John W. Swails (1915-2010)
John W. Swails was born November 26, 1915, in the small community of Andrews, S.C., to John W. Swails Sr. and Minnie Kellahan Swails. He was the 10th of 15 children. In January 1919, when Swails was only three years old, his mother fell victim to the Spanish Flu pandemic, and his father moved the family to an 80-acre farm in the Puncheon Creek Community. Swails quit school in the fifth grade to help work the farm until his father’s death in December 1932.
Swails’ eternal destiny and earthly future changed, however, in May 1932 when he accepted Christ at a three-week revival presided over by his uncle, W. T. (Bud) Swails, a minister from Rockingham, N.C. Following his conversion, God called the 16-year-old Swails into the ministry and placed within him an unquenchable hunger for the word of God. In a humble manner, Swails estimated that he read through the Bible at least 10 times in the three years following his conversion.
He also memorized countless scripture passages. Friends would often quote scriptures to him, and to their surprise, Swails would recount not only the book and the chapter, but also the verse from memory. He fondly recalled that while plowing a field for planting, he would memorize scriptures from a Bible that was falling apart.
Swails began his pastoral ministry in a home group in Jamestown, S.C., in early 1935. That year he was also accepted to Holmes Bible College, where he completed the requirements for graduation from both high school and Bible School in 1941. Swails furthered his education by earning a B.A. in philosophy and religion from Newberry College in 1944, a Master of Divinity at Lutheran Southern Seminary in 1946, and a Master of Arts in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1951. In addition, he completed 26 hours of post-graduate study at the University of Georgia.
In the midst of his graduate work, Swails still found time to focus on starting a family. On September 16, 1946, he married Glenda Mae Baldwin at Matthews Tabernacle Pentecostal Holiness Church in Lake City, S.C. During his first two years of marriage, Swails pastored Pentecostal Holiness churches in Elgin, Camden and Hamlet, S.C. The family’s time at Hamlet also saw the arrival of his eldest son, John W. (Johnny) Swails III. In 1948, Swails moved his young family west when he accepted a teaching position at Southwestern College in Bethany, Okla. His tenure there lasted three years and saw the arrival of his second son, Joseph B. (Joe) Swails.
In spite of offers to pastor large churches in Oklahoma, Swails accepted a second teaching position at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Ga., in 1951. There he taught Bible, Christian ministries, and social sciences until his retirement in 1982. Many students were impacted greatly by Swails’ unique didactic style, and he always found it rewarding to be contacted by a former student or colleague. When Emmanuel’s new auditorium was christened in 1998, Swails was the board of trustees’ first choice for the honor, and the John W. Swails Center was so named. A street in Franklin Springs has been named for him as well.
While teaching at Emmanuel, Swails pastored the Elberton Pentecostal Holiness Church from 1953 to 1956. His youngest son, James R. (Jim) Swails, was born in 1953. Swails served as pastor for the Royston Pentecostal Holiness Church from 1956 to 1959, followed by a one-year stint as pastor of the Emmanuel College Church. In 1960 this pastorate consolidated with the Franklin Springs Pentecostal Holiness Church, where he ministered until 1982. Swails’ pastoral ministry concluded at Stephenson Avenue Pentecostal Holiness Church in Savannah in 1985.
Rather than completely retire, however, Swails continued to evangelize from his home in Franklin Springs until the last few years of his life. He lost Glenda, his devoted wife of almost 60 years, in 2006. Within a year, God brought his second wife, Sylvia Williams, into his life, and they were married on August 5, 2007. Sylvia was a devoted companion and great encourager for the final three years of his life.
John W. Swails passed away on June 12, 2010. In addition to Sylvia, survivors include his three sons and daughters-in-law—John W. Swails III, Ph.D., and wife, Joy Williams Swails, of Tulsa, Okla.; Joseph B. Swails and wife, Sue Duncan Swails, of Georgetown, S.C.; and James R. Swails, M.D., and wife, Deborah Redd Swails, of Franklin Springs, Ga.—and a stepson, Travia Marcus Williams. He is also survived by nine grandchildren—John W. IV, Jana, Jaffa, Jessica, Joel, Aaron Pierce, Ryan, Summer and Sydnah—and nine great-grandchildren.