Late teacher’s vast book collection bequeathed
Sky Oaks is lucky recipient of Swindal collection
Donna Swindal’s pancreatic cancer, diagnosed in spring 2006, progressed swiftly. A meticulous planner during her 35 years of teaching, she could no longer control events like she used to.
“She passed away at Thanksgiving that same year,” at age 63, said her husband, Jim, of Burnsville. “When she passed away there were a number of loose ends. I know that she had plans for the books. There were a total of about 1,500.”
Donna had collected the books – children’s books, most geared to elementary-age audiences – during her 31 years of teaching in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 and four prior years when she taught in New York state.
Jim gave several hundred of them to grandchildren and other family members. This summer, he catalogued the remaining 1,047 – 940 titles in all – in 14 file boxes.
“They were to be shared with young people,” per Donna’s wishes, Jim said, though he wasn’t sure how she’d hoped to accomplish that.
“I’d been struggling, frankly, for a number of years as to finding an appropriate place for those books,” he said. “And I found that about three blocks from my house at Sky Oaks.”
The Swindal collection was bequeathed on Sept. 27 to Sky Oaks Elementary School. Media specialist Nancy Meyer and three teachers came to the house with a pickup truck.
The collection includes fairy tales, children’s literature, books of stories embedded with math problems, books about world cultures, books of poetry – “all kinds of stuff,” said Jim, a retired Toro executive
Many are now in the school library, said Sky Oaks Principal Kay Fecke, a former teaching colleague of Donna’s and longtime friend of the Swindals, who married in 1986 – the second marriage for both – and lived in Burnsville.
Some of the books went to younger teachers to help build their classroom libraries, Fecke said. A few leftovers were donated to a children’s charity.
“Not a one of them went to waste,” said Fecke, whose adult son had Donna for a second-grade teacher at Edward Neill Elementary in Burnsville.
“It didn’t surprise me at all when Jim invited me over to see the books that Donna had,” said Fecke, a former District 191 sixth-grade teacher. “Poetry was a passion of hers. She had her second-graders writing poetry, and it was beautiful. I know, because my son was there.”
Donna taught elementary school in District 191 from 1969 to 2000, when she retired. She taught at Edward Neill, Sioux Trail, Marion W. Savage and Hidden Valley, where she worked the last years of her career as a resource teacher, helping colleagues and working with gifted students as well as those needing extra help.
Intellectually rigorous with a knack for meeting kids on their level, Donna was an adjunct professor of education at Hamline University from 1996 to 2000. In 1993 she was District 191’s Teacher of the Year and a runner-up for state Teacher of the Year.
“It was always such a thrill to watch her diagnose and work individually to help children reach their potential,” Fecke said. “She practiced the art of teaching with such passion that I think everybody who had a chance to work with her, bar none, would say she was always willing to give a hand, be a mentor, work to find the right key for every child.”
Donna, whose son and daughter graduated from Burnsville High School, spent thousands on books and other school supplies, all of which made their way into her classrooms, Jim said.
As a volunteer, she helped organize and catalogue the Kerlan Collection of children’s books at the University of Minnesota. Donna patronized her local library, checking out 20 to 30 children’s books at a time, Jim said.
“She would check out these big stacks of books every week and read them in bed at night,” he said. “There were people from the library who came to her memorial service because she was so well-known.”
She loved writing, reading and teaching poetry. A selection of her poetry was read at the service and preserved in a booklet for family and friends.