After imagining, creating and building exhibits for more than 40 years, the museum's exhibit director said farewell to his friends and colleagues Friday afternoon at a retirement reception.
Swearingen has become something of a fixture at the museum, but gushing praise from reception guests made it apparent they had not taken him for granted.
"In 40 years, I would venture that Tom has brought more natural history to more people than anyone else in Kansas," said Leonard Krishtalka, museum director.
One of his most recent, phenomenal accomplishments -- one on a very long list, Krishtalka said -- was the successful mounting of the real skeleton of a sauropod dinosaur.
"It was more than just a feat of engineering," Krishtalka said. "What he really did was re-invent the art of mounting dinosaurs."
Swearingen assembled the dinosaur in a kneeling position because there wasn't enough room to do it any other way. The crouching dinosaur is a metaphor, Krishtalka said, for the fact that the museum needs a larger building to house its extensive collection and "so the dinosaur upstairs can stand up."
Swearingen has laid the groundwork for a capital campaign to raise money for a new facility, Krishtalka said.
But Swearingen's reach has extended beyond the museum.
"Over the years, when I needed help on my sculpture, I'd give Tom a buzz," said Jim Brothers, a Lawrence sculptor who once took a taxidermy class from Swearingen. "I'd say, 'How many feathers does an eagle wing have, Tom?' And he'd say, 'Come on up.'"
In retirement, Swearingen plans to show his horses, go raccoon hunting, spend time with his grandchildren and continue heeding his parents' advice: "Do whatever you can do as good as you can do it."
-- Staff writer Mindie Paget can be reached at 832-7187.