Alumnus teaches lesson

By Carol Ekstrom

Although her education began more than 70 years ago, one DeKalb resident is still active in teaching.

Hazel Swanberg, 88, who resides at DeKalb’s Oak Crest Retirement Center, tutors two children, Kristen, 8, and Allison, 5, the daughters of NIU physical education Professor James Rimmer.

Hazel came to DeKalb in 1921 to enroll at Northern Illinois Teachers’ College at what is now the oldest structure on NIU’s campus.

The castle building, as it was called, seemed larger than life to Hazel. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw that building in the distance,” Hazel said. “I wanted my father to take me home and never come back.”

The castle building (Altgeld Hall) was where Hazel took classes and waited on tables in the cafeteria. “I worked in the cafeteria to support myself while going to school,” Hazel said. “We didn’t have to pay tuition back then but buying books was a big expense.”

After she earned her teachers certificate, Hazel continued her education at the college during the summers, taking additional credits that were required at the time.

Rimmer said he first met Hazel when he went to Oak Crest looking for a retired teacher who wanted to tutor. “I wanted my children to be educated about older people,” Rimmer said.

Rimmer also heads the Gerentology Program at Oak Crest. “My parents and my wife’s parents live out of state, so my children weren’t used to being around older people.”

“Too many children are taught that old people are waiting to die when it should be a time to live,” Rimmer said, “I want them to learn from Hazel her enthusiasm for life.”

Rimmer’s children receive instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic from Hazel, but also much more. Hazel can give them one-on-one attention and a whole life of experience, he said.

“I take them for walks and we talk about nature, the weather and other things we see on the way,” Hazel said, “I also teach them etiquette and how to think for themselves.”

“Hazel is the type of person that everyone should emulate when they get older,” Rimmer said. “If my children can learn that people can still be active at that age, then when they are older they will realize that they can still contribute to society, too.”

Rimmer’s program at Oak Crest, which is affiliated with the department of physical education at NIU, is an attempt to help the growing older adult population to remain active through physical exercise. “If a person can keep their muscles in use, even in old age, they will have a much more positive attitude in every aspect of their lives,” Rimmer said.