Augusta, GA – Stephen Elmore Swenson passed away peacefully on January 12, 2023 after a five-month battle with brain cancer. Steve was surrounded by his wife and his children in a hospital room that could barely contain all the love, laughter and singing. It was peaceful and beautiful.
Steve was born in Chicago on May 1, 1947. He was the son of Col J. Elmore Swenson and Merle Venice Swenson. Steve had many fond memories of living in Germany as a boy due to his father’s military career. When Steve was in high school, the family moved back to the United States, first to Virginia and then to Fort Benning, Georgia.
Steve began playing music when he was in junior high and started a band called the Ramrods when he was a high school freshman. Gifted on the accordion and the guitar, it was Steve’s drumming that launched an early career as a rock-n-roll star. He played drums for several popular bands, including Choo-Choo Wizard and Keith and the Wild Kingdom, a band whose hit “98.6” made the American Top 10. That group toured on the Dick Clark American Bandstand Tour, where Steve sat in with acts such as Neil Diamond, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and the Beach Boys. While playing at the Dallas Dome, the power went out and Steve had to do a ten-minute drum solo in front of 55,000 people. It was epic.
In the middle of all this adventure, while a student at Columbus College, Steve met Karen King, the love of his life. They married in 1969 and enjoyed 53 wonderful years together. Steve loved his rock-n-roll years, but nothing compared to life with Karen.
Steve graduated and began teaching biology at Pacelli Catholic High School in Columbus, where one of his first science experiments exploded and blew out power to the entire neighborhood. From there things got better and by the time he died, Steve had taught hundreds and hundreds of students (including all eight of his children and several of his grandchildren) and was honored to be a STAR teacher multiple times.
Around the time he started teaching, just after college, Steve and Karen had a conversion experience that kindled a love for Jesus and their Catholic faith. Steve and Karen moved to Augusta to help build the Alleluia Community, an intentional ecumenical community. They loved life in Alleluia, and Steve’s faith sustained him the rest of his life.
Steve was the founding headmaster of The Alleluia Community School. At the time of his diagnosis, Steve was still teaching biology at Alleluia School. For many years, Steve spent his summers working at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, where he learned to wrestle alligators and maneuver a snake stick. He also created the Character Education program for the city of Aiken, as well as a popular program that fostered healthy personal development for young men called Growing Boys.
Steve also continued to play music throughout his entire life, leading praise and worship, directing the Alleluia Student Orff band, and with the Annual Swenson Christmas Polka (the final polka he was able to write just a few weeks before he died). Steve was also the percussionist for local sensation Ed Turner and the Number 9, where he and his youngest son rocked on the drums together for ten years.
Steve was a musician, teacher, environmental scientist, snake wrangler, bird watcher, jack of most trades, domestic missionary, amateur diplomat, friend for all types, champion of the underdog, mustache prodigy, bon vivant and guiding light. He never met a stranger and the love and joy he felt from God’s love, he freely shared with everyone. He accepted and reflected Christ’s love in him.
In addition to his bride, family members include their eight children — Rachel Swenson Balducci (Paul), Simone Swenson Swann (Travis), Joshua Ephrem Swenson (Carolyn), Gabriel Joseph Swenson (Summer), Daniel Henry Swenson (Karina), Joanna Swenson Watwood (Jordan), Micah Dale Swenson and Zachary Stephen Swenson (Amy), and 28 grandchildren: Ethan, Elliott, Charlie, Augie, Henry, Isabel, Jonah, Anna, Miles, Quinn, Gabi, Sol, Oliver, Lucy, Ezra, Emma Kay, Elijah, Eliana, Judah, John David, Levi, Benjamin, Gunnar, Elam, Isaac, Zoe and Hannah Joy, all who will miss their Papa fiercely. He is also survived by his sister Shirley Gallant, numerous in-laws, nieces, and nephews.
The family would like to thank Dr. Gerald Wallace, Jaycee Salley, NP, Dr. Barrett and all the healthcare providers who supported us in these few months. Our dad was so grateful for each one of you.
A funeral Mass of the Resurrection will be Friday, January 20 at 10:00 a.m. at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. Graveside service will follow at the Alleluia Cemetery.
The family will receive friends Thursday, January 19, 2023, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. with a rosary and Celebration of Life at 7:00 p.m. at the Alleluia Community School gymnasium, 2819 Peach Orchard Road.