Amy Roby said she “connected heart and soul” to longtime Western Nevada College instructor Marilee Swirczek during their time working on the “Always Lost: A Meditation on War” exhibit.
“Marilee was my mentor and my muse. My editor and my colleague. My cheerleader and my confidante. My champion and my friend,” Roby said. “My most cherished memories with Marilee are the unseen ones. I loved her. I love her. All of us were so blessed to be in her aura.”
Roby spoke at the farewell reception to retire the exhibit — a collection of images of stories dedicated to the sacrifices of war — that morphed into a memorial for Swirczek who died July 17.
“Her death set a pall over this campus like I have never seen,” said Ret. Marine Maj. Kevin Burns.
Burns took her creative writing class 19 semesters in a row.
“Marilee saw what I could not see in myself,” he said. “What was more impressive, is that she helped me see it in myself.”
Fellow writer Teresa Breeden said she was struck immediately by Swirczek’s humility.
“If I had two words to describe her, I would say fierce and authentic,” Breeden said. “She gave you her full attention and focus. It was beautiful.”
Swirczek began teaching creative writing at WNC in 1989. In 1991, with some of her creative writing students, she established the Lone Mountains Writers, an ongoing group of writers who meet twice monthly to share and critique their work.
In 2008, Swirczek and Carlson, a WNC sociology professor, collaborated to create “Always Lost: A Meditation on War.”
She served on the Carson City Board of Supervisors from 1987 to 1990.
Longtime student Josh Galarza, who once bought Swirczek a life-size cardboard cutout of Edward Cullen, read some of the essays he wrote about her.
“I always thought of her as the kind who liked to collect misfit toys,” Galarza said. “The more broken you were, the more she loved you.”
He read part of piece he wrote for her about what it would be like to have a wedding she imagined for him.
“Maybe, for once in my life, I’d be as proud of myself as she was,” he read.
While Swirczek was successful in most endeavors, longtime friend and colleague Maxine Cirac told of a book several professors at the college attempted in the early 1990s called, “Women Who Walk Dogs.”
While the project never came to fruition, Swirczek remained dedicated.
“Marilee not only finished many drafts, she was also working on publicity to get us on Oprah,” Cirac said. “That was Marilee.”
Fellow English professor Chad McCully said Swirczek, who served on his hiring committee and was his advocate in his tenure process, was always encouraging.
“In my creative writing class, if I did anything right, I am indebted to Marilee,” he said. “I was always amazed by her. She is going to continue to inspire me forever.”
Student Amy Smee said she was just home from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan when she first took Swirczek’s class.
“It was a low point in my life. I wasn’t doing so hot,” she said, through tears. “She didn’t just change my life. She saved my life.”
Breeden concluded her remarks reading a comment Swirczek once wrote on an assignment.
“‘This seems too tame in light of the destruction taking place,’” the comment read.
“‘No matter how much we celebrate, it is too tame because something really wonderful has been lost.’”