Eugenia Audre Swearingen Lewis died Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at North Hills Life Care in Fayetteville. She was born June 29, 1922, in Uniontown, Ark., to Ferrell Swearingen Sr. and Cora Montgomery Swearingen. She was preceded in death by her parents; her brother, Ferrell Swearingen Jr., and her husband, Roy Lewis.
She is survived by her niece, Elizabeth Swearingen Newman and husband Martin of Van Buren; two nephews, Donald Eugene Swearingen of Oakland, Calif., and Larry Swearingen and wife Sherry Graham of Chapel Hill, N.C.; one great-niece, Haley Newman-Reed and husband Jeff of Fort Smith; and two great-nephews, Jasper Swearingen Newman of Albuquerque, N.M., and Christopher Swearingen of Charlotte, N.C.
In 1929, the Van Buren Press Argus wrote "Eugenia is one of the prodigies of Crawford County, despite the fact that she covers about five miles each day going to and returning home from school. Eugenia is only 7 years old, has gone to school only eight months, and at the end of this school session was promoted to the low fourth grade. Her report card showed 49 A’s this year."
When she was only 16, the Press Argus said of her "When Miss Eugenia Swearingen, with an enviable record of straight ‘A’ average became valedictorian of the 1939 class of 72 graduates from Van Buren high school, (she) added another bouquet in honor of achievement for students from the Rena community who have won scholastic honors."
Four years later she graduated from the University of Arkansas with a major in home economics and a minor in chemistry. Her senior year, she was the secretary of the Student Senate and its only female member. For the next few years she taught at VBHS, and after a summer position with C.C. Gunn’s produce company turned into a full-time job, she spent the next few years there, virtually running the company, working side-by-side with her brother. By the late 1950s, she had returned to education, serving as the executive secretary to the Van Buren superintendent of schools and secretary to the school board. In her administrative roll, she handled major assignments in the area of personnel and finance and was instrumental in the beginning conceptualizations and design of what would become the "new high school." During this time, she also returned to the U of A, where she received a master’s in school administration, and where she met her future husband.
In 1964, Eugenia married Roy Lewis at the University’s Methodist Chapel, and they moved to his home of Louisville, Ky. She began as a home ec teacher at Gottschalk Junior High, and in 1967 she was appointed assistant principal of the new Iroquois High School, where she served as the only female high school assistant principal in Louisville and Jefferson County. In 1977 she was appointed principal of Iroquois High School – the only female principal of a high school in the entire Commonwealth — and she oversaw the integration of that school. From her retirement dinner: "Remember that no matter how well the school fares hereafter — it was the cornerstone laid by you that made the foundation." When she returned for a visit in 1996, she thought no one would remember her, and she was so surprised to see a large portrait of herself encased in the hallway and to experience her treatment as a returning heroine.
When they retired in 1983 Genie and Roy moved back to Van Buren, and built their dream home, designed by her and her lifelong friend, Ed Drimmel. For the next few years, she served as a lay minister and also taught a Sunday school class — which became hugely popular – at her church, City Heights Methodist. One stanza of a poem given to her by her class read "So we pray that Santa will bring James a brand new shiny bell; one without a dinger, so no one can really tell; that Sunday school is over and church is about to begin—We than you Lord for Genie, our teacher and our friend."
Genie was also an important player in the early days of the Fort Smith Little Theater, serving as actress, producer, director and costume seamstress. Her early credits included Anastasia, The Mousetrap, The Circle, Don Juan, and Sabrina Fair. During retirement, she picked up where she had left off, and in 1989, after working together on several productions, her longtime friend Brad Kidder wrote to her: "I appreciate the choices and sacrifices you have made in your life to attain and keep what you are — A Woman of Dignity. Thank you, God, that I saw this rare blessing, and may You preserve her way safely."
She was loved, and in the end cared for, by many. Special thanks to Anita Dobbins, her best friend, who cared for her in the early days of her illness; to all her caregivers at North Hills; and to Doris, her roommate at North Hills, who was her companion until the end. She was truly a gift to the world, and everyone who knew her will miss her mightily.
Cremation is under the direction of Edwards Van-Alma Funeral Home of Van Buren with interment at U.S. National Cemetery in Fort Smith at a later date.
To place an online tribute, go to www.edwardsvan-alma.com.