Obituary for Pamela Schwandt
PAMELA ANNE POYNTER 1939 – 2018 Pamela Schwandt died on January 5, 2018, at her home in Northfield. Her husband, her two sisters, and three ministerial family cats were around and about the house when she died. She was 78. The funeral service for her will be at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield on Tuesday, January 16, at 11 a. m. An hour to visit will precede the service. Pastor Jonathan Davis will preside, and Pastor Walter Sundberg will preach. Pam preferred that memorials in her name be given to the Endowment Fund of the Howard and Edna Hong […]
PAMELA ANNE POYNTER
1939 – 2018
Pamela Schwandt died on January 5, 2018, at her home in Northfield. Her husband, her two sisters, and three ministerial family cats were around and about the house when she died. She was 78.
The funeral service for her will be at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield on Tuesday, January 16, at 11 a. m. An hour to visit will precede the service. Pastor Jonathan Davis will preside, and Pastor Walter Sundberg will preach.
Pam preferred that memorials in her name be given to the Endowment Fund of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library and sent to St. Olaf College.
Her ashes will be buried at later dates at Valley Grove Lutheran Church near Nerstrand, Minnesota, at Union State Line Lutheran Church, its cemetery, near Petersburg, Minnesota, and at the Enderlin Cemetery, Enderlin, North Dakota.
Pamela Schwandt was afflicted by breast cancer: a lumpectomy in 2007, a double mastectomy in 2014, metastatic bone cancer in June 2017, and finally metastatic liver cancer in December 2017. On January 3, she was put under hospice care at home, and was grateful. She declined rapidly in the last week of her life, and would have said that she was blessed with a speedy exit.
She is survived by her husband Jack, her sister Karen Hillger and her family, her sister Susan Chenoweth, ”First Cousin Adrian Poynter,” and other relatives dear to her. She is also survived by her daughter, Renée Marsh, and her husband Patrick, and their children: Mercedes, Benjamin, Katie, and Sophia. Renée Marsh transformed her mother’s life, and the mother her daughter’s.
Pamela Anne Poynter was born on March 19, 1939, in Petersburg, Minnesota, to Donald and LaVonne Poynter. Her mother gave birth in a bedroom of Henry and Clara Gilbert’s home; they were her maternal grandparents. Her great-grandmother, Hannah Anderson, always ”Ma,” was the village midwife and she attended Pamela’s birth. “My beloved grandmothers,” she called them.
She was baptized in Union State Line Lutheran Church, and lived in ”the burg” until she was eight, when her family moved north to Redwood Falls, Minnesota. She was an active young member of First English Lutheran Church in Redwood, and later recognized how much she owed to its pastors and its elders. She enjoyed high school, made friends for a lifetime, and went back to Redwood for class reunions whenever she could.
She ”went east to school,” from Redwood to St. Olaf College, attended graduate school at the University of Washington and then at the University of Minnesota, which awarded her the Ph. D. in 1970. She learned Greek and did extensive research into the French debate about Homer to write her dissertation: Pope’s Iliad: The Transformation from Homeric to Augustan, which she dedicated “To Jack.” She wrote it, at top speed, in the Reading Room of the British Museum in London, a haven for her and her husband.
Samuel Holt Monk supervised her work on the dissertation. She admired him, and Robert B. Heilman at Washington, for their clear minds and clear prose, as well as for their moral substance. They were her exemplary graduate school professors.
A few months ago, she found a water-stained copy of the dissertation in her leaky garage. She tossed it in the garbage can. So much for academic distinction and a well-received dissertation.
Books shaped her life, from her school days in Redwood Falls, when she checked out books from the Carnegie Library, to 2017, when she read again the last three major novels of Henry James. In this task, and in her reading life altogether, she discovered the truth of Nabokov’s dictum that “One cannot read a book, one can only re-read it.”
She was instructed by the simple complexity of Jane Austen’s sentences and the moral distinctions at work in her six novels. She also learned from the stories of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, especially The Brothers Karamazov, which she read four times.
She taught at St. Olaf from 1963 to 1968, left her job to work on her doctorate at Minnesota, and returned to teaching at the college in 1974 and stayed at it until 1996, when she retired. She was happy to teach at St. Olaf, when she did, and was more than equally happy to be done with academic life when she was.
Pascal taught her to recognize the dangers of “diversion,” one form of which is to be captured by the high-bred claims of the Academy and to forget the essential matters that stand beyond its purview, except now and then at church colleges.
When she looked back on academic life, Pope’s Dunciad was never far from her mind, and the disproportions of some campus architecture reminded her of the claims in his Epistle to Burlington. She enjoyed Frank Lloyd Wright’s wisecrack about San Francisco, to this effect: a site so beautiful that even its worst architecture could nor spoil it.
She enjoyed a long retirement, as has her husband. Their home became the center of her retired life. She cooked with a flair, welcomed friends of all persuasions and many a former student to her table, was an avid gardener, and extended the range and depth of her reading life.
Pamela Schwandt was not a patroness of the absurd, but she knew absurdity from inside, from a deep-down sadness in her life. It was a blessing for her, for her friends, and for her husband that the absurdity she knew all too well was transformed. Not by her own reason and strength, she would add. It reappeared in her wry, quick wit., laced on occasion with a Swift-like edge. Her’s became a house of laughter.
Cooky Fitzsimons recalls laughing herself silly in the company of “Pam and Jack.” They cultivated stories over the years, and joked about this “oral tradition.” Many of the stories grew out of their life with Howard and Edna Hong; they called these the “Hong Tales.” Here is Edna telling the three of them about “Howard.” The good neighbor had tried to pull a friend’s car out of the mud with a scrap of a tow rope, not a chain. It didn’t work. Laughter abounded and Edna was happy. Kierkegaard himself might have pounced on that benign absurdity, the subject of Edna’s tale.
Above all, she shaped a daily devotional life: prayer, disciplined Scripture reading, O. Hallesby, and written reflections on what she had learned from this practice. Every morning. In Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, we learn that Archbishop Latour prayed every morning, which freed him to do whatever he had to do during the rest of the day. Pamela Schwandt learned the same lesson.
She was an active lay minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church for more than twenty-five years. Through this and other tasks, she became aware of the link between her adult years and her childhood in Petersburg and at Union State Line Lutheran Church. As she was, so she became again.
Howard and Edna Hong were her teachers in this adult education project of hers. She was sustained by their friendship, and by how they lived, throughout her Northfield years, even or especially after they died. She was indebted to them, as is her husband.
She walked an unusual path. “She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” So was Pamela Anne Poynter.
Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com