TCU All-American Jim Swink Honored in Rusk at Hometown Gala
By Deborah Burkett
How does one write a column that does justice to a man who has excelled in so many facets of life? An intimidating task but one I eagerly accepted.
While working with Jim's wife, Jeannie, to prepare an exhibit for the recent Heritage Center/Museum Gala, I was overwhelmed with the life of this man. As we poured over Jim's yearbooks, photos, clippings, scrapbooks and telegrams, it was the lesser known details that fascinated me. I've selected three photographs, images that spoke to my heart, which illustrate various moments in Swink's life. In the first photo a young towheaded school boy peers seriously at the camera.
Born during the Great Depression on March 14, 1936. His parents were Curtis and Allie Mae Swink, tenant farmers in Sacul, a small community near Rusk, where Jim lived for the first 13 years of his life. He has fond memories of those days in Sacul.
When his mother contracted TB and it was thought his father was sick too they were sent to separate hospitals in West Texas. One possibility was the McKnight Tuberculosis Hospital near San Angelo. This sanatorium provided isolation of patients to calm the fears of the public, as well as rest and clean air, the only known cure for TB sufferers.
It was at this time that Coach Treadwell of Sacul encouraged Jim's move to Rusk and introduced him to Obie and Grace Walker. Jim lived with the Walkers till his graduation from high school in 1953 and his acceptance of an athletic scholarship at TCU.
Jim led the Horned Frogs to consecutive conference championships in 1955 and '56, resulting in back to back trips to the Cotton Bowl. Twice named All-American, runner up for the Heisman Trophy and once received a letter of apology written by the head football coach at the University of Alabama dated Oct. 16, 1956.
Jim had an 'off' day and Coach J. B. Whitworth apologized for the "boos" during the game. He went on to state, "…statistics never tell the true story. You have proven your colors and passed the test of being a true All-American. Lots of Luck to you and the Frogs."
At one point, Jim returned to Rusk and was photographed in Superintendent Chapman's office as his number was retired. I asked Jim for a quote regarding this image and he shared, "A great time in my life. Marshall Treadwell was the first coach who ever told me I could be as good as I wanted to be…"
Jim attended Southwestern Medical School in Dallas eventually choosing medicine over the NFL. In an interview in 2008 with a TCU media representative, Swink discussed his career choice, "I was very fond of my home town doctor in Rusk and he is the one who inspired me to become a doctor. From day one I knew I wanted to help people and the doctors associated with the TCU football were great mentors too…"
Checking with Swink he told me Dr. Gabbert was the Rusk physician he alluded to; Swink went on to become an orthopedic surgeon and had a practice in Ft. Worth for over 35 years.
This small town boy didn't shirk his duty to his country, far from it. Jim was drafted into the army and entered active duty on February 1, 1966. He worked in an Evacuation Hospital near Saigon. The last photograph selected for this column depicts Jim "patching someone up". Among the many metals awarded Swink were the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat on 30 May 1967.
As Jim's coach in Rusk, Elmer "Hot Dog" Thompson, once said, "Swink was just a great kid, fine student and good Christian boy-the type that comes along just once in a lifetime..." I must say I agree with "Hog Dog".
And so did all the attendees at the Gala. Many had a Swink story such as TCU teammates, Joe Williams and Ray Taylor, along with former Rusk athletes Louis Caveness, M. Ray Teutsch, Johnnie Richey and Don Woodard. Teutsch told of a tackle during practice Caveness once made on Swink and a Jacksonville coach once told Shelley Cleaver's team "to tackle Swink whether he's got the ball or not"!
Thank you Dr. James Swink. You've given so much--whether you had the ball or not.