Edith Swanson Middleton ’50
As Edith Swanson Middleton ’50 thinks back to the type of person she was before transferring to Wheeler as a sixth-grader many years ago, she recalls her extreme shyness and her trouble reading. Taking time out from overseeing a recent renovation project at her seasonal home near Sun Valley, Idaho, Middleton recalls that, for her, confidence building began at Wheeler.
"When I was in public school there were 40 kids in my class and with a last name of Swanson, my desk was in the back of the room," she recalls. "My parents wanted me to have a better education so transferring to a smaller class at Wheeler with just 12 girls was terrific for me, although being shy, making friends among such a small group was hard at first."
Middleton remembered that one of her Wheeler teachers, Mrs. Christine Chace Wallace ’26, helped the shy, near-sighted girl learn to read. Building friendships at Wheeler, and summers spent at Waukeela Camp helped this young adolescent gain confidence.
Where such beginnings as a schoolgirl can lead can be amazing. In Middleton's case, she's been led to South Africa recently where she has served as a cabin counselor for young girls whose families have been affected by HIV/AIDS.
"I met a former Peace Corps volunteer at a dinner for people who owned camps (such as Middleton did for many years with Waukeela). This man had created this camp in South Africa and asked me to spend time there," she said.
"I thought to myself: ‘This is crazy. I'm 70+ years old, I don't speak the language. I've never worked internationally.’ But I also thought, ‘I'm healthy, full of energy and know camping. I can do it.’ I had been in South Africa in the early 1980s. It was a totally white experience, and I was curious to see the country post-Apartheid," she explained. "I was happy to see it had changed for the better, but there is still a long ways to go."
Middleton spent two weeks "working harder than when I was a 20-year-old counselor."
"I was shocked that the campers, many of whom I knew didn't get three square meals a day, were so filled with energy and bright and smart and full of it," exclaimed Middleton. "My girls were 9 years old, and their parents had sacrificed much to send them to school; so getting to go to camp was very special. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The campers proved their gratitude by carrying anything Middleton needed, holding her hand and giving her a Zulu name as a "Revered Older Person." They also liked to sing for her and nicknamed her "Granny."
Middleton feels that early experiences whether at school or at camp, are the building blocks for later life.
"I've always felt that there are a number of people who spent ten years of their educational life at Wheeler and then maybe left for a boarding school or elsewhere and don't realize that their future success was built at Wheeler. They were given the basis to qualify for other education by having been prepared at Wheeler." Middleton feels alumnae/i support of the school is critical to the future of Wheeler.
"I've never been one to wish the school would stay just as it was when I was a student. I know I had a learning difference and was thrilled to see the Hamilton School develop. My parents knew I was smart as a kid. I had a good brain but a ‘kink’ in it. (Hamilton is one of Middleton's areas of major gift support along with financial aid.)
"Change doesn't change my feelings for Wheeler," said Middleton as she raced back to finish conferring with architects on changes to her own home.
Building a strong foundation can provide the basis to build for the future with confidence.