Jeffrey Joe Swenson was born January 30, 1943, to Joe and Kathleen Swenson. Known to friends and family as “Jeff,” he was the oldest of seven children raised on a dairy farm in Elma, Washington.
In 1961, he graduated from Elma High School where he played bass drum in the high school band. After high school, Jeff attended Grays Harbor Community College in Aberdeen, Washington while working part time at Danielson’s Thriftway in Elma.
Jeff joined the Navy in 1965 and completed basic training in San Diego. He was deployed as part of a helicopter squadron aboard the USS Bennington Aircraft Carrier doing rescue work off the coast of Vietnam. He also sang in the blue jacket choir for church services and various events.
After being discharged from the Navy in 1967, he returned to Elma and continued at Grays Harbor Community College. It was during the summer of 1967 when he met the love of his life Mary Ann McDonald. He says it was “love at first sight.” Jeff drove from Washington to Mississippi to “court” Mary Ann.
Jeff and Mary Ann were married on August 31, 1968. While in Mississippi Jeff worked for Delta Airlines.
In August 1969, they returned to Washington State where Jeff earned a fine arts degree from the University of Puget Sound in 1970.
In 1972, they moved to Claremont, California where Jeff worked for buildings and ground maintenance for the Claremont School of Theology while Mary Ann attended school.
Jeff supported and uplifted Mary Ann in ministry for her entire career. He was a trailblazer serving a non-traditional role supporting his beloved. Their ministry journey spanned decades and geography.
In Washington State that ministry included Mason United Methodist Church (UMC) and Orchards UMC in Vancouver. In 1983, when Mary Ann became District Superintendent for the Puget Sound District, Jeff volunteered helping to build and expand churches, host events, and became a member of the Coupeville UMC on Whidbey Island immersing himself in the neighborhood and community. In 1989, they moved to Wenatchee when Mary Ann became the senior pastor of First UMC. Once again, Jeff became immersed in the community volunteering to build homes, entertaining guests, actively flying with friends who were pilots, and repairing whatever needed to be fixed in the community. During this time, he joined the golf club and played with friends several times a week.
In 1992, Mary Ann was elected a bishop in the UMC and they moved to Denver, Colorado to serve the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences of the UMC. This regional area included Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. In Denver, Jeff volunteered at Bikes and
Berries bike shop and purchased bikes for Mary Ann’s staff and friends. They lived in Denver for eight years.
For their 25th wedding anniversary in 1993 they received a tandem bicycle as a gift. They became avid riders, completing a California coast tour in 1994, an Oregon coast tour in 1995, Washington State tour in 1996, and riding to and from UMC annual conference sessions.
In the summer of 1998, they rode their tandem bike across the United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, covering 4,059 miles in 58 days. The trip began in Astoria, Oregon and ended in Jamestown, Virginia (the bicentennial route). Other bike adventures included Canada to Mexico, and a trip across the Rocky Mountains.
In 2000, their call to ministry moved them from Denver, Colorado to Pasadena, California as Mary Ann became the bishop of the California-Pacific Conference covering Southern California, Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan. They would ride their tandem bicycle to churches and various conference events. Jeff traveled with Mary Ann across the region and made international trips to Korea and other locales.
In 2012, Mary Ann retired from active ministry but continued in international roles for the UMC. Jeff loved to accompany and journey with Mary Ann around the globe. For four years they attended the British Methodist Conference in England; a Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin, Germany; as well as the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, Trondheim, Norway and the Island of Crete in Greece. In 2015, they attended the Armenian Memorial of Genocide in Armenia, and journeyed to the 70th Anniversary of the bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
In recent years, Jeff was an active member of the Hollywood UMC where Mary Ann is the Bishop in Residence. He enjoyed local bike riding. Jeff gave away their car, an old Honda Accord, and was a staunch advocate for public transportation. He and Mary Ann could be spotted journeying all over Southern California on bus and light rail as well as their tandem bicycle. Even during the Covid pandemic, he would ride 10 to 15 miles a day on the bike around Pasadena.
As an alum of the University of Puget Sound he loved reading the Arches magazine and keeping up with fellow alumni.
Always joyous and giving, he and Mary Ann have been benefactors to Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Union Rescue Mission, Center for Health and Hope, Hollywood UMC, University of Puget Sound, Millsaps College, and the Claremont School of Theology.
Jeff departed this earthly life with his beloved Mary Ann by his side on Sunday, August 22, 2021.
Jeff leaves to cherish his memory and legacy, the love of his life, his wife of 53 years, Mary Ann. His six siblings Kathy (Mike) Smith of Red Bluff, CA; Eric (Gloria) Swenson of Monroe, Washington; Christina Swenson of Long Island, New York; Leith (Shelly) Swenson of Bellingham, WA; Allen (Linda) Swenson of Salem, Oregon; Sally Swenson of Red Bluff, California; and a host of nephews, nieces, grand nephews and nieces, and other relatives and friends.
A memorial to celebrate Jeff’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, October 9, 2021, at 11 a.m. at Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028 with a repast in the gym immediately following the service. The service will also be livestreamed. Send condolences to the church office. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Jeff to the following: Claremont School of Theology, Hollywood UMC, or the Center for Health and Hope.