The Swanson family photo with the children standing behind Ralph and June, left to right, youngest to oldest: Donald Ralph, Glenn Edward, Dale Kenneth, and Dianne Maxine.
Ralph and June Swanson were married 70 years ago, at the height of World War II while Ralph was serving in the army. Born and raised on the family farm south-east of Wetaskiwin, Ralph farmed it from 1946 until he retired from farming in 1973, and it was on the farm that the young couple raised their four children. Upon retiring from farming, Ralph and June worked at Trinity Western College at Fort Langley, B.C. for seven years, then pursued a business venture in Chetwyn, B.C. before returning to Wetaskiwin roughly 30 years ago.
I first met Ralph and June when I was nine years old and started attending Sunday School and church at New Sweden Mission Church in 1951. Ralph Swanson was the Sunday School Superintendent, and June played the piano for both Sunday School and church. They made me feel welcome and I liked them. I remember Dianne and Dale as small children, and Glenn, a beautiful big baby, brought to church before he was two weeks old. I remember the grief at the tragic death of the next baby boy at birth, and the joy when Donald arrived safe and sound.
Naturally, June played the piano for the Girls' Choir which I was part of during my teens. Even though I personally had no musical talent or interest, I still remember and love many of the songs which we sang. Later, when I was in high school, Ralph and June occasionally had me babysit for them. They were an important influence on me. When I attended this year's Christmas Program at New Sweden, there were Ralph and June, with Ralph's arm on the pew behind June with his hand on her shoulder. It is obvious that they are still in love.
Ralph Edward Swanson was born November 28, 1919, and grew up on the farm and farmed for a major part of his life, but like most farmers, especially of that era, he had multiple abilities in many areas. In his late teens, he worked skidding logs and driving a logging truck for one of the many small lumber mills in the country west of Wetaskiwin. In an oral history of New Sweden, I remember hearing of several problems that Ralph helped solve with remarkable ingenuity. He and his good friend and neighbour, Gordon Eliason, also drilled wells. When he retired from farming, he was in charge of the Maintenance Department at Trinity Western College for seven years. Through it all, he was always renowned for his sense of humour and teasing.
June Olive Merner was born at Didsbury, Alberta, on June 1, 1921, but grew up in Wetaskiwin. She had attended Normal School in Edmonton and was teaching when she met Ralph Swanson in 1939. Like most farm wives, her housework, cooking and mothering were added to by assisting with farm work such as driving the truck or tractor as needed. She lived in an era when many women lost a baby, but June had the sorrow of carrying two to term and losing them; her first, a little girl, and the little boy between Glenn and Donald. When the children were older, she worked in the Clear Vista School Library, and still later, in the Library at Trinity Western College. She was always warm and friendly, always ready to help out.
When I think of New Sweden, Ralph and June are among the first people I remember. Although I could not have named the other positions they filled, I always knew that they were among those at the heart of the church, fully involved in any project from the affiliated camp on Red Deer Lake to building additions or repairs to arranging sporting events such as ball games to planning special events such as church anniversaries. They constantly gave of themselves to their church, to their friends and neighbours, to their community, and I suspect that this is still true in Sunrise Village, where they now live.