WHT names Roberta Jefferson Swank Macon Matriarch 2021

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Robert Swank has been named Women’s History Trail’s Macon Matriarch 2021. Photos by Karen Lawrence

Theresa Ramsey

WHT Leadership Team

Robert Swank visits with Claire Suminski, member of the Women’s History Trail committee.

The Women’s History Trail (WHT) project of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) adopted an activity in 2018 that continues each March as a part of Women’s History Month.  This annual celebratory event honors a special “WHT Macon Matriarch” and her role as trailblazer to help shape a better future for Macon County.

Since its creation, three very deserving women have previously been distinguished as WHT Macon Matriarchs: Margaret Ramsey (2018), Sally Kesler (2019) and Dorothy Crawford (2020).  

This year, WHT is privileged to honor Roberta Jefferson Swank as the fourth “WHT Macon Matriarch.”  Due to COVID19 concerns and in lieu of a more formal event, a smaller gathering was held on March 26, on Swank’s outside porch where ladies from various walks of her life, including her daughter, Laureen, joined her in this important recognition.  FHAMC Chairperson Anne Hyder presented Roberta with a framed certificate that reads:  “Your dedication to the people of Macon County through community service, your excellent work ethic and your many years of willingness to help others earn you a perfect choice for this award.  You exemplify the description of a ‘strong woman’ and we are proud to have you as a colleague!  We honor you today with the annual Macon Matriarch Award.”

Claire Suminski, one of the key event organizers and a member of the WHT Committee, shared a “This is Your Life” presentation containing Swank’s bio as well as letters and well wishes from a cross-section of individuals privileged to have either worked or volunteered with her in one of her many roles of service.  Some highlights collected from comments are listed below:

Bio: Born in 1937 in Glendale, WV, Roberta was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s brother.  She was an only child, attended a one-room schoolhouse and was proudly the first in her family to go to college after receiving a scholarship to West Virginia University. She met her husband, Wayne, at a Methodist church group and got married one week after graduation. Roberta and Wayne moved to Macon County when he began working at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. She is the mother of four children, Laureen, Doug, Scott and Mark.

Dietician/Food Service:“Roberta was the official dietician for all hospitals in the region for 10 years” shared Claire Suminski.  “She is the kind of leader who leads by example and lifts others up.” Jane Morgan (previous Environment Health Depart/Public Health Center) added,  “Roberta supervised the food service for Macon County Schools.  Her knowledge in food science was exemplary!  The employees respected her because of her honesty and willingness to work.  She never asked anyone to do anything she wouldn’t do.”

Macon County Board of Health: Anne Hyder (previous Assistant Health Director) stated that “as a member of this Board which dealt with issues such as Preparedness, Accreditation, Well Water Program, Personnel Issues, Budget Planning and much more, not only did Roberta work hard but she asked the hard questions and added humor when needed.  It was a great pleasure to work with her.”

Macon County 4-H: “Roberta was my 4-H Leader for many years in the Iotla Community.  I thought she was fantastic,” shared Becky Ramsey Estes, a long-time family friend.

Macon County Public Library: Swank was instrumental in fundraising efforts to build the existing library. Friend Sally Dyar volunteers with Swank at the Friends of the Library Bookstore as she continues to support literacy in Macon County.

First United Methodist Church: David Beam Senior Pastor shared, “Roberta and Wayne may not have been born in Macon County but upon arrival, their love of this community and its people through their service and involvement endeared them to even the most exclusive of residents.  Roberta is an incredibly intelligent, articulate, faith-filled and staunchly independent person who is passionate about the things that matter most.  Demure is not a word that describes her! But words like savvy, intentional, dedicated and devoted certainly do.  I am thrilled to help honor Roberta among the legacy of women who have gone before her as treasures of this community.”

Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) Scholarship Committee:  On behalf of PEO, Sue Hirsch and Rev. Margaret Freeman expressed, “Roberta continues to serve on the scholarship committee of PEO.  Her desire to help young women in Macon County is why she has been instrumental in helping develop the Ewing-Huffman PEO Scholarship for young women who excel in leadership, academics and service.”

Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory (Kathy, Chris, Patsy, Cindy):  “Roberta embraced the ideal of Coweeta and regarded everyone who worked there as family.  She opened her home and heart to us from the beginning and continues to be our dear friend to this day.”

“Our WHT team is truly pleased to honor you with the WHT Macon Matriarch award,” WHT Co-Chair Mary Polanski said.  “Your giving to this community is like a shining light of persistence and success.”  

“Macon County is a much better place because of your dedication and hard work in so many ways: library, schools, 4-H and much more.  You are truly deserving of this award.  Thank you for being a strong leader and advocate for so many!”  WHT member Theresa Ramsey shared in a letter. 

Ongoing projects of the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County Women’s History Trail include “Walking in Her Steps” and the WHT Sculpture Project, a special bronze art sculpture titled “Sowing the Seeds of the Future” which depicts three local historical women (a white woman, an African American woman and a Cherokee woman). Visit the organization’s website www.FolkHeritageAssociation.org or email WHT leadership at whtmaconnc@gmail.com to learn more.

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