By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A longtime Havre educator, still active in the community after retiring as Havre Junior High School principal in 1979, died this morning.
Wilbur Swenson, principal of the junior high for 27 years, died at the Northern Montana Care Center of pancreatic cancer. He was 83.
Margaret Swenson, his wife of 58 years, said the diagnosis of his illness came as a surprise.
"There were no symptoms until the middle of June," she said this morning. "He never smoked. He was in such good health."
Swenson was active in many state and community organizations. The Kiwanis pancake breakfast during last month's Festival Days celebration was the first he hadn't volunteered at in many years.
A get well card sent to him said his "booming voice and 'Hello, young ladies,'" - one of his favorite expressions regardless of the recipients' ages - were greatly missed at the pancake feed, Margaret Swenson said.
He was a graduate of Northern Montana College and the University of Montana in Missoula. His education experience, in addition to his tenure as junior high principal, included one year at Devlin Elementary School, three years as a junior high teacher, 4 years as a Havre High School English teacher, half a year as Hill County superintendent of schools, and one year teaching in Helena.
He came from Flaxville. When he was one of the first three recipients of the Founders' Excellence Awards from Northern, his friend Helen Kiesling read a poem she wrote about "The Flaxville Flash" because of his unending energy.
Swenson began his studies at Northern as a business administration major, but after a year switched to the two-year program in education. He went to the University of Montana to earn a bachelor's degree and eventually a master's degree.
Margaret Swenson said she knew who he was during her freshman year at Northern, when he was in his third year. He was very active at campus activities and served two terms as Northern's student body president.
He had returned to Havre and was teaching at Devlin when she was a student teacher there, and they started dating after that.
"We were married in 1945. I thought we would make 60 years," she said.
Margaret Swenson quit teaching full-time after they started raising a family. Havre city clerk Lowell Swenson and Havre attorney Bruce Swenson are their children, and their grandchildren are Jeff and Carlie Swenson, children of Lowell and his wife, Karen.
His family was very important to him.
"His church and family came first, then the community," his wife said. "He was just active in the community."
Swenson was a member of the Kiwanis for more than 50 years, and was a member of the Hill County Council on Aging, the Montana Governor's Council on Aging, the AARP State Legislature Committee and the Montana State Univerity-Northern Alumni Association. He served on almost every board that has existed at First Lutheran Church in Havre, his wife said.
He also remained active in retired teachers associations, and served as president of the Montana association for one term.
Margaret Swenson said many people commented on how unassuming he was despite his leadership in so many activities.
Their travels includes trips to Australia and Europe. The Swensons bought a motor home about 15 years ago, and were active in the Good Sam Club. The Swensons canceled a trip with the Good Sams when he began feeling ill in June, Margaret Swenson said. The symptoms didn't become overwhelming until recently.
"People said he looked good and he said, 'I wish I felt that good,'" she said. "I knew there was the day where we would be apart, where we wouldn't go at the same time, but this is so unbelievable."