James Edward (Jim) Swinehart passed away peacefully on April 24, 2020 at the Morrison House in Zanesville with his son Rick by his side. Jim was born to Bert R. and Gladys Pearl Irvin Swinehart in Gratiot, Ohio (Licking County) on November 2, 1927. He was the second of four children.
Jim started school in the old Gratiot school building, moving to the new Hopewell school in the middle of his first year. In elementary school, Jim met a girl exactly his own age – Willanna Faye Leckrone. She had been born in the morning on November 2, 1927. They became close friends, celebrating their birthdays together in grade school and dating throughout high school.
Jim (and Willanna) graduated from Hopewell in 1945. In between his junior and senior year of high school and during his first summer of college, Jim worked at Kaiser Aluminum to help pay for college. Jim also had summer jobs at Hazel Atlas and Borden Dairy while in college. Jim entered Capital University in the fall of 1945, while Willanna enrolled in Muskingum College. They continued to date, off and on, but at Christmas time of his junior year of college, he realized she was “the one” and they became engaged. Jim graduated from Capital in May, 1949. He and Willanna were married on August 5, 1949 and they shared 68 loving years together until her death on March 31, 2018.
After graduating college, Jim was employed by Keene Local Schools (Coshocton County) as a social studies teacher and coach. He had a couple of successful seasons there as a basketball coach, before deciding “there must be more money and less time involved” in doing something else. He tried (unsuccessfully) to sell life insurance for about a year, before realizing that teaching was his true calling. He returned to teaching at his alma mater, Hopewell School. He taught and coached at Hopewell Schools and later West Muskingum Local Schools until he retired in 1985 after 35 years of teaching.
Jim knew many people from teaching and from the summer jobs he held during and after his teaching career. One summer job that he especially enjoyed was being an attendant at the Dillon State Park campground. Another post-retirement job he loved was driving dealer trade cars for Tansky Motors in Zanesville. It was a family joke that Jim couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone he knew. It was one of his joys in life to randomly meet someone he used to work with, or a former student, in a store or restaurant or parking lot. And more times than not, he called them by name before they stood and reminisced about days gone by.
Mr. Swinehart was a member of Finley United Methodist Church and a strong supporter of the Mt. Sterling Food Pantry.
Jim enjoyed reading, cross-word puzzles, working around the house, taking long drives in the country with Willanna and mowing his yard. He loved it when friends, family and former students would drive past their house on Newark Road and honk, wave and shout hello. He and Willanna spent hours sitting on the porch of their home, behind the enormous rhododendron, enjoying the view of some spectacular sunsets. After retirement, Jim became an avid tinkerer, working on projects in his garage workshop for hours at a time. He continued this avocation at a small workspace in his apartment at Brookdale Senior Living where he practiced his very creative woodworking and crafting skills.
Of course, Jim’s greatest joy in life was his family, especially his sons and grandsons. He and Willanna rarely missed an event “one of the boys” was involved in such as school programs, pinewood derby races, grandparent’s day, band and choir concerts at all levels, plays, musicals, basketball and baseball games, swim meets, etc. If a son or grandson was involved, they were there. Jim beamed with pride, both when they excelled and when they fell short. He may not have said it very often, but they knew they were loved.
Mr. Swinehart was an outstanding teacher, in every sense of the word. He respected his students and they respected him. He was a stern disciplinarian (recall the quietest study hall you’ve ever been in), with a strong sense of right and wrong that he tried to instill in all of his students. He was a compassionate and supportive teacher. Mr. Swinehart saw potential in all of his students, and he encouraged them through both his words and his actions. It’s said that teachers change lives, and that was especially true of Mr. Swinehart. As the sole teacher of American government for years at West Muskingum High School, a class that all students (including his own sons and scores of nieces and nephews) had to pass in order to graduate, he had the opportunity, the responsibility, to instill a sense of civic pride and an understanding of the American system of government in countless students. And many will tell you that they are better people for having been in his classroom.
Jim was preceded in death by his parents, a brother Fred, a sister Eileen, his wife Willanna, a son Tim and daughter-in-law Pauly. He is survived by a son Rick (Jennifer) Swinehart of Lancaster, OH; four grandsons, Shad (Vanessa) Swinehart of Hermosa Beach, CA, Ben (Amanda) Swinehart of McCarthy, AK, Jason (Amy) Swinehart of Delaware, OH and Luke Swinehart also of Lancaster, OH; two great-grandchildren, Jackson and Ellie Swinehart also of Delaware, OH; a sister Phyllis Mitchell of Gratiot, OH, a sister-in-law Patty Fry of Newark, OH, and many dear and precious nieces and nephews and their wives, husbands, children and grandchildren. Jim was greatly loved, admired and respected by all of them.
A private graveside service for immediate family only will held at Poplar Fork Cemetery in Gratiot with Pastor Ron Griffin officiating. Social distancing will be observed and masks will be worn.
Due to the unprecedented time we’re living in, a memorial service for Jim will be held on the one-year anniversary of his death, Saturday, April 24, 2021, at Finley United Methodist Church, 4455 Pinecrest Drive, Zanesville beginning at 4:00 in the afternoon. A social hour and light dinner will follow.
Instead of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made in Jim’s name to the West Muskingum Academic Fund, 4880 West Pike, Zanesville, Ohio 43701 or to a local food pantry of your choice.
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