Alpha Schweedler: A caretaker’s quiet faith sustains her

Photo by Nelfa Bice

Alpha Schweedler says she was named “Alpha” because her father was in the University when she was born, and named her after the first letter of the Greek alphabet. It might have been the last time she was ever “first” in her life—even at 94 years old, she still lives in her own house in McIntosh and helps take care of three of her grown children. (A fourth passed away a few years ago.)

This “caretaker” role has characterized much of Alpha’s life.

She was born in a small town in Arkansas on Jan. 12, 1924. Her grandfather was in the lumber business and her grandmother a schoolteacher. Her parents were farmers, and some of her earliest memories include not having an “icebox” and therefore having to cook the pigs to eat right after butchering them.

When she was five, because of her mom’s asthma, their family doctor advised them to move west. They stopped in Oklahoma and her father asked if there were any jobs available. He was told there were only two in the entire town. One of the two opportunities was in the Baptist church—they needed a preacher. Her father took that job, which began a career that not only determined the rest of his life, but shaped Alpha’s future as well.

He kept preaching at that Baptist church for 15 months, but wanted to finish his degree, so packed up his family and continued his planned move to New Mexico. He had however by this time considered preaching his “calling,” and had stints in Carlsbad, Truth & Consequences, and Albuquerque. Though Alpha does admit that being a preacher’s kid “wasn’t easy,” she seems to have inherited the “calling” herself. When she moved to the East Mountains in 1974 with her husband Ed, they started a church in their living room, a church Alpha believes is still meeting somewhere nearby to this very day.

One memory Alpha has of the move from Oklahoma is her dad paying $150 for a used 1929 Model T that had no roof; their family (parents, a brother, a sister, and herself) drove it all the way to New Mexico despite any weather they encountered.

Alpha still evidences a sense of humor that undoubtedly characterized her younger days. When asked what she remembers about the Great Depression, she replied, “There was absolutely nothing great about it!” She prefers to refer to it as the “Big Depression.” She recalled that most of the time churches couldn’t pay her dad much if at all, so he always took other jobs. One church offered $5 a month salary, an old house to live in, and food whenever parishioners could supply some. Even so, it was not unusual for her dad to bring homeless people home with him to share their family meal.

Some of her fondest memories revolve around her husband Ed. She remembers first meeting him when she was 8 years old and he was 21. She didn’t see him again for five years; when she was 13 she saw him driving a road grader and told herself, “I am going to marry that man!” And so she did—when she was 18 and Ed was 31, they married and began their life together. Ed passed away some 30 years ago.

During World War II, Ed was captured and held for a time in a POW camp in Germany. During this time Alpha worked at the Call Center that took and processed calls informing families that their loved ones were classified as MIA—or that they were coming home. Alpha fielded many such calls during her time in the call center, but one in particular caused her to scream out loud, the call informing her that her husband was coming home.

Alpha shared many such “coincidences,”—but she never believed that that’s what they were. It is her faith that has sustained her all these years; her faith that has motivated and strengthened her to be a caretaker most of her adult life; and her faith that she not only has passed on to her own children, but that she wants to leave as her legacy.

When asked what advice she would give to the younger generation today, she simply said: “Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, live by God’s laws, obey the laws of the nation, and treat everyone well.”

One recent evidence of God’s hand in her life took place just a few years ago, in 2015. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the tumor had grown so large that she could barely breathe. Her neighbor took her to see the doctor, and when told that she needed treatment, she asked if she could come back the following week to begin. The doctor informed her that she might not be alive if she waited one more week. Through the treatment and the prayers of her family and friends, the tumor not only disappeared, but she has been cancer-free ever since.

She does remember having her own personal caretaker for a period of her life—a Collie who watched out for her. This Collie, Alpha remembers, would not let any single men in the house when she was home alone—he would guard the door and bark at them until they left. Women and children could enter with no problem.

When asked what changes she has noticed in American society in general over the years, Alpha made the only political comment of the afternoon: “Politics,” she said. “Politics is so different now. Our president is very different than our other presidents.”

As for getting older, Alpha takes it in stride. She asked her doctor one time why she couldn’t do some of the things she used to do. “The years,” he said. “Alpha, it’s the years.” Despite “the years,” she still has a driver’s license and drives occasionally.

Having lived nearly a century, Alpha maintains her cheerful disposition, caretaker’s attitude, and quiet trust. “We weren’t wealthy, but God always provided,” she said of growing up in difficult times. She feels lucky to have been raised by a preacher, to have married the man she loved, and to have had the opportunity to love her four children and three grandchildren.