By Sue Moore
“I’m passionate about the Civil War,” said Gary Swain. He will be the featured speaker for the Historical Society’s History Day and the May Meander that opens the season at the Historic Village. His talk at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 is the first of six scheduled in the old township hall. It’s funded by a grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council.
He will portray the Civil War through the lenses of the Michigan soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, a defining battle of the war. Michigan soldiers were well represented at Gettysburg with 2,100 men in uniform in a battle that took between 1,100 and 1,200 casualties. He will also reminisce about what happened to some of those soldiers once they returned home.
Swain is well known as an officer in Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a Michigan fraternal organization formerly known as the Grand Army of the Republic, with regional offices throughout the state. He was regimental commander of the Kalamazoo regional camp and now serves as the Graves and Memorial registration officer for a group that covers Kalamazoo, VanBuren, Allegan and Kent counties.
The groups’ efforts are dedicated to putting markers on Civil War veterans’ graves. They take charge of cleaning the graves and keeping track of the 9,200 grave sites in the four-county area. He is the executive director of the Michigan Civil War Institute, a statewide organization. He lives in Kalamazoo.
He stresses the proper way of cleaning headstones, leading into May’s Memorial Day observances throughout the state and nation. The National Park Service recommends a product called X2 that has a biocide in it that will kill any living organism embedded in the headstone. His group uses a product made by Proctor & Gamble called Orvus. It’s a detergent that won’t harm the stone while cleaning the dirt and grime off. It’s available at most Tractor Supply or Farm & Fleet stores. It is more commonly used for washing horses.
Swain grew up in the Parchment area and worked at the KVPS/Sutherland Paper Company while in college at Western Michigan University. He spent years as vice president of marketing for Mobil Oil Chemical division in Boston and then with a plastics manufacturer that was big in recycling. He retired 10 years ago and has been active with the WMU Foundation board and the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at Western. He is currently on the board of the group that is heading up the Abraham Lincoln monument project. It is raising funds to place a statue of Lincoln in Bronson Park to commemorate his speech there in 1856.