Friday, April 10, 2009

Mike Sylwester Remembers the Schwich Family

Faculty Lane’s House 3 was occupied by the Schwich family when we moved in. The father, Lou, managed the college’s physical education department and athletic program, and the mother Mildred taught literature classes part-time at St. John elementary school. The entire family was very athletic. The oldest child was a girl, Jody, but she was a tomboy who played sports competitively with boys. The second child, Bill, was my age, and then there were several younger boys.

I met Bill on my very first day in Seward. My brother Steve and I had slept in the Becks home on our first night. On the next morning, Steve and Toby were doing something together, so I went outside to explore my new neighborhood, and Bill came up to me and introduced himself.

Bill was riding a Schwinn bicycle that had a gear shift. I was amazed that a boy my own age had and was able to ride such a modern machine. I, being freshly arrived from the remote country and a one-room school, had never even had the idea that I might own and ride a bicycle. (Instead, I always had fantasized about owning and riding a pony.)

Bill was my age, and he began to teach me how to play baseball and showed me around the neighborhood. With his sports knowledge and bicycle skills, Bill Schick was the coolest boy I could imagine.

On that first day of our meeting, Bill took me to see the Schlueter’s home, which was located behind the far home on Faculty Lane. That home was fantastic, because the Schlueter family raised horses and ponies in the area right behind their home. Bill introduced me to Jane Schlueter, who was our age and who rode the ponies a cowgirl. She also could draw pictures of horses surprisingly well. She was the coolest girl I could imagine. Indeed, I had moved into the coolest neighborhood with the coolest kids in the entire world!

During the following weeks and months, Bill introduced me to sports. I learned how to play baseball, football and basketball at his house. I rode bicycles across town with him to join the Pony League baseball teams. Our neighborhood in Seward was a great place for boys to play sports. We had big back yards, open fields, the athletic building (which Mr. Schwich would open for us) and the college athletic fields.

As I remember, the Schwich parents prohibited their kids from playing War. I thought this prohibition was odd. How could such an athletic family be against playing War?

Another odd rule that the Schwich family had was that when their kids attended sport events at the college, they had to sit in the bleachers and watch the game from beginning to end. All the rest of the kids from other families ran around the area and played under the bleachers and paid less than full attention to the games. The poor Schwich kids!

I was a close neighbor of the Schwich family for only one year. In the summer of 1961, they moved to California. I was heartbroken when Bill left.

While they were away, Gene Meyer kept me informed about the Schwich family's adventures, because the Meyer and Schwich family kept in contact. I heard that my friend Bill Schwich was the top Little League baseball star of the entire state of California. Bill was famous for diving onto gravel in order to catch line-drive foul balls. Nobody in California ever had seen another young baseball player perform such feats as this Nebrasks kid!

Then in 1964 we all heard that a miracle was happening! The Schwichs were moving back to Seward!!

There were some kids who had moved to Seward after the Schwichs had moved away, and I told these new kids all about the Schwichs. We found out which house the Schwichs were going to move into and the approximate date of their arrival, and then, beginning a couple days before that date, we went and hung around the house all day waiting for the Schwich car to drive up. As the days passed, however, the car did not arrive, and the other kids I had recruited gradually abandoned this vigil. Eventually even I myself stopped hanging around the house, and finally the Scwichs did arrive without fanfare about a week after the foretold date.

Bill Schwich, eighth-grade student at St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska

After Bill returned, I still tried to follow him around like a puppy dog, but it never was the same as when I lived two houses away.

I left Seward after my sophomore year of high school, and for the following several years I had recurring dreams with variations of a situation where I was supposed to meet Bill Schwich again, and then the meeting was cancelled at the very last minute. Eventually, I wrote Bill a letter and told him about these dreams, and he sent me a very nice letter, and then these dreams stopped.

(Since I'm on the subject of recurring dreams, I will mention here that I also had a recurring dream for many years about the Christmas pagent that we had every year in a basketball court (at Seward high school?). In this dream, the entire basketball court turned upside down during the Christmas pagent, so that we all were hanging upside down from the top of the building and were about to fall down. At this point, I would wake up from this dream. I never understood why I kept having this dream or what it was supposed to mean.)

Recently my brother Andy sent around a like to a funny advertisement for a gadget called a Wunder Boner, which is used to remove the bones from fish. This advertisement reminded me about a funny incident, and I responded with a message about that incident, which involves Mildred Schwich:

This advertisement about the Wunder Boner that occurred when when I was attending eighth grade at St. John's in Seward. Mrs. Schwich was teaching a literature class, and each student in turn had to stand in front of the class and read a book report he had written.

Steve Rathje, was reading his report

Steve Rathje, eighth-grade student at St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska

about some book that had been written by someone named Dr. Bonner. Rathje mispronounced the name as Dr. Boner and was totally oblivious to his mistake. His book report named Dr. Bonner about ten times, and each time the student mispronounced it as Dr. Boner.

Of course, as Rathje continued to read his report, all the rest of us male students found it more and more difficult to suppress our laughter. Rathje (and most of the female students) continued to be oblivious, which made each new mispronunciation of the name even more hilarious. We guys all were just dying from our efforts to keep from laughing out loud. This is the funniest word in the world for an eighth-grade boy.

Mrs. Schwich could not help smiling, but she basically kept her cool. After the book report had been read, Mrs. Schwich commented favorably on Rathje's presentation but made sure to pronounce the name a couple times distinctly as Dr. Bonner, without pointing out Rathje's mispronuciation. She and Lou probably had a good laugh about that book report when she got home after school that day.

(Since I'm on the subject of snickering about naughty thoughts in class, I will share this memory too. At St. John's we had a devotion a couple times a day. A class member would select a hymn that we all would sing, and then that class member would read a Bible passage and lead the class in prayer. Anyway, our hymnal had one hymn that had words something like "I was naked, and you clothed me." When we got to that line of the hymn, everyone in the class had to stiffle the urge to laugh. I think that there were a couple kids in the class that deliberately chose that hymn for that reason when it was there turn to lead the devotion. So, if we snickered at that line in that hymn, you can imagine how much we wanted to laugh at Rathje's book report about Doctor Boner.)

Mildred Schwich, upper-grade teacher at St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska

Mrs. Schwich was an excellent teacher. I remember her instruction very well. Under her instruction we read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Vance Packard's book The Hidden Persuaders and a book about animal instincts. One book that she read to the class (we ourselves did not read it; we listened to her read it) was Charlotte's Web. All we kids cried when Mrs. Schwich got to the part where Charlotte died.

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