Harry O. Swenson

Harry O. Swenson

WHEATON — Harry O. Swenson, 95, who taught both vocal and instrumental music in the Paxton school system from 1949 to 1964, died in his home in Wheaton on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at the Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton, followed by a reception at 4 p.m. at the church. Interment with military honors will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 14, at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

Mr. Swenson was born at home on March 2, 1924, in Salem, Wiss., to Roy and Evelyn Swenson. He grew up on Camp Lake Road in Salem Township and graduated from Union Free High School in Wilmot, Wis., in 1941.

Mr. Swenson attended Milwaukee State Teachers College, where he met Virginia Budil, a fellow music student. He entered the Army Air Corps in February 1943 and received education at Carlton College before serving in Lincoln, Neb., and in Guam. After his service, he married Virginia in June 1946. He studied in the music department at Northwestern University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s degree in music.

Mr. Swenson worked as a music teacher in Fort Walton, Fla., for a year before moving to Paxton, where he taught from 1949 until 1964. He patiently taught youngsters of all ages to play any of the instruments he could play, which included just about everything but the Chinese erhu.

Mr. Swenson conducted and arranged for the Paxton Community High School band and tried to teach the band students how to create formations at football games. This task was roughly the equivalent of trying to teach a hippotamus how to tap dance. He also conducted the pep band and numerous small ensembles composed of his instrumental students.  

In the summers, he conducted the Paxton Community Band at the band shelter in Pells Park.  That band included his very talented wife, who was the only one in the community who could play the piccolo counter melody to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” She also gave piano and voice lessons to many children and teens in the community.

Mr. Swenson worked for many years for School District 214 at Forest View and Elk Grove high schools while living in Des Plaines. In the early 1970s, he built his own home on 2.5 acres in South Barrington.  He retired in 1976 and remained active in retirement by starting a handyman business in which he enjoyed helping people, at times at his own expense.

In his retirement years, Mr. Swenson became an avid “barbershopper,” singing both tenor and baritone and contributing arrangements. He was a member of the Elgin chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society for 40 years and was named Barbershopper of the Year by the Elgin chapter in 1984.

Music was integral to his life, and he loved to sing, teach, compose and arrange music both personally and professionally. He taught professionally for 27 years and served as choir director for the Trinity Methodist Church in Mt. Prospect and published music with Cambiata Press.

It was important to him that his family shared his enjoyment of music, and he taught each of his children to sing and play instruments. Each Christmas he would create musical arrangements based on the instruments that his family played, and he enjoyed leading them on the piano as they performed together.  

Mr. Swenson was also a prolific watercolor artist and recently had a one-man show of his many paintings. He loved to golf with friends and be at home gardening together with Virginia on his land in South Barrington.  

Surviving are his wife, Virginia; three children, Barbara (Joseph) Jakucki of Mesa, Ariz., David H. (Cathy) Swenson of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Linda (Michael) Krueger of Carol Stream; seven grandchildren, Joanna (Brian) Wilson, Jonathon Jakucki, Kelley and Joel Swenson, and Eric (Alissa), Amy and Steven (Sarah) Krueger; five great-grandchildren, Natalie Wilson, and Patrick, Adalyn, Briana and Eloise Krueger; one brother, Verle (the late Dorothy) Swenson; and a nephew, Dale (Laura) Swenson.

In view of the delight he derived from “barbershopping” and his contributions to that particular musical specialty, the family has suggested that those who learned from Mr. Swenson and cherish the music he gave them consider contributions to: Fox Valley Harmonizers, E018 Elgin Chapter, SPEBSQSA Inc., 410 Suffolk Drive, Crystal Lake, IL 60014.