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‘Everyone is somehow connected’: Oxford is for the students, townies and SWINLs

Rene McKinstry left Oxford after graduating from Talawanda High School but eventually moved back to her hometown.
Rene McKinstry left Oxford after graduating from Talawanda High School but eventually moved back to her hometown.

Some people in Oxford are born townies; others become one.

That was the case for James Martino, who came to Miami University as a first-year student in 1956. More than 60 years later, he still has an Oxford address.

Martino followed in the footsteps of his brothers and came to Miami as an engineering major but soon switched to physics and then math, before finally deciding on education.

“I went to Miami’s guidance department when I got here and took a lot of preference tests because I just wasn’t happy,” Martino said. “They said, ‘Well no wonder you’re not happy, you’re in the wrong field. You should be teaching.’”

He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1960 as a mid-year graduate and taught at a K-12 school in Reily Township. At the time, he was just grateful to have a job right out of college. He decided to stay in Oxford for the time being, and within five years, he earned his master’s degree, started dating his wife Karen Martino and got a new job teaching at Talawanda High School.

Karen Martino graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 1963 and her master’s degree in 1968. She taught social studies at a middle school in College Corner, Ohio, before teaching in Union County, Indiana.

Unlike her husband, Karen Martino always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She grew up an only child, and it was one of the only fields open to women at the time. She grew up in Miami County and knew she would attend Miami.

The couple has taught in the area for a combined 70 years and has called Oxford home since they were undergraduates.

“We bought the house that we live in [now] in 1965 and have lived here ever since,” Karen Martino said.

Because of their deep-rooted history in the Oxford community, the Martinos are what Rene McKinstry would call “SWINLs.”

SWINLs are students who will not leave, and while McKinstry acknowledges that the acronym doesn’t make sense, she said it came to her one day when she was talking with a friend from high school.

“We were talking about someone one day and we were like, ‘Did they go to high school with us?’ Did they grow up here? Or did they come here as a student, and they liked the town, and they just didn’t want to leave?’” McKinstry said.

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McKinstry is not a SWINL but a true townie, graduating from Talawanda High School in 1971. To become a SWINL, a resident has to be a former Miami student who permanently moved to the city. They have to live in Oxford for roughly 20 years to earn the unofficial status.

“I do get into a conversation with somebody occasionally, and it’s like, ‘Oh they’re a SWINL,’” McKinstry said. “It’s not a negative. It’s just a designation.”

After graduating from high school, McKinstry left but moved back to Oxford in 1986. In addition to students who never leave the city, she noticed how many of her former Talawanda classmates left and came back.

“It’s also a phenomenon that happened since I moved back, how many people that I went to high school with that moved back into their family homes, redone their family homes and decided to stay here,” McKinstry said.

McKinstry’s own son graduated from the university and moved to Iceland for archaeology. Just two years ago, her son, a Miami Merger, moved back to Oxford with his wife.

“A lot of people come from big cities, and they come here, and they say, ‘This is a nice, quiet place,’” McKinstry said. “But it wouldn’t be a great town if it wasn’t for the university.”

The relationship between the year-round Oxford residents and the students who live in the town for nine months can be contentious at times, but for the residents who once roamed up and down High Street on a Saturday night, they enjoy the company of the younger generation.

“I’ve always enjoyed the youthfulness that the students bring and their enthusiasm,” Mary Butterfield, a Miami alumna and Oxford resident, said. “When you see them being carefree, you kind of live vicariously through them.”

Butterfield graduated from Miami in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Although she was born and raised in Hamilton, she was not predestined to attend Miami. She had a scholarship for Ohio University to play the bassoon, but she graduated high school early and started at Miami’s Hamilton campus. She ended up later transferring to the Oxford campus.

“I loved everything about Oxford,” Butterfield said. “I lived in Oxford during those years, and it was always a fond place, which is why I moved back to the area. I loved it. I loved the community. I loved everything about it.”

After graduating from Miami, Butterfield moved to Vandalia, Ohio, for three years before returning to Hamilton where she worked for a CPA firm. After graduating from the university, she kept close ties to the Oxford community, working on a foundation organization for  McCullough-Hyde Hospital and becoming a Miami parent.

In 1996, the Butterfields bought a farm in Reily Township, and two years ago, she sold it to her son and his wife, also Miami Mergers. The Butterfields bought a smaller farm off Stillwell Beckett Road and moved back to Oxford.

When Butterfield was a student at Miami, she dated a townie who was very involved both in the Oxford and Miami communities.

“I think because I had someone that I was involved with that was very positive about that relationship, I’ve always maintained that relationship,” Butterfield said.

The Martinos agreed that their interactions with students have been generally positive.

“The students have always treated us really, really well,” Karen Martino said. “It’s a two-way street. We respect them. They respect us.”

Between the students, life-long townies and SWINLs, McKinstry said the magic that makes Oxford appealing is its tight-knight community.

“If you are any more than two degrees separated from anybody that has been here for very long,” McKinstry said, “then you’re not from around here because everybody is somehow connected.”