LaVerne Swanson, Volunteer Extraordinaire: Volunteering everywhere she's needed
MORRIS, Minn. - According to Webster's New World Dictionary, extraordinary is "going far beyond the ordinary degree, measure, limit, etc.; very unusual; exceptional; remarkable."
I have called Morris home for my entire life, so I know a lot of people in the area. When asked to write about an extraordinary citizen, it was a challenge to narrow it down to one. Before I got a chance to give it much thought, that extraordinary person became quite clear to me.
A couple hours into an interview with LaVerne Swanson for an article about gardening, I realized that her extensive knowledge as a Master Gardener was just one aspect of this "extraordinary" person.
LaVerne has a very busy schedule, but she seems to find a way to make time for everyone, including me.
When I asked her to name her hobbies, LaVerne narrowed it down to five: gardening, family history, reading, sewing and Sudoku. Of these the only one she does strictly for her own enjoyment is Sudoku. The rest of her hobbies involve countless hours of volunteering.
LaVerne has called Morris home since 1960 when she moved here as a newlywed.
"I'm an import from Texas via California," she said.
She was working as a waitress in San Bernardino, Calif. when Leland Swanson started as the new cook at his brother's restaurant.
While it wasn't exactly love at first sight, they started dating and married about a year later.
After another year, the couple moved to rural Morris to take over the Swanson family farm.
"It's what he really wanted to do," said LaVerne. "I thought that sounded like fun!"
Farming wasn't completely foreign to LaVerne. She had lived on a cotton farm as a young child.
"I didn't realize how much work the women did," she said. "At silo filling time, you had to make all these meals."
So LaVerne taught herself to garden. She also made her own bread and started canning.
She tried raising peanuts and sweet potatoes. Through trial and error she learned which vegetables would grow in Minnesota climate and soils.
After Lee took a job at the Morris Post Office in 1965, the Swansons decided it would be easier to live in town.
The Swansons raised five children in Morris: Licia, Leith, Lance, Lorna, and Liane.
When all of her children were in school, LaVerne got a job as the first female rural mail carrier at the Morris Post Office. That was 1978. At the time, she was the only woman at the Morris Post Office and the only female rural mail carrier in the area.
"I like challenges," she explained.
Due to her adventurous spirit and fearless attitude, LaVerne delivered a rural mail route for 23 years in the days before cell phones, retiring in 2001.
After their move to Morris, Lee kept the garden at the farm for a few years, but the garden in town gradually became more about flowers.
"As a parent, I just ran out of hours and ability to get that all done."
At the suggestion of her husband, LaVerne became a University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener in 2000.
To keep that designation, she has to put in 25 hours of volunteer service each year and take five education hours.
LaVerne is the president of the local Master Gardeners and serves as the group's representative on the Extension Committee. She is also the group's delegate for the area collaborative.
LaVerne is also a member of the Pomme de Terre Garden Club and is a regular volunteer at the WCROC Horticulture Garden.
And of course, she keeps up her own garden.
As a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, Lee can trace his ancestors back to the Revolutionary War. LaVerne helped him tie some of the loose ends together.
"Then I got started doing mine," she said.
LaVerne was very interested to find out that she has several ancestors who were post masters.
"It's like a thread running through when you weave a cloth."
She is a member of the executive board of the Stevens County Genealogical Society.
LaVerne also enjoys reading.
For Christmas, her children got together and gave her a Nook. It was a gift that brought tears to her eyes.
LaVerne reads whenever she can find the time. Her favorite subject is history.
"She's got an inquisitive mind," explained Lee.
When Carol Wilcox was mayor, she asked LaVerne if she would be interested in serving on the library board.
She is excited the board has been able to bring more technology into the public library.
"A library should be a dynamic place," she said.
She has served six years on the board and is currently president.
She is also secretary of Friends of the Morris Public Library.
On the day we sat down to chat, LaVerne had been sewing curtains for her daughter's living room.
She also puts her sewing abilities to work at Faith Lutheran Church, where she has sewn costumes for cast members in the live Nativity and the Last Supper.
Recently, LaVerne has been working with some other crafters making banners for the church.
She currently serves as secretary of the Women of Faith.
Why does she do it all?
"I like a lot of variety.
"You get back more than you put in," LaVerne said. "It leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment when you walk away."
In 2010, LaVerne took part in a mission trip to Honduras through Faith Lutheran. While there, the group helped several families.
"How can you not feel good about that?"
The couple has done extensive traveling. They have been to all but three states together, as well as Mexico, Canada, and Europe on two occasions. One tour of Europe brought them to 11 countries in 23 days. They later returned to England to research Lee's family history.
They are spending some time in Florida, taking a much deserved break from all of LaVerne's activities. Upon her return, she will surely be ready to get back to her busy schedule.
Through it all her husband has been very supportive. She calls Lee her "social secretary" because he keeps track of her busy schedule.
"I'd never get there if he didn't remind me," she said.
Lee's response: "I think she's probably overextended herself."
LaVerne says it is so much easier to do all these things when "you have someone who does not put roadblocks in your way."
Lee is the responsible, practical one in the marriage, but always encourages her projects.
"I'm the half full glass, he's the half empty," said LaVerne. "Together, we make a full glass."
That glass is overflowing with learning, sharing, and growing in all that she does for her family and the community.