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Retired parks director keeps working to better the community

May 12, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Edith Sweigert retired from her post as head of the Washington County Parks and Recreation Department a decade ago, but she never stopped working to better her community and improve the quality of life for its citizens.

Sweigert, a woman known as much for her kindness and humility as for her award-winning stewardship of the county's parks system, started volunteering for various causes soon after she retired in early 1993.

She does volunteer office work once a week at the State Vocational Rehabilitation Office in Frederick, Md., where her daughter is employed as a counselor. She also fingerprints civilians at the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

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"I think (Sheriff Charles Mades) just wants me there so he can keep an eye on my doings," Sweigert jokes.

And she is an active member of the Triad SALT Council of Washington County.

"It keeps me out of mischief," laughed Sweigert, 80, of Hagerstown. "It really does keep you on an even keel. You benefit more than anyone else if you do something in retirement."

Sweigert, the first female department head in Washington County government, was among three local women honored recently by Women At The Table for their lives of leadership. Jane Hershey and Mildred "Mickey" Myers were WATT's other honorees.

Sweigert, a native of Germany who came to America with her husband, U.S. Army veteran Clarence "Tunie" Sweigert, now deceased, in 1952, secured millions in state grants to build the county's park system into one of the finest in the state. But she always was the first to credit her co-workers for the department's success - even when she received the state's prestigious William H. Hope Award for Excellence in 1988.

Now, she devotes much of her time to helping fellow senior citizens through her work with the local Triad SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) Council.

Three entities - the American Association of Retired Persons, National Sheriff's Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police - developed Triad to help meet the safety needs of the nation's aging population.

The SALT Council acts as an advocacy and advisory group for seniors, and provides a forum for the exchange of information between seniors and law enforcement.

"We're fortunate to have her. We couldn't have gotten a better person," said Mary J. Della-Toffalo, who helped organize the local council and served as its first president. "I think she's a beautiful person. She's dependable and sincere. You know when she's talking to you, she's talking from the heart."

Della-Toffalo had the "absolute foresight and wisdom" to start the council's Seniors Calling Seniors program, said Sweigert, who took over the wellness program's leadership in 2000. She and other volunteers call about 130 senior citizens - most of whom live alone - every month, Sweigert said.

"It's instant gratification," she said. "Seniors Calling Seniors is a marvelous program. I've never met some of the people I call, but I have struck up some friendships."

Council members also make and distribute "comfort dolls" to police, firefighters, nursing homes and various civic organizations. The colorful cloth dolls are designed to bring comfort to people in need like children at accident scenes, said Sweigert, who praised SALT member Juanita Gliniak's leadership of the Comfort Dolls program.

The council is in dire need of volunteers to help with the Seniors Calling Seniors and other programs, Sweigert said. Demands on volunteers' time are few but the rewards are many, she said.

To volunteer, call Sweigert at 301-791-7218.

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