90 years, 5,000 hours and counting

Craig resident Laura Swanson has put more years into her volunteer work than most people put into their careers. She dedicated the same amount of time into a career that, though paid, was service nonetheless.

At age 90, Swanson is entitled to quiet days at home, indulging herself in one of her many hobbies. Instead, she can be found wearing the peach smock of a volunteer at The Memorial Hospital and the triangle pins that indicate more than 5,000 hours of volunteer work.

She's been there for 28 years, starting by unpacking and sorting laundry and then moving to man the gift shop which she's done for 22 years.

"There isn't much going on," she said. "Some afternoons, I sell mostly candy."

Swanson volunteers for many reasons, but the primary one is that she often sees friends and acquaintances wandering past the gift shop.

"When you get old, you need to keep up," she said.

Volunteering is how she does it.

Swanson taught school in Craig for 28 years, and she often sees former students who are shocked to see that she is still around.

Swanson was born in Stockdale, Kan., a town that no longer exists because of flooding.

Her mother died when Swanson was 3 weeks old, and Swanson was passed from relative to relative until she turned 10. She went to live with her father who had remarried.

She stayed with an aunt who took her niece in only until her own family grew and there no longer was room for Swanson. She was then passed to another aunt.

It was a large family -- Swanson had seven aunts to choose from.

Swanson went to school in Randolf, Kan., another town lost to the flooding. It was the same school her mother had attended.

Each day she rode in a "hack," a truck with benches built in the bed that were covered with canvass.

"Actually, I've never seen one since then," she said. "It was the forerunner of buses, I guess."

Life was tough in Denver, Swanson said. Her father worked in construction, but he was out of work a lot because people just couldn't afford to build.

Swanson attended Colorado Women's College in Denver, where she graduated in the top seven of her 200-plus member class.

"The top seven graduates had to give a speech," she said. "It was supposed to be an honor to be able to talk."

Then, she went to Greeley to earn her teaching certificate.

"Girls in those days either went to work in an office, as a nurse or as a teacher, so I picked teacher," she said.

There was a need for teachers, particularly in Craig where a policy change had put half the staff out of a job. Swanson applied and was hired without being interviewed. She started teaching fourth grade at an eight-room schoolhouse, which is now the school administration building on Yampa Avenue.

During the year Swanson started, the fourth grade was such a large class it had to be split between two teachers. She had the M through Z students.

Swanson taught for two years and quit when she got married.

"There was no way I could teach school and live on the farm and do the lady's work of the farm," she said.

But, when her husband, George, started work at the Moffat County State Bank, she again had the opportunity to teach. And again, she was hired without being interviewed.

She taught until 1955 -- a 27-year career.

"I've been out of it for a long time," she said.

She and George celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in May with a party at their daughter's country home outside of Niwot.

Swanson has three children, though she hesitates to call them children.

"See, I'm 90, so my kids are all old. They're senior citizens now," she said.

One of her daughters is building a home overlooking the Platte River, which will include an apartment for the Swanson's. It will be a while before Craig loses such a treasure, though.

"I won't move until they're settled in and can come down here and move us," she said.

Swanson's looking forward to that day. Her house and yard are too much to maintain.

"The yard is big, and my husband is getting old and feeble like me," she said with a laugh.

Medication gave Swanson tremors that make it difficult for her to crochet or embroider the way she used to do, so for the most part her hobby is reading. She attends AARP meetings and senior dinners and is a member of the New Frontiers Club.

"The job gives me the opportunity to see people and get out of the house," she said.

Swanson had open-heart surgery in 1990. She was told she couldn't drive. The doctor meant for a few days after the surgery, but Swanson took it to mean forever.

At least she pretends she did. She still maintains a driver's license in case of an emergency, but George drives her where she needs to go.

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