By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member
November 29, 2023
Bonnie Swinehart and her first published book, "Benjy and the Belsnickel." Photo by Dylan Bowman
Last night, the Halifax community was graced with a visit and presentation from local published author Bonnie Swinehart She shared the story of how, from a young age, she had a passion for writing and telling stories. However, she mentioned that it wasn't in her cards for a while to be the person she is today.
But then again, they do say that dreams don't come true overnight.
Swinehart's journey into the world of writing began when she took a two-year course from the Institute of Children's Literature in West Redding, Connecticut. Her work and efforts from this course would then be evaluated and progress in writing style, tone, and etiquette could then be forwarded.
Shortly after the birth of her and her husband Ron's second child and the break that followed, Swinehart's husband pushed her to take one college course in her passion. After four years of traveling back and forth from Middleburg to Harrisburg to take her courses, she graduated with a degree in Mass Communications and Journalism.
However, even with the conclusion of college, Swinehart found no relief in her schedule.
"To say my life was crazy would be an understatement," she said.
Soon after graduating, Swinehart was offered a full-time job to create and maintain a publication as the editor. She accepted this position and eventually received a governor's award for her work.
The "Benjy" book series by Bonnie Swinehart. Photo by Dylan Bowman
Tragedy and Hope
Time passed, and Swinehart found another full-time position at Perry County's three newspapers (where she remains a weekly columnist) through an advertisement looking for a reporter. She got the job and ended up loving it, particularly working on the human interest stories in surrounding communities.
One particular memory that stood out to her was of a younger man who also worked at the Perry County papers. After working with her for only a short time, the young man would often say to editors giving out human interest stories:
"Give it to Bonnie...she's the one with the heart."
In 2007, Swinehart was in a bad car accident that required multiple operations, with no way to work full-time. One major surgery caused her to be placed in a back brace for five months, with little movement allowed during the healing process. During her presentation, she noted this as a very low point in her life.
After being released from the shackles of her operations, she began to go through her old works from her past careers and courses. At one point, she stated she began "ripping pages of writings out of drawers." It was in this moment that she found the very last writing assignment of her first writing course. The assignment? Write the first chapter of a book.
That chapter concerned the legendary Belsnickel.
Swinehart's passion was rekindled by her fascination with the legend of the Belsnickel and her writing from years before that, from a certain point of view, had gone unfinished. In the years to come, Swinehart wrote three stories surrounding her character, Benjy (Benjamin Clemmons), and his adventures in 1930s Pennsylvania Dutch country and had them published through Whitefire Publishing Company.
Starting with her first middle-grade historical fiction book, "Benjy and the Belsnickel" (2018), traction grew in young readers and families, unexpectedly demanding the creation of two more books in the series: "Benjy and the County Fair" and "Benjy and the Paper Route Mystery."
Swinehart concluded her presentation by reminiscing on the path she had taken to where she is now, with all of its ups and downs.
"That was God helping me find my wings. Because from there I started to fly again."
Visitors enjoy the books of Bonnie Swinehart and the company around them. Photos by Dylan Bowman
As the evening winded down, visitors purchased Swinehart's books, enjoyed refreshments, and engaged with one another. With Belsnickel on the mind and heart of those in, around, and outside the Halifax Area, great excitement is rising for this Saturday, December 2nd, when the Belsnickel himself will be arriving to dole out reward and punishment to the just and unjust alike.
We thank Bonnie Swinehart for her amazing book presentation and we hope to see YOU this Saturday!
If you have any questions about Swinehart's books, the Belsnickel or the upcoming Belsnickel Parade and Festival, contact us at email@example.com for more information. We'd love to hear from you!