John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Commentary by John Howell

Last laugh becomes memorial  with many to benefit

Ricky Swindle said that his mother got the last laugh. After a lifetime of playing practical jokes on each other, he discovered after she died last week that “she had planned her little funeral up so happy that I forgot to cry,” he said Monday.

Unlike her younger son, Annie Ruth Darby Swindle shunned the limelight. Yet so rarely has a Saturday gone by that Ricky has not mentioned his mother on his popular Saturday morning Local Yokels radio program on WBLE that the show’s many listeners consider themselves personally acquainted with her. We followed with concern through her recent hospitalization, and listening to what was said and what was not said on the Saturday broadcasts, understood that she was facing serious illness.

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But after she passed away last Thursday, leaving most to wonder, “so soon?” we now know that she was not caught unaware, having left concise instructions for her funeral, including, “all happy songs.”

And they were. At the First Pentecostal Church during her funeral Sunday, voices rejoiced and rose to the occasion of her expectations. Would-be mourners became rejoicers, clapping their hands in applause one happy song transitioned into another.

The only wrinkle in the schedule of these last few weeks of Mrs. Annie Swindle’s life was that she did not live to see a benefit planned on her behalf.

Sisters Karen Waldo Brown and Rebecca Waldo Smith had originally planned an occasion to raise funds to help with Mrs. Swindle’s expenses. Mrs. Swindle — again shunning the limelight — was at first reluctant. That’s when Ricky and his brother, Mike, intervened. Their reasoning follows Ricky’s line of thinking that people who organize these benefits often receive more than those on whose behalf the benefit is planned.

Ricky should know a few things about benefits. During his nine-year radio career, he has promoted, organized and advised more benefits than anybody I know. He’s the first person people think about when they decide to hold an event to benefit somebody.

“Let them get their blessing,” Ricky and Mike told their momma. She agreed, but only after her sons promised to donate the extra proceeds raised.

“We know that there’s people who need it a lot worse than us,” Ricky said.

Then when Mrs. Swindle died last week, Karen and Rebecca asked the brothers about what to do about plans for the March 3 event. That’s when the decision was made to turn it into the Annie Swindle Memorial Benefit with all proceeds to be donated to the Panola County Cancer Relief Fund.

“I know the organization; they’ve helped us two or three times with people who have come to me for help,” Ricky said. “That money stays in the county.”

Recipients are carefully screened to verify legitimate need, Swindle continued, yet the turnaround time between the request and donation can be accomplished quickly when speed is needed.

Word that the benefit has become a memorial has only fueled the interest.

Starting at 5 p.m. with a $5 donation requested at the door of the Lions Club building, the event will include much music, food fun and a live and a silent auction.

The Batesville Civitan Club will provide hamburgers and hotdogs for sale. Mark Lipscomb will conduct the live auction, Panola Paper Company will furnish paper goods, Brown said.

Musicians include Steve McGregory’s Souls for Christ, John and Evelyn Waldo (joined by daughters Karen and Rebecca, of course), Marty and Amy Sandifer, the Ellis Family from Bethany Baptist Church, Michelle Penton (Swindle’s niece from Athens, Alabama) and Nikki Brown (another niece), Billy Cosby, the Compton family, Vera Cain Ainsworth. There will likely be more by Saturday.

“Ricky said he wanted everybody to sing who wanted to sing,” Brown said.

 So an event that began as a benefit has now become a memorial that is expected to pick up that happy occasion that Annie Swindle’s funeral became last Saturday.

And who knows who might benefit from the proceeds to be raised or the blessings that will surely flow freely?