By John J. Duncan Jr.
My maternal grandfather, Jacob Swisher, was born in 1885 in Watseka, Illinois. In 1910, while teaching in Bureau County, IL, he met and married another teacher, Nora Mae Anthony, in her hometown of Providence, IL.
Papa Swisher was a teacher and later a school superintendent at schools in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.
He returned to Iowa City in 1914 to begin working on his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, which he received in 1922. My mother, Lois, was born in Iowa City in 1917.
Papa taught at the university and worked part-time at the State Historical Society of Iowa, which was on the campus there.
After receiving his doctorate in political science, he began working full time for the Historical Society, writing articles and books on Iowa government and politics.
In addition to several books, Papa wrote well over 100 articles for the Historical Society magazine and other publications.
He was a very active man. He and my grandmother had seven children, and he served on the Iowa City school board and on its City Council. He also was state President of the Wesley Foundation of the Methodist Church and was active in the Kiwanis Club, about which he wrote a history of its work in Iowa.
My grandmother died when I was just two. I have seen pictures of her with me but do not really remember her.
Papa retired in 1950, and some of his civic activities came in his retirement years. He also wrote poetry as a hobby and traveled. He died in July of 1976, less than a month short of his 92nd birthday.
My mother attended Iowa Wesleyan College and came to Knoxville to visit an older sister, my Aunt Fern, who had married an engineering graduate of the University of Iowa, who had taken a job at TVA.
Aunt Fern talked my mother into staying in Knoxville. Mama got a job selling shoes at a JCPenney store on Gay Street. She met daddy, who was two years younger and was a student at U.T., at a YWCA dance, and three months later they were married in Iowa City.
Now to bring all this history up to date, 49 children were born to the children of my four grandparents, not counting two who died at birth.
One of my many first cousins, Kay Lasater, lives in Hendersonville. She has a daughter, Karen Lasater, who recently received a promotion to clinical professor at the University of Tennessee College of Nursing.
U.T. has a program to honor those who receive tenure or promotion by plating a book that has special meaning to the honored faculty member.
Karen Lasater chose a book of poetry written by my grandfather called “Steppingstones: Make Smoother the Road of Life.”
What amazed me, however, was what Karen wrote: “Dr. Swisher was my great-grandfather, who was a professor at the University of Iowa. His books of poetry were passed down to each new generation. He had at least one son-in-law, nine grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren who attended college within the University of Tennessee system.”
It is almost unbelievable to think that a man from Iowa, who visited but never lived in Tennessee, could have had so many grandchildren, including me, and great-grandchildren who attended the University of Tennessee.
I have always been very thankful for my family on both the Duncan and Swisher sides. For many years, I have had a framed copy of a poem by Papa Swisher on the nightstand by my bed. This poem is especially appropriate to think of at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Seek and you shall find,” is a phrase we often hear. Seek the good and you will find it, for it is often very near.
Seek the blessings that are near you and blessings far away. Then at evening you’ll be grateful for the blessings of the day.
If you go upon a journey, seek the lovely and the fair. You will find that every country has a wealth of good to share.
In our own beloved country, there are blessings rich and rare. If you seek the good about you, you’ll find blessings everywhere.
So as through life we journey, let us pause to meditate, on the blessings that surround us – blessings small and blessings great.
Blessings that we may well cherish, wherever we may roam, and the many, many blessings that we have right here at home.