‘Nomadland’ star makes surprise $10,000 donation for school

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GENESEO, N.Y. (AP) — A star of the Oscar-winning movie “Nomadland” who played a version of her nomadic self surprised a high school classmate with a $10,000 donation to help build a school in Africa.

Charlene Swankie made the donation in response to a Facebook post from Bill Cook, a retired history professor at the State University of New York at Geneseo who has been raising money to build a high school in South Sudan, the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester reported.

Cook posted about the school on a Facebook page for his classmates at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, expecting gifts of $50 or $100.

But Swankie, a fellow class of 1962 member, was in a position to do more.

“I get this message from Charlene: ‘Oh, I’ll send you $10,000,’” Cook told the newspaper.

Cook was unaware that Swankie had appeared in the 2020 film “Nomadland,” playing a friend and mentor to Frances McDormand’s Fern.

Swankie was one of several nonprofessionals in the cast of “Nomadland,” a tale of life on the road that won the Academy Award for best picture.

The real-life Swankie is back in her van and has few wants, she said.

“I didn’t need anything,” she told the newspaper. “I needed a new radiator. That doesn’t cost a whole lot.”

So when she saw Cook’s request for charitable donations, she figured that was as good a place as any to send some of her earnings from the film. “The education aspect is so important to me,” said Swankie, who had just a high school education when she became a single mother of two but later went on to college.

Swankie spoke by telephone from Bureau of Land Management wilderness land south of Quartzsite, Arizona, where she spent much of the past winter.

“I’m in the wilderness. I’ve got nature all around me. I’ve got mountains all around me,” she said. I just can’t see where it can get any better than that.”

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