Jon Mark Beilue: A-four-able pursuit of education

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Swartwood triplets, older brother benefit from Family Scholarship

 

Swartwood_JMB_1Photo:The Swartwood siblings—triplets Cale, from left, Kylee and Kynlee, and older brother Cody—all are attending West Texas A&M University, thanks in part to the Family Scholarship program.

Not that they had a say in it initially, but Kynlee, Cale and Kylee Swartwood have been together virtually all of their 19-year-old lives. Brother Cody, older by two years, has never been too far behind.

Kynlee, Cale and Kylee entered this world at about three-minute intervals on Sept. 11, 2003, each weighing about five pounds. Parents Brian and D’Awn were not going to let four young children keep them chained to their country home southwest of Amarillo.

“It wasn’t too long before we needed to get out and do things,” D’Awn said. “We weren’t going to stay shut-ins just because we had so many little kids.”

People knew to give the Swartwoods a wide berth in public. That’s because Brian and D’Awn put the three in a triplet stroller, and Cody either had his own or was in someone’s arms. Together, they would hit the grocery store, restaurants, or wherever they needed to be.

That continued as they started school in the Bushland school system. The triplets were in the same elementary classroom with Cody two grades ahead.

At home, the Western lifestyle was at the forefront. That had been part of growing up for D’Awn in the eastern Texas Panhandle and Brian in western Oklahoma. They passed that on to their children.

Weekends during warm weather were almost always for competing in junior rodeos and reining horse competitions. Those horses needed to be cared for, and much of that fell to the ones who rode them, no matter their age.

The Swartwoods, active in 4H, also began to show livestock in local county shows with an occasional trip to one of the major ones.

“We exposed them to animals and chores, and tried to teach them the lessons of responsibility that those animals are relying on you to take care of them,” said Brian, general manager of Cactus Varied Industries, a division of Cactus Feeders. “So they had a pretty full life early on with that kind of responsibility.”

To find one was to usually find them all. No brother or sister was ever lonely.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be seen as an individual person. You’re always seen as ‘the triplets,’ compared to Kylee the individual,” Kylee said. “But we’ve always been tight. We always have someone to go to for something. We can always rely on each other, and when you need help, you always have a friend.”

College did not pull them apart

Swartwood_JMB_4Photo: Kynlee, left, and Kylee Swartwood

High school graduation can be one of those forks in the road for a family where paths start to split as life, interests, and the future starts to pull and tug.

The triplets graduated from Bushland High School in May, but their paths have not deviated – not yet anyway. All four Swartwood children are at West Texas A&M University, spurred by what the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences has to offer, and what WT’s Family Scholarship Program can provide.

Education had always been part of the Swartwood upbringing—a homework-before-play policy. It was understood that some kind of education would continue after high school. It was just that no one really knew where or what exactly.

“As the kids got into high school, you start thinking about college one day, and having four at the same time,” D’Awn said. “We worried about it, but we also felt like it would work out.”

In a way, it would work out as it did when D’Awn, a registered nurse, gave up her career on the birth of her children at age 35 to be a stay-home mother and wife. It was never a decision that was second-guessed even though it meant just one income.

“It was just more important for me to be at home,” she said, “and do the things they needed from a mother. Nowadays, it seems like kids grow up with someone else taking care of them, and we didn’t want that to happen with ours if we could make it work.”

WT had always seemed like a strong possibility because of its location and reputation, but it was not taken for granted that was where all would go. Kylee, for one, entertained other ideas.

“Honestly, I didn’t necessarily want to go to school with my siblings just because we had been together for 18 years,” she said. “So when I first started thinking of college, I wanted to go somewhere further from home. I grew up around WT, but I didn’t consider WT an option.”

Kynlee was considering becoming a pharmacist and getting a bachelor’s degree in biology. Then the family took a tour of the agricultural sciences building and met with dean Dr. Kevin Pond, associate dean Dr. Lance Kieth, and Dr. Dan Posey, clinical professor at WT’s Veterinary, Education, Research and Outreach, the collaborative veterinary school with Texas A&M University.

“I loved the people and the environment, and that changed things for me,” Kynlee said.

“They were so personable and seemed like they had all the time in the world for us,” D’Awn said. “That clinched it for the kids.”

‘Blown away by’ family scholarship

Swartwood_JMB_3Photo: Cale, left, and Cody Swartwood

What may have clinched it for mom and dad is WT’s Family Scholarship Program. If more than two members of the same household are attending WT at the same time, the third tuition is given as a scholarship and is divided equally between the three family members.

“That family scholarship, what a blessing that is. Wow,” Brian said. “Once we found out about that, we were blown away by it.”

On one of several tours speaking to students at high schools in the Panhandle and South Plains, WT President Walter V. Wendler spoke with a high school secretary at a school near Lubbock. She asked if her family could get a price break if her triplets went to WT.

It was one of the quickest starts to a scholarship in WT history. Wendler told her immediately that if all three came to WT, she’d only have to pay for two of them. That’s the power of a presidency.

As the fall 2022 semester is about to end, Kylee, Cale, Kynlee and Cody are about the finish their first semester together. All are full-time students with at least part-time jobs.

Cale and Cody are majoring in agri-business and economics. Kynlee is studying agri-business and Kylee is in the animal science pre-vet program. The two sisters share a Canyon apartment while Cale lives in the same complex. Cody lives in Amarillo.

Kylee works for local veterinarian Dr. Chris Morrow three days a week. Kynlee works four, sometimes five, days a week at Blessed Buffalo Boutique. Cody works at Cactus Varied Industries at least 35 hours a week, while Cale works at Coffman Customs, a diesel engine repair service in Canyon.

“I have been taught – we all have been taught – how to manage our time,” Cody said. “That’s really helped me a lot in college, to make sure I get things done on time.”

They still help raise chickens, ducks, pheasants and honeybees at the family home, where there are also three vegetable gardens that need tending. No matter how busy, every Wednesday and Sunday they all meet there for home-cooked meals.

“For my wife and I, one of the main feelings we have is relief,” Brian said. “If we had kids scattered at four different colleges, my worry level would be exponentially higher. Being right here together is really good for us.”

Though college is a blending of diverse people from different backgrounds, and WT has more than 50 percent of its students from outside the Panhandle, the Swartwoods are in many ways the epitome of WT. They are born and raised in the school’s shadow, and are pursuing an education in a department that has defined the Panhandle.

“We know that the cultural commitment of people in this part of Texas to family life builds a strong economy and a prosperous future for our region,” Wendler said. “We want to help families serve each other and help simultaneously in our service to the area by encouraging commitment to our home.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at [email protected] .

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