For longer than most of us have been alive, Rebecca Swails has enjoyed fishing and eating what she’s caught and she shows no sign of slowing down. At the age of 88 she is still spry of spirit and mind. To many, she serves as an inspiration.
Tiny in stature she remains huge in her motivation and ambition, which is the way she has led her entire life. When she began dating her late husband Wayne in the mid 1940’s fishing was part of their life, never waning “We would go fishing on our dates,” she said with a smile.
Back then, during the spring, the couple loved plying area streams for suckers. “Many people don’t realize just how good suckers are to eat,” she explained.
Wayne and Rebecca, who goes by Becky, were married in 1947. From that point on, in addition to fishing many of our local waters, they began taking annual trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin, something she still does to this day. She also made sure fishing was part of her children’s lives. “There is no better family oriented activity,” said the Kokomo resident. “All of my kids and grandkids fish.”
Swails life was filled with hard work and times of trials and tribulation. In 1952 she began employment with what was then called Delco Electronics, retiring in 1990 after 38 years of dedicated service. During the early years of their marriage her husband was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis. “I had to be the bread winner and I was perfectly OK with that,” said Swails. “I had to do what I had to do,” she added adamantly.
Together they raised three children with Swails holding down a full time job. As if that wasn’t enough responsibility, she enrolled at Butler University where she commuted to Indianapolis after work to obtain her bachelor’s degree in mathematics. “It was difficult at times working full time, raising three kids and going to school,” she explained.
But she wasn’t done yet. After receiving her degree she then enrolled at Purdue University and left with a coveted degree in Industrial Engineering. “It was a very busy time in my life but I still fished whenever I could,” she added.
Even to this day, when not fishing, she spends hundreds of hours each summer donating her time in the Community Garden where she can be seen planting, pulling weeds and harvesting vegetables which are donated to area food banks serving the less fortunate.
In 2002 her husband passed away which began a series of difficult junctures in her life. For over three months she found herself living in various health care facilities. With her husband in the hospital during his final days, their son Ron was admitted for acute pancreatitis. “We had to tell him his father passed away right before he went in for surgery,” she said solemnly. “It was so sad.” Then due to unforeseen circumstances, daughters Becky and Cindy both required hospital stays for other health related illnesses. “With so much going on that spring and summer I didn’t have any time to grieve,” explained Swails.
“I know this may sound strange to some people, but I had to put some memories to bed,” she continued. So in September she left all alone for Wisconsin’s Lake Chetaque where the couple had made their most recent annual fishing trips. “I visited with the owners of the place where we stayed,” she explained. “And I also did some fishing by myself.” To this day she still travels to the popular lake with her children and grandchildren. “After Wayne’s passing I wasn’t sure if I’d continue going back but fishing and family have always been the most important things in my life and they always will be,” she said.
For Swails, the sport of fishing is responsible for many life long memories. She recalled one incident when her son-in-law Rudy Suryantoro, who is of Indonesian descent, was studying to become a United States citizen. “We were in a boat fishing together and I was teaching him the Star Spangled Banner,” she mentioned. “It was at that same moment that beautiful Bald Eagles began soaring over our heads. It was a memory neither of us will forget.”
Another incident was when she caught two fish at once. “I hooked a crappie and while reeling it in a huge northern pike hit the fish and never let go so I ended up catching them both.”
When it comes to cleaning fish, Swails is as good as the best. She can yield an electric fillet knife like someone with numerous decades of experience. “I actually love cleaning all the fish we catch,” she added.
“So do you have a favorite?” I had to ask. “Crappie!” she said instantaneously. “I’m a crappie girl,” she added. “I love catching them, cleaning them and eating them.”
I had to ask if she had advice on living a long, enjoyable and fulfilling life. “You bet,” said Swails. “Keep busy, keep fishing and keep gardening.”