Ben Schwieterman displays the Friends of Education Award he received last month from Fort Recovery Local Schools. Schwieterman, who spent most of his life farming, helps out weekly with the first grade classes at Fort Recovery Elementary School. He also volunteers at the Center for Neurological Development in Burkettsville, Ohio, and as an altar server at Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
Ben Schwieterman displays the Friends of Education Award he received last month from Fort Recovery Local Schools. Schwieterman, who spent most of his life farming, helps out weekly with the first grade classes at Fort Recovery Elementary School. He also volunteers at the Center for Neurological Development in Burkettsville, Ohio, and as an altar server at Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
FORT RECOVERY — All Ben Schwieterman ever really wanted to do was farm.
And when that part of his life came to an end, he certainly didn’t see himself as the volunteer type.
Each time such an opportunity arose, he was skeptical.
He wasn’t sure he could do the work. Or he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
“I never thought I’d do anything in my whole life besides farming,” said Schwieterman, 78. “That’s all my idea was, period.”
But each time he’s said yes the result has been a rewarding experience, both for Schwieterman and for those he has helped.
His varied volunteer work began more than a decade ago through his son, Bernard, who teaches in Kettering, Ohio, and is involved in SIGNS Ecumenical Youth Group.
Part of that youth group’s work includes trips around the country to help repair homes, and Bernard needed someone to help with supplies. So he called his dad.
Schwieterman agreed to load up his truck with the group’s tools and pull a trailer with camping gear, leading the way on a trip to Tennessee.
“That was my first volunteer thing to start with,” said Schwieterman, a father of eight, grandfather of 32 and great-grandfather of 10. He continued helping the group out for nine years. “One thing just kept leading to another and then I just kept on doing it.”
Later that year, a neighbor called him to request help for Fort Recovery resident Roger Timmerman, who has been wheelchair-bound following a car accident more than 20 years ago.
Timmerman needed someone to take him to Burkettsville’s Center For Neurological Development, where he receives physical therapy.
“I said, ‘Oh, jiminy, I don’t know if I can do that,’” said Schwieterman, who grew up in the brick house at the intersection of Ind. 26 and county road 800 East in Jay County and attended school in Fort Recovery.
But he and Ray Sudhoff, another neighbor who had received the same request, agreed to give it a try.
“So us two old farmers … got in the van and we went over there,” said Schwieterman.
They discovered that they could help Timmerman with his various activities at the facility.
Together they lift him in and out of his wheelchair and help move him from station to station at the center, from a stationary bike to a wheel he spins with his arms to a walking machine. And they aid him with walking, Schwieterman and Sudhoff in front and an employee from the center supporting him from the back.
It became a weekly event for the duo.
A few months in, they were driving home along Ohio 49 when, “All at once he glanced over and he looked at me and he says, ‘Ben, don’t this make you feel good?’” said Schwieterman of Sudhoff. “And I looked at him and I says, ‘Ray, that’s exactly the way I feel about this job right now.’”
In December, the center presented Schwieterman with a plaque commemorating his 10 years of service. He’s been away for a couple of months since having shoulder surgery, and the staff there is anxiously awaiting his return.
“We survive on volunteers,” said director Joan Kiser. “Every patient that comes through our door has to bring a helper with him.
“It’s a pretty big deal. Ben’s a wonderful man.”
About a year and a half after Schwieterman started at the neurological center, his grandson, Curtis Grube was starting kindergarten. At a meeting, teachers told their new students they would need volunteers — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles — to help in the classroom.
Curtis, who had grown close to his grandfather through their trips to check up on one of Schwieterman’s properties in Jay County, stepped right up.
“I guess he was the very first one,” said Schwieterman.
“He put up his arm and said, ‘My grandpa Schwieterman can do it,’” continued Hilda, Schwieterman’s wife of 57 years, relaying the story she had been told when someone from the school called later that day.
Again, Schwieterman wasn’t so sure.
“I looked at her and said, ‘Well, I don’t know if I can do school. There ain’t no way for me that I would go to school,’” he said. “And she looked at me and said, ‘Well you know you can’t turn him down.’”
Of course, she was right.
So Schwieterman, an Army veteran who served in Germany in the 1950s, gave it a try.
Last month, after nine years of working with children ranging from kindergarten through third grade at Fort Recovery Elementary School, Curtis read a speech before his grandfather was presented with the Friends of Education Award.
“Grandpa soon found out how much he enjoyed volunteering,” said Curtis, who will be a freshman in the fall. “He also couldn’t believe how much they loved him. He would walk into a classroom and the students would begin to cheer because they knew he would be working with them that day.
“Your dedication to the school, teachers and the students speaks volumes. Your compassion, caring, patience and just plain devotion will always be appreciated at Fort Recovery Local Schools.”
Schwieterman visits Fort Recovery Elementary School every Monday, in recent years alternating weeks between classes taught by his daughter, Lori Acheson, and Jamie Albers.
He helps the students with their work in spelling and math, and teaches them to read a clock. Often, their time together involves playing games to help with the learning process.
“You can just tell he really enjoys working with the kids,” said Albers. “He laughs at their jokes …
“They cheer when he walks in, and they don’t want him to leave.”
The students, who sometimes slip and call Schwieterman “grandpa,” also sometimes mob their favorite visitor upon his arrival.
“They about knocked me down that one time,” Schwieterman said, laughing. “They just piled in on my legs, and you can’t move. …
“Oh yes, it makes you feel good.
“I had a good time. I enjoyed it as much as they enjoyed having me there I guess.”
Schwieterman’s volunteer work extends to Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church, where he began attending weekday evening Masses following his retirement.
Eventually he was asked to become an altar server.
He had never done anything like that, having learned the prayers in Latin when he was young but not being allowed to go to church to recite them because he was the oldest boy and had to stay home to do the feeding on the farm. But again, he tried it out.
Since then he’s served countless Masses, often helping at funerals during the week, and has become a trainer for new servers.
He also started leading the rosary at the church.
None of it — the work with the youth group, helping at the neurological center, teaching elementary school students or being a part of Mass — was ever what the man who farmed nearly 1,000 acres and had about 200 hogs ever expected.
But he’s glad he got involved.
“It really makes your life feel good,” he said.