Westmont Magazine A Scholarship for Remembrance
For a parent, there is nothing worse than losing a child — except losing two. David and Bev Sweetman have survived the deaths of their only son and daughter. To honor their children, who both went to Westmont, the couple has established a scholarship fund in their names.
A gifted athlete, Sue Sweetman played soccer and basketball as a Warrior. During high school, she set a record for the 220 that stood for several years. She taught gymnastics at Westmont, drawing on her experience as a high school gymnast. According to her mother, Sue enjoyed religious studies courses and cried when Professor Robert Gundry’s New Testament class finished. Her college career ended abruptly in a head-on car crash during spring break of her sophomore year.
“When Sue died in 1978, I wondered how I could get through it,” David says. “I didn’t think I could handle the loss of a child, but God surrounds you with his comfort and love and gives you the grace to go on. People can tell you about it, but you don’t have the full impact until you go through it yourself.”
“You can’t handle it, but God can,” Bev adds. “The love we experienced from the Westmont community really sustained us.”
Sue had followed her brother, Tom, to Westmont. He enrolled in 1969 but struggled academically. “Tom was on the 10-year plan,” Bev says. Unable to get off probation, he flunked out and left school for awhile. But two former presidents, Lyle Hillegas and David Winter, encouraged Tom, and he returned to school and graduated in 1980 with a degree in psychology. “He got a standing ovation at graduation,” Bev remembers.
Creative, enthusiastic and daring, Tom left his mark on Spring Sing. His skit, “The Invention of Peanut Butter,” became legendary, and he delighted audiences as the emcee.
Despite his struggles in college, Tom earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology at the University of Northern Colorado and later worked on a Ph.D. in psychology and a master’s of divinity degree at Western Theological Seminary in Portland, Ore. After serving as a youth pastor and a church counselor, he opened a private counseling practice in Portland, where he lived with his wife, Catherine Bronson Sweetman ’75, and their three children.
After minor surgery in 1994, Tom developed a massive infection and died in two days. David and Bev had just moved to Oregon two weeks earlier.
“I remember walking the halls of the hospital and crying out to God,” David says. “‘We have already lost one child. You can’t take Tom too. You have to save his life.’
“I was trying to tell God what to do. Finally I prayed, ‘If that is your will, you will have to enable us to deal with it.’ I had a hard time understanding why God would take our son from his wife and three kids?”
“You can only deal with it one day at a time,” Bev says. “You learn a lot. For example, when God says he will be with you and strengthen you, you don’t get that strength before you need it. But then it is there, no question. You have an assurance and a rock-bottom knowledge of his power to sustain and his grace and his love that is very real.
“I ranted and raved and railed, and it was OK. I learned it is OK to weep and sob; it has nothing to do with your faith, and God holds you while you do it.”
David and Bev take great joy in visiting their daughter-in-law and three grandchildren often. They also keep in touch with Westmont.
“Our kids had such a positive experience there,” Bev says.
“The atmosphere, challenge and quality of education were phenomenal,” David adds.
Since 1978, the couple has made a yearly gift to provide the Sue and Tom Sweetman Scholarship for a female athlete. As they plan their estate, they will set up an endowed fund so the scholarship will continue.
“We can’t say enough about Westmont, the faculty and the philosophy of education,” David says. “We want other students to have the experience our kids had.”