Educator, role model, and chief cheerleader for Rappahannock County Public Schools is Rappahannock News’ Choice for 2017
Jimmy Swindler’s father, the late Jim Swindler of Sperryville, often reminded his son: “If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Students, teachers and parents can only hope that Jimmy doesn’t decide to work for a living.
The 2017 Rappahannock Citizen of the Year’s deep-felt appreciation for Rappahannock County Public Schools — and more notably the contagious smile and passion that he brings into its classrooms each day — began in the 5th grade, after Jim Swindler brought his family back home to Rappahannock County following overseas military assignments in Japan (where Jimmy was born) and Turkey.
In eight years’ time, the RCHS Class of 1978 would choose James E. Swindler II as their valedictorian (as one observer notes, it must have been a memorable speech considering the irrepressible enthusiasm Jimmy exhibits all these years later as the high school’s assistant principal, among other titles).
Jimmy earned his B.A. in history from the University of Virginia, his Master of Science in educational administration from Shenandoah University, and he is currently completing his Doctorate in educational administration from Regent University.
For nearly two decades at RCES and RCHS he has taught history (he was chair of the history department), reading and physical education; he’s been athletic director and facilities director for the schools system; sponsor of the National Honor Society; lead mentor and team leader; representative to the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association; and he’s filled both executive council and sportsmanship committee seats in the Virginia High School League.
In addition, he is past president of the Rappahannock County Education Association; past president of the PTO; recipient of the Liz Tole Endowed Educator Award; and he was a board member of the Headwaters Foundation, the educational support nonprofit serving the students of Rappahannock County.
In the field of athletics, you name the sport and Jimmy has probably coached it — at the middle school, junior varsity and varsity levels (without fail, Jimmy every week writes a detailed RCPS sports and events column for this newspaper’s Schools page).
Yet how and why Jimmy has had such a tremendous influence on the lives of so many students passing through Rappahannock’s school hallways is not found on his impressive list of academic experience.
“Students have always gravitated to him because of his sense of fairness and his respect,” observes his sister Natalie Hathaway, who until recently taught government and civics classes in Rappahannock public schools. “He respects the kids, which is one thing that he taught me: if you respect them they’ll respect you.
“And you can certainly tell the difference with the teachers that possess that trait,” she continues. “It’s obvious to anybody that knows Jimmy, he doesn’t have to work at his job because he loves it.”
“I always refer to Jimmy as a gentleman and a scholar,” says his mother Phyllis Swindler. “That’s how I think of him. He’s very kind. And he’s so good with words. If there’s a situation that needs to be corrected he can correct it peacefully.”
“He’s a communicator and a facilitator,” agrees Natalie. “You can put him in pretty much any situation and he makes everybody feel welcome and part of the group. He’s been very instrumental in getting so many of the kids involved in athletics — realizing that once you do become more involved you have to budget your time more wisely. It makes for a better student all around.”
But it’s his infectious smile and sense of purpose that students most associate with Jimmy. He radiates good vibes. Most importantly, he makes a kid want to be a better person.
And to think that academia has been Jimmy’s second career.
For 16 years after college, until 1998, he immersed himself into his family’s onetime Beech Spring Corporation in Sperryville, managing its large warehouse and shipping operations to support a catalog with peak circulation above three million, plus multiple retail outlets.
Which explains his being past president of the Mid Atlantic Gift Association and Sperryville Business Council. He also found time to sit on the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals and the County Water and Sewer Authority.
It so happens that the Swindler Family was among the earliest settlers in Rappahannock County, putting down stakes in what used to be the settlement of Pullen, just a few miles west of Sperryville.
“We have the original land grant on sheepskin that was signed by Lord Fairfax up at the house, which is pretty cool,” says Jimmy’s mom, who with her family still operates (for five generations now) the Beech Spring Gift Shop on Lee Highway. “Clark was the patriarch of the Swindler clan.”
“Clark had daughters,” Natalie continues. “One of those daughters married Omega Boston Swindler, how’s that for a name? And that’s where the Swindler name came from. The family’s been around here since there’s been a here.”
Which, as his sister puts it, is why Jimmy “is just as comfortable talking to somebody at the co-op as he would be eating dinner at the Inn, although he does a lot more talking at the co-op than eating at the Inn.”
When not mentoring his extended family of students, Jimmy can be found with the most important people in his life.
“His family is really everything,” says his mom. “They are the center of his universe.”
“As involved and active as he has been in so many things his family has always come first,” agrees Natalie. “He’s never missed any of their games, any of their plays — even this week’s [RCHS] alumni game.”
“And it shows in the children,” adds Phyllis. “My grandson is so much like his father, he is such a gentleman. Just really nice kids.”
Referring to Addie and Trey, both graduates of RCHS who continued their education at Christopher Newport University and Old Dominion University respectively.
Today, Jimmy lives near Laurel Mills with his bride of 25 years, the former Beth Fannon, who is a sign language interpreter with Stafford County Public Schools.
“He’s a dream husband,” boasts Jimmy’s mom, pointing out that her son enjoys handling “a lot of the cooking and housecleaning.”
“And he’s fussy about the laundry,” his sister laughs. “They are a team. They feed off of each other. They complement each other extremely well. As far as the kids go he always said they were very fortunate because they had their mom’s looks.”