, Jr., Rhonda Swier, and April Martinez, who was his stepdaughter. He also had twelve grandchildren.

When I was very small, my father was in the Air Force and stationed in San Bernardino, California at the same time as Rick served in the Navy and was stationed at San Diego. He visited us a lot on the weekends. Unfortunately, I don’t remember him. My father was transferred to Germany in 1973, and I never saw Uncle Rick again after that.

Some pictures of Rick:

Clockwise from bottom, Thomas Swier (my father), David "Buck" Swier, Betty Campbell Swier holding Deborah Swier, Walter "Randy" Swier, and Richard "Rick" Swier
Rick in High School
From left to right: Rick, my grandfather David Swier, and Randy Swier
Rick and his children Rick, Jr. and Rhonda
My grandfather David Swier with Rick in his Navy uniform

Rest in peace, Uncle Rick.


Letter from Gertrude Perkins Gearhart Lightle to Daughter Bessie, April 6, 1940

My cousin Dara sent scans of the following letter from my great-grandmother, Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart Lightle.  I have discussed her story previously on this blog.

Kiona, WA

April 6, 1940

Dear Bessie,

I was sure glad to hear from you again. I looked in vain for a letter all winter.

I have been sick so much but did not go to bed as I had too much to do.

Alice and her baby were here after she left the hospital [Gertrude’s daughter Alice]. She was too weak to do anything for quite a while, then the baby got sick, too. He just began to get better when Tom came home from PWA camp sick with the “flu.” He took that & was a very sick baby. They went home with him so they took care of him, but I took it too.

I  was in bed off and on for a month, then I began to be bothered with my eyes & they are bad yet. I wear glasses to read or sew, but I couldn’t do either one for several weeks. Now I can only read a few minutes at a time.

I am glad you [sic] Mother Zeiglar is better. I think of her so often.

Now for your questions.

  1. You were born in Metaline, Pend O’Reile Co. Washington [Pend Oreille County] March the 26-27 or maybe 28th 1924. I have forgotten the exact day, but you have that already.
  2. My maiden name was Gertrude Nettie Perkins.
  3. I was born at Hector, Minnesota September 13, 1887.
  4. Your fathers [sic] name was Omar Alfred Gearhart born in Iowa (I don’t know what town) February 29, 1884.
  5. [Omar Alfred Gearhart] Died in Spokane, Washington December 29, 1930 age 46.

I never had a birth certificate for you.

Your father was Holland Dutch decent [sic] [actually Pennsylvania Dutch, or German] and his ancestors settled in the Ohio Valley. If you will write to Grandma Gearhart she can tell you more than I can. Mrs G.D. Gearhart Box 196- Maxwell, Iowa.

I am English on my fathers [sic] side. His folks settled in Virginia shortly after the Revolutionary War and were English Quakers. My mother’s folks were Scotch & Irish & one Great-great-grandmother on her fathers [sic] side was English, named Smith.

Granny’s father came to this country before the Civil War & settled in Wisconsin. His name was Montgomery & his wife’s name was MacGregor, both scotch [sic]. My uncle Sherm Young at 1320 So. 7th Street in Yakima can tell you about them.

You had mumps and chicken-pox and no real accidents & was never inside of a hospital while I had you.

I had 13 children, one was still-born (dead) and one premature as far as I know [word missing] are 11 living.

The one[s?] born dead were never named. The others are:–

John Douglas Dec 25, 1911
Ruth Isabelle Apr 9 1913
Eva Marie Aug 13 1914
Jessie Nadine, Apr 6, 1916
Alice Gertrude, Nov 23, 1918
Donald Omar, July 11, 1920
Edwin Guy, Dec 29, 1921 [my grandfather]
Frank Manley, July 12, 1923
Bessie Louise, Mar 27, 1924
Margery Feb 2 1927
Alfred Aug 5 1929

Do you know whether Margery is adopted or not? I forgot to ask them when I was up there.

Lots of love & kisses,

Your [missing word]

It’s important to know the family background in order to put this letter in context, and the story I linked at the beginning of this post is the best place to start. Until this week, I had never seen a photo of my great-grandmother. Within the space of two days, I have received two different photos from two cousins and an additional photo of Omar Alfred Gearhart, my great-grandfather.

This first image depicts Omar Gearhart with his brothers John and Earl:

Omar, John, and Earl Gearhart

This image is of Omar Gearhart and his wife Gertrude Nettie Perkins with their oldest child John Douglas (circa 1912):

Omar Gearhart, Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart, and John Douglas Gearhart

This final picture is of Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart, her mother Isabell Lowe (sometimes listed as Mary Isabell, Mary Isabelle, or Isabell M. on the census; Lowe is the surname of her second husband, Guy Lowe), and Isabell’s mother Ophelia McKilrick (name unverified) with John Douglas Gearhart in 1912:

Gertrude Nettie Perkins Gearhart, Isabell Lowe, and Ophelia McKilrick with John Douglas Gearhart

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