Oldest Living Alumni
Alma Grace Swick Harshbarger

AHS Class of 1931


AHS Class of 1931

Alma Grace Swick Harshbarger is a 1931 AHS alumna, and at age 101, is believed to be Arcola High School’s oldest living graduate.

Alma, the first child of Earl D. and Ida May Ammen Swick, was born October 6, 1913, at their home located one mile south and one half mile west of Galton. Sisters Miranda Elizabeth (Annabelle), Frances May and Mary Margaret followed. Alma attended grades 1-4 at Galton country school, located west of Galton. When Alma’s family moved further east on the Galton road, she attended the Maple Grove country school until it was destroyed in a fire. After a year in one of the Tuscola school district’s country schools, Alma was able to return to class in the new school at Maple Grove until her 1927 eighth grade promotion. In 2009, Alma reported to Phyllis Bergfield of the Arcola Record-Herald, “There never was anyone else in my class all through grade school, so sometimes I was put in another grade. I took 8th grade before I took 7th.”

Alma learned the value of hard work as a young girl on the farm. As the eldest of four daughters, with no brothers, she learned to farm with horses at the age of 11. Many of the skills Alma acquired on the farm as a young girl would be beneficial in her adult years.

During her freshman year, Alma attended Tuscola High School while living with her mother’s parents. When she was a sophomore, her family moved to the Harry Keal farm north of Arcola and Alma continued her education at Arcola High School. The Torch, Arcola High School’s yearbook, was not published each year during difficult financial times, such as those of The Great Depression. Alma’s class of 1931 did not publish a yearbook. The 1930 Torch, printed during Alma’s junior year, featured both the seniors and juniors in their individual studio portraits. Alma was photographed during her junior year when she was just 16 years old.

The yearbook reported Alma was elected president of the Glee Club and was secretary of the Girls’ Athletic Association. The Torch noted, “Girls’ athletics are fortunate to have such good players as Alma Swick…. Don’t forget too, that the junior girls with Alma Swick as their captain were basketball champions.” The Senior Class History, as reported in the May 7, 1931 Record-Herald, noted the Girls’ basketball team was co-champion with Atwood in 1930. The class history also listed Alma Swick as a cast member in the Junior Class Play.

As a junior, Alma’s artistic talents made her an important member of the 1930 Torch staff. Her silhouette drawings are prominently displayed on many of the 1930 yearbook pages.

While at AHS, Alma began her courtship with Charles Edward Harshbarger, a 1931 classmate. They enjoyed the movie house and sweet shops in Arcola on Saturday nights, and also participated in the Arcola Baptist Church Youth Group activities.

The March 26, 1931 Record-Herald reported, “The student body seemed to be undecided in their choice for “May Queen”. Alma Swick and Louise King tied for first place.” As Phyllis Bergfield reported in 2009, Alma remembered that Louise had such pretty clothes, provided by an aunt who lived in the city. Knowing that her classmate would be able to have the proper attire for the occasion, Alma recommended Louise be honored as “May Queen”. Alma then represented her class as “Maid of Honor” on the court for the very special May Fete of May 23, 1931, wearing the pretty dress she had sewn herself.

The May 21, 1931 Record-Herald announced the upcoming May 29th Arcola High School commencement, which would graduate 36 seniors. Alma Swick was recognized as an honor student with the Class of 1931, with a 91.21 four-year GPA. Other familiar graduates with the Arcola High School Class of 1931 include Frances Holterman, Ruby Kruger, Bill Herrington, Merle Kearns, Clarence “Blimp” Miller, Roberta Roberts (Bromley), Fred Shrader and also Cecil Edgar (father of former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar).

Following their graduation, Alma and some of her classmates returned to Arcola High School to further their education in the fall of 1931. They enrolled in business and other classes, which they had been unable to fit into their schedules in their four years at AHS. The returning students attended classes the entire 1931-1932 school year.

While Alma Swick attended high school a fifth year, Charles Harshbarger headed to California in 1932, where he lived with his aunt, Clara Belle Harshbarger, and worked on a dairy farm south of San Luis Obispo. When his aunt passed away, Charles returned to Arcola. Alma and Charles continued their courtship while she worked in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Romack. They were married in Arcola on June 1, 1938.

The newlyweds then moved to the dairy farm in the mountains, 11 miles south of San Luis Obispo, California, where they rode horses to round up the cows at milking time. Alma and Charles were able to return to Illinois in 1939, to a farm owned by Charles’ father, Harry Harshbarger, which was 3 miles south and 1 mile west of Arcola. In the following year, the couple moved a short distance to a farm owned by Henry Moore. Alma and Charles were then able to purchase the farm and their family home.

The Harshbargers’ first son, Charles Edward, Jr. (Ed), was born October 12, 1940, followed by William Roger (Bill) on July 15, 1942 and Robert Swick (Bob) on July 22, 1944. Alma reports she worked at home until their boys were old enough to attend school, at which time she began her work to help Charles on the farm. She drove tractors as she plowed, disked, drove grain wagons to the elevator and even drove the hay baler. The Harshbarger farm included livestock and Alma was responsible for the chickens. She also tended to her large vegetable and flower gardens. Alma enjoyed quilting and was able to find time to stitch quilts for all their grandchildren, as well as some of their nieces and nephews.

Just as Alma had excelled in sports in high school, her sons became exceptional athletes at Arcola High School. Ed, Bill and Bob were four-year athletes who excelled in football, basketball and track. Ed and Bill were valuable members of Arcola’s 1958 “Sweet Sixteen” basketball team. Their football teams also won Okaw Valley championships in each of their senior years. Alma and Charles were faithful followers of their sons’ sporting events, and later enjoyed their grandsons’ activities in Arcola. Alma and Charles valued education and each of their sons earned college degrees. Ed and Bill studied at the University of Illinois and Bob at Eastern Illinois University.

The original Harshbarger home was enlarged in the mid-sixties, and their life together on the farm continued until Charles’ death on September 28, 1991, at age 78. Since his passing, the older, original portion of their home was torn down and a new addition completed the 1960s renovation to Alma’s home. With the help of her son, Bill, his family and other caregivers, Alma is able to reside comfortably in her country home, at the same site she and Charles chose to be their home 75 years ago.

Alma reports 5 generations of her family have attended Arcola schools at the same location. Her uncle, John Swick, was a 1921 AHS graduate. Alma and Charles graduated in 1931 and then their sons, Ed in 1958, Bill in 1960 and Bob in 1962. Bill and Lynne Harshbarger’s sons, Paul, Mark, Dan and Tim were with the classes of 1983, 1984, 1990 and 1994 respectively. Dan’s son, Julian, also attended Arcola schools, but has since moved from Arcola.

A calculation of Alma’s family members, as we sat at her dining room table, revealed 9 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild. In 2013, Alma was delighted to be photographed with her new great-granddaughter, Emma, who was born in November 2013, one hundred years after her own birth.

While Alma offers no explanation for her longevity, perhaps her active life on the farm, along with her home grown foods, has contributed to such a remarkable life.

Arcola Alumni Association salutes our amazing graduate, Alma Grace Swick Harshbarger, 84 years after her Arcola High School graduation.

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Last Revision December 14, 2017