Husband of late Rep. Jackie Walorski opens up about her death, plans for ministry work
ELKHART, Ind. --- The Walorski -Swihart home in Elkhart is filled with pictures, souvenirs, and gifts.
Items that illustrate a career of service and generosity to the residents of Michiana.
Dean Swihart, late congresswoman Jackie Walorski's husband, shows off photos with former presidents and awards decorating the walls. But the hustle and bustle of Washington wasn't Jackie's whole life. Things started much simpler.
"We met 28 years ago and had our first date on August 1st," Dean said. "We went to the St. Joseph County Fair. I dropped her off at her house and I drove back to mine. She calls up her friend in California, her roommate in college, and says 'I met the man I'm going to marry.' After one date."
One date quickly turned into a few more, and eventually wedding bells were ringing. Soon after marriage the couple moved to Romania for missionary work.
Jackie and Dean spent four years in Romania, selling all their belongings in the late 90's as newlyweds and working to spread their Christian faith to the Roma people and also helping impoverished children.
It was during their time as missionaries that Jackie decided she would get into politics.
"We were in Romania on 9/11," Dean said. "A student of our calls us up on the phone she says 'Dean, Jackie, get back to your apartment. America has been attacked.' And we were like 'yeah, no, America hasn't been attacked. We went home and we were as surprised as anybody else. We were dumbfounded. That was very forming in Jackie and I deciding that she would run for something."
The Swihart's returned home to South Bend in 2003 and Jackie wanted to talk to Dick Mangus, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives for 12 years, serving St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.
"Dick says to her 'Well, do you want my job? Is that why you're down here?'"
Dean said Dick had health issues and told Jackie his doctor advised him to take a step away from politics.
"After a couple weeks, he calls Jackie up and he says 'Jackie, I want you to run for my seat," Dean said. "Anybody that would sell all their stuff and move overseas for the gospel is going to be a person I can trust to take this seat and represent the people.'
She ran for his seat in 2004, she won, and she spent 6 years there before running for congress where she narrowly lost to Joe Donnelly before running again in 2012 and winning.
Jackie's represented the second congressional district of Indiana for five consecutive terms since then.
"It all goes back to knocking on doors for county commissioner and her wanting to do something in politics but also having been in Romania on 9/11," Dean said. "We vowed in our hearts to never let anything like that happen to America again and that's what really pushed her into the state house and also to the congressional level."
So, when the unthinkable happened to Jackie, Dean was again at a loss.
The tragic day started like many others for Dean, running errands.
"It was awful. I was getting new tires on my truck. My truck is up on the lift. I'm staring up, there's no wheels on it and I'm getting phone calls that no one can get a hold of Jackie, Emma or Zack," Dean said. "I called my neighbor. He came running over here. I said 'the last text I got from Jackie said she was coming home, said she wanted to get into the pool. Can you go check? Maybe she's in the pool cause she's not answering.' He comes over and checks and she's not in the pool."
It was an hour and half later that dean was able to leave the car shop. He got home and pulled out his iPad to track Jackie's phone.
As he was heading out the door, he was stopped in his tracks by the knock of a police officer.
"He says 'Dean we got to come inside and sit down.' And no explanation is necessary when an officer comes to your door and says we got to sit down," Dean said. "I pouted for about a day and a half. I felt sorry for myself. But I realized Satan was getting the best part of me."
Now, Dean has a chance to make sure Jackie's legacy of generosity and service stays alive through Impact International ministries, a non-profit the couple founded together during their time as missionaries in Romania.
"All the energy I put behind Jackie well now I get to put it behind this ministry." Dean said. "Her death has very much formed a new stronger commitment to do something big for the Kingdom."
Impact International has been dormant since 2005, when Jackie took office. It's starting back up after her untimely death in August 2022.
The ministry plans to start helping people locally who may have lost their faith or their way in life and eventually expand again overseas.
"At some point in time I will be full time as impact international. I'll be in full-time ministry here in the future," Dean said. "It's all in honor of the lord but also in keeping Jackie's memory alive and moving forward and doing something of eternal value."