NORTHEAST KINGDOM – A man who has devoted three decades of service to Catamount Arts and health education causes has been selected the Northeast Kingdom Chamber 2012 Citizen of the Year, one of the region’s most distinguished awards.
St. Johnsbury resident Robert “Bob” Swartz received the honor for his extensive commitment to Catamount, as well as a host of other organizations, including the Danville School Board, Green Mountain United Way, North Congregational Church, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Northern Counties Health Care and the Osher Lifelong Learning Lecture Series. Swartz has also served on a number of Town of St. Johnsbury boards, including the St. Johnsbury Design Control District Board, the St. Johnsbury Design Committee and town plan committee.
Swartz, born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has had a tie to Vermont dating back to his childhood, noting his parents owned a camp on Lake Champlain during the war. Due to his father being a Presbyterian minister, the Swartz family moved to Morgantown, W. Va. when he was a boy, where his dad served as a student pastor at West Virginia University. Realizing the importance of a good education, his parents saved early for his schooling, allowing Swartz to attend Westtown School in West Chester, Pa., one of five generations of his family to attend the institution.
After graduating from Westtown, Swartz attended West Virginia University where he studied psychology and human resources before transferring to Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., where he graduated with an English degree. Following college, Swartz jumped at the opportunity to go to Oxford, England, where he taught at a preparatory school for a year prior to returning to the states to teach English and French at Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie. It was at Oakwood, not Oxford, where he met his English-borne wife, Pat.
Once married, the couple moved to the Northeast Kingdom for Swartz’s new job as an English teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, a position he held for 27 years. While at the academy, Swartz helped to start the English as a Second Language Program, the International Club and was instrumental in establishing technical writing classes at the school.
Not content to immerse himself in his education duties alone, Swartz became very active on the Northern Counties Health Care Board and Catamount Arts. Swartz served as president of the Northern Counties board when the organization decided to merge with Caledonia Home Health Care in the 1980s.
“Bob is someone you can always count on for effective follow through when it comes to hard work or difficult and complicated challenges,” said NVRH’s Paul Bengston, a Citizen of the Year recipient in 2001, commenting on the many organizations Swartz has been involved in over the years. “He is someone who makes things happen and makes sure important ideas are shared and implemented.”
Swartz has never ventured far from an interest in the health-care field, serving as a corporator for NVRH for many years and working as the education resource coordinator for Northeastern Vermont Area Health Education Center since its start in 1997, whose main mission has been to attract and retain health-care professionals in rural areas.
“Bob Swartz’s community spirit embodies the true meaning of civic commitment and is an inspiration to all those fortunate enough to work with him,” said Margaret Trautz, an AHEC colleague. “Bob is a person of many gifts who has never hesitated to share them with his family and neighbors, his community and professional colleagues and with a multitude of community organizations.”
As strong as his devotion to health causes are, Swartz is perhaps best known for his many years of service on the Catamount Arts board, serving as a board member and president of the organization during its move to its new building on Eastern Avenue and the subsequent capital fund-raising campaign. Sixteen of his fellow Catamount Arts board members, in fact, endorsed his bid to become Citizen of the Year.
“His leadership is a labor of love for the community and an inspiration to us all,” said the board in its nomination packet. “No one can say ‘no’ to Bob. His enthusiasm for the project (the move) and Catamount’s mission and vision buoyed the board through countless campaign hurdles.”
In addition to his Catamount work, Swartz has also played a leadership role in the North Congregational Church, serving as a moderator, deacon, executive council member and the founding chair of the Archives Committee. He has been lauded for his “intelligence, thoroughness and collegial leadership,” said the Rev. Jay Sprout.
Whether it was his tenure on the Osher Steering Committee, time teaching at Springfield College or Community College of Vermont or his service on a multitude of town and civic boards, Swartz has been praised by all for his fairness, good humor, common sense, follow through and diligence to completing a task, no matter how difficult.
“I can think of no greater enthusiast for life in the Northeast Kingdom than Bob Swartz, and Bob is someone who acts on this enthusiasm and works hard to make our communities absolutely the best places to live,” said a friend.
Past Citizen of the Year recipients have included Doug Kitchel, H. Stanwood Brooks, Dr. Howard Farmer, George Young, Mildred H. Smith, Wesley Calderwood, Durward Ellis, Joseph Sherman, Rosalie Harris, Kay Ellis, R.J. (Pete) Brisson, William T. Costa Jr., Sterry R. Waterman, George M. Crosby, Ernie Begin, William Stowe, William P. Kennedy, G. Julian Butler, Howard K. Gieselman, Bernier L. Mayo, Donald Mullally, Alfreda (Freddie) King, Barbara McKay Smith, Dr. John H. Elliott, B.J. Murphy, Dr. John A. Stetson, Doug Drown, Dr. Frederick C. Silloway, the Rev. Mel Richardson, Brent W. Beck, Paul R. Bengtson, Joan Wollrath, Donald E. Bostic, Richard Lawrence, Dale Wells, Fred Laferriere, Reeve Lindbergh/Nat Tripp, Elwin Cross, A. Richard Boera, Greg MacDonald and David Keenan.
Bob has been married to wife Pat for 46 years and is the father of three daughters, Rebecca Butcher, Rachel Smith and Anne Cornish. He is also the proud grandfather of six, Ben and Kate Butcher, Hayden and Nick Smith and Burke and Hannah Cornish.
The Northeast Kingdom Chamber Citizen of the Year Award is presented each year to a Northeast Kingdom resident who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and extensive community involvement beyond the candidate’s normal occupation. Local civic, social and town leaders comprise the committee that selects the recipient.
The Citizen of the Year dinner is being tentatively planned for Friday, May 4, with the location and dinner cost still to be determined. Friends and family members are encouraged to send congratulatory cards to the chamber so they can be included in a memory book for the award recipient. Details of the dinner will be posted on the chamber web site,www.nekchamber, as soon as they are finalized.