2018-01-26 / Obituaries

Sheila Swenson

Sheila Jane Kerr (Haglund) Swenson, 84 years old, a long-time resident of Kennebunk, died Tuesday Jan. 9, 2018 at her home surrounded by her family after a period of declining health. Sheila was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 12, 1933, the daughter of Karl Erik and Florence (Hunter) Haglund.

As a young girl in New York City, Sheila began taking dancing lessons at 5 years old, and competed at the School of American Ballet earning a scholarship there. While there, she was chosen by the director of the King-Coit School of Drama to fill her first acting role as the Royal Princess in their production of “The Rose and The Ring.”

She played in several productions for the school, many under direction of teachers formerly with the Russian Ballet, including George Balanchine. While still at the School of American Ballet, Sheila was invited by Angela Diller to attend classes in piano at the Diller-Quaille School of Music.

During her teen years, Sheila was accepted at the New York High School of Music and Art where she focused on vocal studies and choral conducting. She later attended Hunter College, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in music education in June 1954.

While at Hunter, Sheila played lead roles in Gilbert and Sullivan musical comedy productions, including Ruddigore. She also appeared as a soloist with the Hunter College choir on tours. Sheila also enjoyed a modeling career from childhood through her teen years. Her pictures appeared in various national magazines, including Seventeen Magazine.

On Dec. 23, 1955 she married Allan A. Swenson and joined him on his assignment as an Army Intelligence Officer with XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Following her husband’s active Army duty from 1955 to 1957, the family moved to Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where they began to raise their four boys. Sheila Swenson became a co-author of the “Gardener’s Notebook” columns in more than 200 newspapers nationwide via the NEA-United Media syndicate.

She also participated in her husband’s syndicated “Gardener’s Notebook” radio talk-shows. Moving to Kennebunk, Maine in l974, Sheila began editing her husband’s nationally syndicated newspaper columns and his many books for major national publishers. She edited his children’s book series including “World Beneath Your Feet,” “World Above Your Head” and “World In A Tidal Pool,” “Hurray for Christopher Cat,” about a Maine Coon cat, “Thar She Blows,” about a whale-watching trip and “Babes in the Woods,” about baby animals and their habitats. She then wrote her own, “The Seashore Counting Book,” published by Gannett Communications.

Throughout her adult life Sheila continued to play the piano, sang as a church soloist and in church choirs and acted in many off-Broadway community theater companies.

In New Jersey, she was recruited by Frank Richards, director of the Somerset Hills Community Music Theater, to play lead roles in popular off-broadway musicals: Maria in “The Sound of Music,” Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” Anna in “The King and I,” Nellie in “South Pacific,” Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” and Natalie in “Merry Widow.”

After moving to Kennebunk, Sheila became musically active at Christ Church in Kennebunk where she was choir director for 25 years and also organized and led the bell choir there for 10 years. She taught music in the Kennebunk school system and continued her soloist activities for the church and also continued her community theater career at Portland Players in South Portland. Musical roles there included Anna in “King and I” and Mrs. Morgan in “Ten Nights in a Barroom.”

In addition, Sheila performed in musicals at the Brunswick Music Theater, playing Countess Shraeder in “Sound of Music” with TV personality David Ca- nary and others.

Rather than retire at 70 years of age, Sheila and Allan began new careers by becoming program personalities on cruise ships of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Azamara and Princess Cruise Lines. Together, they gave colorful slide show and other programs on cruise ships. They then brought those slide shows and programs about their travels to residents at senior centers and retirement facilities in Maine and New Hampshire. From those experiences, they developed colorful slide shows about Viking history and heritage and gave programs on board cruise ships and around Maine.

This led to Sheila and her husband being invited by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark to the 2000 Leif Ericson Millennium in Greenland.

Sheila was a long time member of Christ Church in Kennebunk and Church on the Cape in Cape Porpoise, and was also a member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood and Arts and Letters Society.

Sheila Swenson is survived by her husband of 62 years, Allan A. Swenson, four beloved sons, Peter J. Swenson of Lyman, Drew E. Swenson and his wife Deb Napolitano of Cumberland, Boyd A. Swenson and his wife Lorraine of West Kennebunk and Meade C. Swenson and his wife Ann Marie of Scarborough; and nine beloved grandchildren, Parker, Katie, Alyssa, Erik, Trevor, Casen, Sam, Tony and Luca.

Memorial visiting hours were held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at Bibber Memorial Chapel, 67 Summer St. Kennebunk. Memorial Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday Jan. 26, 2018 at the Church on the Cape, 3 Langsford Road, Cape Porpoise, with the Rev. Dr. Pat MacHugh officiating. Burial will be in Hope Cemetery, Kennebunk in spring.

Should friends desire memorial donation can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, 383 US Route 1, Suite 2C, Scarborough, ME 04074 in Mrs. Swenson’s memory.

To share a memory or leave a message of condolence, please visit Sheila’s Book of Memories page at www.bibberfuneral.com.

Arrangements are in care of Bibber Memorial Chapel, Kennebunk.

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