Marilee Swirczek, Western Nevada College professor, writer, ‘Always Lost: A Meditation on War’ director dies

Marilee Swirczek, who taught English at Western Nevada College for 24 years and served as a Carson City supervisor, has died.

Swirczek passed away Sunday. She was 68 years old.

“The WNC family deeply mourns the passing of Marilee Swirczek,” said WNC President Chet Burton. “She touched scores of students at WNC, and the knowledge and passion that she passed on to them will leave an enduring legacy. WNC and the Carson City community have lost a great colleague and neighbor, but we are richer for having known her. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family at this very difficult time.”

Swirczek, with WNC Professor Don Carlson, was instrumental in the creation of “Always Lost: A Meditation on War,” a multimedia project featuring photos and essays on the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars currently on exhibit at WNC’s main art gallery through July 29.

“One of her legacies, of course, is the ‘Always Lost’ project, a somber and powerful reminder of the cost of war. But there is so much more, as well, because she encouraged and instructed hundreds of people to write memoirs and stories about themselves and their families. She was a spark to so many people’s creativity, and that’s a rare talent in any community,” said Barry Smith, Nevada Press Association executive director.

Smith, when he first became editor of the Nevada Appeal in 1996, recruited Swirczek to write for the newspaper’s Fresh Ideas column.

“I admired Marilee very much because when some people might recognize a problem or a concern or an injustice and take a step back, Marilee would always take a step forward,” said Abby Johnson, who was another Fresh Ideas contributor and who took Swirczek’s creative writing class.

Swirczek was elected to and served on the Carson City Board of Supervisors from 1987 to 1990. Her husband Ron also served on the board.

Swirczek began teaching creative writing at WNC in 1989 and 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, she and Carlson, a WNC sociology professor, collaborated to create “Always Lost: A Meditation on War.”

The exhibition includes written work by Swirczek’s creative writing students, the Lone Mountain Writers group and other Northern Nevada writers, veterans and their families.

The project also features the Wall of the Dead, individual photographs with names of the more than 6,500 U.S. military war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.

Retired Marine Maj. Kevin Burns selected the name for the exhibition from an observation by American writer Gertrude Stein: “War is never fatal but always lost. Always lost.”

“Marilee was giant in a small body. We joked that she was so dynamic in her classrooms that the chairs needed seatbelts. Teaching creative writing, she had a following that rivaled the Pied Piper’s. Many took her classes over again multiple times to absorb her vast knowledge of writing,” said Burns. “She was more than a teacher, more than a friend, and more than a colleague to the WNC family. She was our sister.”

“Always Lost: A Meditation on War” received national recognition and became a traveling exhibit displayed at more than 50 colleges, universities, and veterans’ organizations throughout the country.

In 2010, in recognition, The Daughters of the American Revolution, John C. Fremont Chapter, awarded Swirczek the DAR Medal of Honor, an award given to an individual who demonstrates extraordinary qualities of leadership, trustworthiness, service and patriotism.

When she retired in 2012, WNC writing students along with the Lone Mountain Writers and Ash Canyon Poets paid tribute to Swirczek with an exhibition titled “Affirmations: A Writer’s Truth.”

At the reception, Swirczek returned the tribute to her many students.

“Most of all, it’s a sweet good-bye for me. I’ve been privileged to watch this amazing, funny, intense group of people grow as writers. The show gives me an opportunity to experience every teacher’s dream: to applaud my students’ insights and successes and to encourage and appreciate them as they surpass me,” she said at the time.

Before coming to Carson City, Swirczek taught literature and writing at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu and California State University, Sacramento.

Swirczek is survived by her husband Ron. She had three children, two stepchildren and nine grandchildren.


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