JOE GREENWOOD: 20,000 Leagues Into The Sky — Remembering Steve Swanberg

Sadly, we have lost a longtime friend who resided in downtown Grand Forks – above my office. Many of you know him as Swanie — Steve Swanberg grew up in East Grand Forks, Minn.,  and was the last of seven children. Steve touched the lives of many people. He passed away on June 27.

There will be a memorial gathering to honor the life of Steve Swanberg, today at 5p.m. (July 9) at Freedom Church, downtown Grand Forks, N.D., on Demers Avenue. Our hope is that you take a few minutes out of your busy life to share, console and celebrate Swanie.

Steve Swanberg
Steve Swanberg

The first time I really noticed Steve Swanberg, he was shoveling snow from the sidewalks in front of the shops downtown, and I knew I had seen him before. He had a magic about him, well- dressed, elevated. He reminded me of the writer and beat poet, William Burroughs. I guessed he may have been a business owner, maybe the jewelery store. He was an image that personified what I sense is the attraction of downtown Grand Forks: Metropolitan, aesthetic with a touch of class.

It would be years later, when I rented an office downtown in the building where Steve lived, that I would learn that he wasn’t a business owner, that it wasn’t necessarily his responsibility to clear the sidewalks downtown, but that he took it upon himself. That it was his nature —  to care for the buildings and grounds of downtown, and the businesses and people. And maybe, in exchange, and by the generosity of those business owners, he collected a few bucks here and there for his efforts. That, I think, was how he made his living. He was the caretaker of downtown Grand Forks.

When there was a water break in our building, above my office, Steve was there with another resident cleaning up as a first responder. He didn’t hesitate to get wet and use his hands to start the dirty cleanup. As I huffed and puffed over what a disaster this was and how some of my stuff was getting wet, Steve kept busy with the cleanup and made efforts to notify the other tenants who may have been affected. What a selfless, giving man. I learned to really admire and appreciate Steve that day.

Steve was a conversationalist and an excellent networker. He got along so well with so many people and got to know so many people that he was a natural at making connections, bringing people together in their shared efforts. He shared news with and about the residents in our building.

It’s thanks to Steve that I have at least one business partner today, Brandon Jacobson, owner of The Uniform Unit. Steve met me in the hallway one day and mentioned the guy downstairs said he needed help with a website. I went down and introduced myself, and we’ve gone from there. Thanks, Steve.

Steve knew so much trivia about our town, about the buildings downtown and the people who populated the history of our city. He explained to me that the Widlund building, where my office and his apartment are, was once a wide-open, two-floor retail clothing department store. I think he said it was a Macy’s. I was wanting to ask him about that again, to clarify some of the things he’d said about the place, after I’d had some time to think about them. That’s the feeling I get, now that he’s gone: that I miss his visits and his conversation. There was a lot more I would have liked to have known.

I’ll think of Steve often as I walk the halls of that building; his fine dress, his giving conversation, his encyclopaedic knowledge. And that beatnik magic that he certainly carried within him. His is a character that I’m sure I will never forget.

A website has been created as a memorial to Steve, at www.steveswanberg.com. As time goes by, more information about Steve will be posted. If you have a favorite story, picture, or other information that honors his memory, please email it to the webmaster of that website for possible inclusion.

One thought on “JOE GREENWOOD: 20,000 Leagues Into The Sky — Remembering Steve Swanberg”

  • Therese July 9, 2015 at 10:37 am

    He was a charming fellow. Thanks for the nice remembrance.


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