Platte City lost its biggest fan with Jack Swaney's death

Evan Cline probably wrote the best description, and despite my attempts the past few days, I couldn’t come up with any better words to describe Jack Swaney.

“I picture the guy in the stands on a Friday night yelling, ‘Good job, O-line’ because everyone always cheers for the guy that scored, but he was the guy wanted to make sure the rest of the players felt special as well.”

Platte City lost its biggest fan last week on Tuesday, Feb. 23 when Jack Swaney — a veteran, a dentist and a community leader — died of health complications. He was 70 years old.

 Jack Swaney

Jack Swaney

When you try to encapsulate what Jack Swaney meant to this city, you need a lot of words. I still think Cline, a Platte County graduate, did a good job of putting together a brief statement that shows who Jack Swaney was during his robust life.

You see, Jack Swaney wanted all of the best for Platte City, and that required investment. There truly was no bigger supporter of this community, including mayor Frank Offutt. Those who know mayor Offutt know what a compliment this is.

Up until the past few months, Jack Swaney could still be found attending Platte County sporting events, although his three children graduated years ago.

But Platte City was home and had been for a long time. Jack Swaney graduated from Platte County High School in 1963 and then the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before serving in Vietnam for nearly a year — a tour that resulted in injuries, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He came back to the area and received his DDS from UMKC and opened his dental practice here, serving this community for many years.

Jack Swaney’s three children — John, Anne and David — followed his path as influential students in Platte County before going on to professional success. That gave him an additional opportunity to give back and become even more involved in activities, lending support through attendance, fundraising and his spoken words.

Seemingly, Jack Swaney never missed a second of what went on in Platte City.
That didn’t stop when David Swaney graduated from high school in 1998. Jack Swaney’s indelible spirit remained, even as he grew older, because he stayed involved.

Believed to be the first all-state football player in Platte City history, Jack Swaney turned down scholarship offers to accept his appointment to West Point. He humbly mused that he didn’t want to compete with the accomplishments of his older brother Tommy, a captain at Missouri during his career from 1955-59.

Jack Swaney always approached his tasks with humor and humility. In addition to duties with Lions Club and Quarterback Club, he took on other tasks including “volunteer groundskeeper” to help maintain the football field in the days of natural grass.

In 1999, Platte County made him a member of the inaugural Pirate Hall of Fame class — meant to honor the best of the best among those who helped advance the school district. There might not have been a brighter light than “The Old Pirate,” Swaney who seemingly still had so much more to give in this life.

But eventually Jack Swaney might have died from a broken heart.

The Swaney family suffered through almost unimaginable tragedy in recent years first with the death of John and then news earlier this year of Anne’s tragic murder while on vacation in rural Belize. In the aftermath of Anne’s death, Jack Swaney did interviews as the story reached international audiences.

Jack Swaney continued to look strong, but the toll had to be immense.

Now, siblings Tom, Mary, Hal and George have lost a brother. David has lost his father. Thirteen grandchildren will be reminded constantly of the man their grandfather was during 70 full years of life.

The Wilson Center for Performing Arts at Platte County High School likely won’t be able to hold all those who will show up for Jack Swaney’s services this Saturday. He meant that much to so many people in this community, a testament to what his efforts meant to making Platte City a special place.

That’s the mark of Jack Swaney.

Whether you were the star quarterback or the backup offensive tackle, Jack Swaney wanted you to succeed because you were representing Platte City. I could apply this to any activity, sport or endeavor, but a sports analogy seems fitting to me.

Ever the optimist, Jack Swaney wanted you to feel important so that you could represent Platte City in a positive way. Ironically, Jack might have been more important than any of us in helping make this a wonderful community; his spirit and energy simply drug us all along with him.

We can’t replace that, only try to learn from it and carry the spirit on as best we can. 

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at editor@plattecountycitizen.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.