‘A True Humanitarian’
Remembering Jewell Thompson Schweitzer
Editor’s note: Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 Humanitarian Award to honor a southwest Missouri resident for service that contributes to the betterment of his or her community. The deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5. Click here to fill out an nomination application.
As a child of the Great Depression, she was frugal, conservative and no-nonsense.
As a member of the Greatest Generation, she was a successful businesswoman, an active civic participant and a woman ahead of her time.
Those defining characteristics gave Jewell Thompson Schweitzer her great heart: A heart broken by the premature deaths of an infant son and her husband, Fred; a heart pulled to support causes like a renovated library for her neighborhood; a heart filled with pride each year when a fellow Ozarker was honored with the Humanitarian Award she made possible; a heart that gave out suddenly one morning in April after 97 years of living.
“She was truly just one of the most caring and giving people I’ve ever known in my life,” says Laurie Edmondson, Jewell’s goddaughter and frequent companion.
Jewell Thompson grew up near Grove, Okla., as the only girl, “The Princess” among her five brothers. Her family survived the Depression living off the food they grew on their land. Jewell’s mother made her clothes, sometimes by memory of a dress they fancied during a trip to town.
She understood the value of education and went to evening classes at Drury. She worked for a judge at the Woodruff building in downtown Springfield, which had a café where she met Dr. Fred Schweitzer, whose medical practice was there. He died in 1972 of a heart ailment; years earlier, they had lost their week-old only child of a congenital heart defect.
In addition to his medical practice, Fred had extensive land and real estate holdings. At a time when women weren’t always able to sign real-estate documents on their own, Jewell took over their real-estate business after he died.
She kept close tabs on the economy and the stock market. Her days were ordered by to-do lists and hard work, whether mowing lawns or maintaining meticulous ledgers and records. She never moved from the house she and Fred had built in Brentwood and she owned just two cars during her adult life.
“She really, truly came from nothing and knew what that was like,” Edmondson says. “Her work ethic was very strong. She was very frugal, but also very generous with others.”
Some of her generosity became obvious, like her naming gift to the Brentwood Library’s capital campaign. Other causes were less so. A devoted member of P.E.O., she was loyal to Cottey College founded by the sisterhood. She loved the Junior League of Springfield’s Charity Horse Show and supported the American Heart Association. She also believed in the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and eventually came to see herself as one of the “good old boys” who could hold her own in the business community.
In the late 1980s, attorney John Courtney was assisting her with financial planning. With his passion for the CFO, hers for the Chamber and an interest in creating recognition for unsung members of the community, they worked with former CFO President Jan Horton to develop the Humanitarian Award.
“She certainly did always have the community in mind in everything she did,” Horton says.
That award has now been given to 31 people over 27 years. Thanks to her generosity, her fund defrays the cost of the annual event and provides the recipient with $5,000 to use as desired.
“She was truly one of a kind in an era when women were seen in a different way,” Edmondson says. “Through the joys and sorrows of her life, she proved she was a strong, independent woman who went through a lot and pulled herself up and accomplished a great deal.
“She is a true Humanitarian.”
This story was originally published in “Passion & Purpose: The CFO Magazine.” You can read the full publication here.