OCEAN CITY – Seventeen-year-old Amy Swain received two educations of sorts last Saturday night in West Ocean City: one with a price and one that was priceless.
Swain and her mother, Katie, flew to Ocean City from their home in Texas to be presented with a trust fund of almost $25,000 raised over 17 years by a group of her late father’s old college buddies. Yet, the stories that she was told about her father, Barry Swain, who passed away from bone marrow cancer when she was just 8 months old, may just have been more valuable than the monetary gift.
“I see my dad in a whole different light after meeting his old friends”, said Amy. “Before today, I’d only ever heard stories about him from my mother, so to hear stories about him is just unbelievable.”
The event, which was held at Osteria Fraschetti on Saturday night, was a culmination of 17 years of planning by local resident Rick Weber, who knew Amy’s father in college at Towson State University, and about “30 to 40 of Barry’s friends who were just heartbroken when he died that his little girl was going to grow up with out a dad, number one, but without Barry, number two,” he said.
What started out as a weekend for former frat brothers to get together and “play golf and act like school kids again”, took on a different meaning when their friend Barry Swain, a stellar athlete and student, was diagnosed with a terminal form of bone marrow cancer. He lost his battle just 10 months after being diagnosed, leaving behind a wife and infant daughter.
Weber said that the guys continued to meet in Ocean City the first weekend of each October, but made a point to “kick in money for Amy every single year, and give it to her when she was ready to go to college.”
What makes the story even more remarkable is that Swain had relocated to Florida before being diagnosed, and as a result, no one in the group had ever met his wife or daughter, a fact that brought Barry’s widow Katie to tears.
“I can’t even begin to explain how generous this is. Most people wouldn’t do something like this for someone that they knew, and these guys did this amazing thing for people they had never met,” Katie said. “All they knew of us is that we were Barry’s wife and daughter.”
For Weber, the fact that the friends shared a love for Barry was more than enough to want to raise this money for Amy, despite essentially being perfect strangers.
“We sent her a statement every year letting her know about the account, but when it comes down to it, all (Amy) really knew is that there was this group of knuckleheads in Maryland that loved her dad and wanted to show her that he mattered to us”, said Weber.”
Katie Swain found out about the plan when Amy was six years old through her late husband’s family and then was contacted by a financial planner a year or two later. Swain says that this gift is “so special because it gives my daughter a chance to get to know her dad by some of the people that knew him the best. Some of these guys knew Barry longer than I did.”
Amy Swain seemed to be less overwhelmed by the boisterous laughter and the nostalgic stories told by a crowded room of caring strangers, but as she acknowledged, was more overwhelmed upon hearing that she and her dad shared certain subtle similarities.
“After hearing these guys talk, I can see parts of my dad’s personality in my own, and for the first time, I think that I can actually tell which ways that I’m like my dad, which is very cool,” she said.
The night certainly had a celebratory vibe to it, as the room was adorned with pictures of Barry with both his family and his friends. One onlooker commented the gracious gift given to Amy “validates your faith in humanity.”
Weber downplayed the monetary gift, but was truly moved by the group’s dedication to not only honoring their friend, but also helping his family.
“I knew that we’d get to this day, but to have this many people on board after this many years and being able to show Amy and Katie how much we loved Barry is truly phenomenal,” he said.
Young Amy Swain left Ocean City with a large chunk of change to go to college and start her adult life with, but she also left with new memories of her late father that she says “will be with me for the rest of my life.”
Though the gift given had a number attached to it, Weber and his old college buddies truly gave a gift that was, “rich beyond words.”