By Starrla Cray
DELANO, WATERTOWN, MN From cutting grass to keeping track of bank deposits, there isn’t much Walter Swartzer hasn’t done as trustee of St. Mary of Czestochowa Catholic Church in Delano.
“It’s all the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t see,” fellow trustee Don Gabrelcik said. “You can work half a day on something and people don’t even know. Things just get done.”
Swartzer, who has been a volunteer trustee for 60 years, will be retiring Sunday, Feb. 5. A reception to honor his service will take place after that day’s 8:30 a.m. Mass. Refreshments will be provided.
Although the work was seldom glamorous, Swartzer’s quiet contributions were vital to St. Mary’s Church throughout the decades.
About 20 years ago, for example, when the church didn’t have a priest for nine months, Swartzer took on the responsibility of finding fill-in pastors.
Sometimes, that even meant driving to pastors’ homes to pick them up for church.
“I made sure that we never missed a Sunday,” Swartzer said.
General maintenance is another part of a trustee’s duties.
Gabrelcik recalled a time when the area got 7 inches of rain. He and Swartzer stopped by the church to check on it, and ended up cleaning water out of the basement.
“It’s anything and everything,” Gabrelcik said. “If we see a wastebasket that’s full, we take it to the trash. We try to keep on top of things.”
Changing furnace filters, pushing snow, taking care of repairs, and setting up for Mass are just a few of the tasks trustees may encounter.
The time commitment varied throughout the years, depending how much the pastor was able to take on himself.
A few of the projects Swartzer has been involved with over the years include tuckpointing, garage and parking lot construction, and a recent addition to the church entrance.
Swartzer and his wife, Irene, also spent several years compiling cemetery records for the church.
A Catholic background
Swartzer’s commitment to St. Mary’s started with his father, George, an Austrian native who came to America in 1914.
“He was 14 years old,” Swartzer said, adding that his father was familiar with seven languages at the time.
George worked with his brother at the Ford plant for awhile, then hitchhiked his way to Montrose, where he helped with farm work.
He later raised horses for the Army in Montana, before coming back to Minnesota to raise his family.
George and his wife, Susan, had 17 children, 15 who survived into adulthood.
“I was the oldest,” Swartzer said, adding that he was born in 1925.
Like all of his brothers, Swartzer served in the armed forces. He enlisted in the Navy, and served as a confidential mail carrier in San Francisco until 1948.
“When I came back, the priest asked me to be a trustee,” Swartzer said. “I told him I was too busy.”
Seeing the need in the church, however, Swartzer accepted the position.
Swartzer was about 26 years old at the time, and employed at the mill and elevator in Montrose.
Throughout the years, Swartzer also worked at the hardware store in Montrose, helped his father-in-law with a plumbing business, and spent 35 years at Minnesota Rubber and Plastics, while raising five children with his wife.
Every two years, when his term as trustee was up, Swartzer stayed in the position.
“A lot of times, they didn’t even ask,” Gabrelcik said. “Once you’re in, you’re in.”
Although the work isn’t rewarded monetarily, it is nonetheless appreciated.
A thank-you card given to Swartzer and Irene by Father Vashro in 1985 summarized this sentiment:
“To you, more than anyone else in St. Mary’s, I am most deeply indebted for making my three years at St. Mary’s such happy ones. Without your wonderful support, I would never have been able to accomplish what I did. May God bless you for the wonderful support you give to all the good priests who have served at St. Mary’s.”
Swartzer, who has had three pacemaker surgeries in the past 12 years, is looking forward to taking life easier after retiring as trustee.
He recently discovered a love of bicycling, and spends time riding on trails when he can. The Swartzers also enjoy traveling throughout the state.