MAHOMET — “Dynamic,” “generous” and “mentor” are some of the words used to describe former longtime Mahomet-Seymour High School theater instructor Judy Swiger.
Ms. Swiger taught speech, drama and English at Mahomet-Seymour for 32 years and remained active in the theater community long after her retirement. But she was known just as much for her welcoming personality.
She died last week at Carle Foundation Hospital at age 73.
Larry Williams, who retired from St. Joseph-Ogden High School after a similarly lengthy career teaching theater said he couldn’t have asked for a better person to show him the ropes as he student-taught at M-S in the mid-1980s.
“It was just an absolutely wonderful experience,” he said. “She was just so generous as a teacher/mentor.
“She was driving force in terms of being a mentor and a friend.”
Mahomet-Seymour was well known for having a two-story costume wall. He said it was common for area theater directors who needed costumes to approach Ms. Swiger about finding a necessary item, and she was always accommodating.
LaDonna Wilson, drama director at Champaign Central High School, agreed.
“She would ... always let Central borrow costumes, and was really the glue that kept many of the local directors in contact” with one another, Wilson said.
John Tilford, retired theater director at Unity High, said when he met her, he “was instantly taken aback by her warmth.”
“Through working with her, I learned patience, kindness and dedication,” he said.
Ms. Swiger remained active in the theater community after her retirement.
Several area instructors worked with her as she was a driving force in the Educational Theater Association — the Illinois Thespians.
Ms. Swiger took over as state director and started a workshop for student leaders called TALENT, which she ran for years.
After she stepped down from the role, Williams took over, “and she was there as a friend and a mentor,” he said.
Williams said the group would hold lock-ins that included workshops with students from up to 25 schools. They would instruct student leaders during a weekend of theater training.
He said he and Ms. Swiger worked together when she was also executive director of the Illinois Theater Festival.
She also gave of her time by adjudicating shows that were under consideration to be included in the festival.
“She would be busy teaching, busy directing, but she would always take time to go see people’s productions,” Williams said.
When Wilson became executive director of the festival, she said she was eager to have Ms. Swiger in charge of hospitality because she knew her winning personality was the perfect fit.
“In that role, she met with anyone new to the festival, like she had with me years before,” Wilson said. “She made them feel welcome and let them know they could ask her anything.”
Originally from Dolton, Ms. Swiger earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., in 1969. She earned a master’s in theater history from the University of Illinois in 1986.
She spent her retirement years traveling the United States and overseas — including Africa and Australia — with her “travel buddies.”
“Judy had a very loving, caring, inclusive personality,” Williams said. “She was the kind of person that didn’t really know a stranger and was always the first to welcome someone and make them feel a part of the group.”
Ms. Swiger was the perfect person to attend a comedy presentation because her laugh would set the tone, he said.
“You could always recognize her hearty, genuine laugh,” he said. “You could always tell when she was in the audience. She would be the one who could always get the laughter going in a crowd.”
Tilford called her a “mentor, encourager, theater goddess, but most of all, a dear friend.”