DeKALB – Linda Sherman said Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center won’t be the same without its 109-year-old resident.
Hazel Swanberg died Tuesday and she was remembered as a kind, curious woman who always held a special place in her heart for teaching.
“She put a lot into life,” said Sherman, resident services coordinator for Oak Crest. “She’s always just been here. ... It does feel kind of funny without her. We’ll miss her very much.”
Sherman has known Swanberg since she started working at Oak Crest 18 years ago.
She said Swanberg was one of the retirement center’s original residents when it opened in 1980. Only one other original resident still resides there.
Swanberg celebrated her 109th birthday March 3, by far taking the cake as the retirement center’s oldest resident. The next oldest resident is 103, Sherman said, and five residents are at least 100 years old.
Sycamore resident Karen Buck knew Swanberg for 21 years and visited her every Thursday. She said they often would go to chapel, check out books at the library or just visit with one another. Buck said Swanberg had a great sense of humor, loved romance novels and was nice to everyone she met.
“She had a lot of wisdom,” Buck said. “You would leave there feeling that you learned something from her.”
Swanberg was born in Hinckley in 1903 and spent her career as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Lily Lake. In a 2011 interview with the Daily Chronicle, she said she remembered riding to school in a horse-drawn buggy and felt pretty well-off when she earned $85 a month.
Swanberg participated in Oak Crest’s pen-pal program with second-graders at Brooks Elementary School in DeKalb, and Sherman said Swanberg always was interested in what was going on at the schools. Even in the past few years, Swanberg made trips to local schools to meet students and find out what today’s teachers do, Sherman said.
“Teaching was her passion. She never lost that,” she said. “She’s a very kind woman. She’s always interested in what other people are doing.”
While the retirement center staff members who worked with her considered her a friend, Swanberg also had a group of close friends who checked on her regularly, Sherman said. She knew of one family member, Swanberg’s son, who lives out of state.
Swanberg stayed active by participating in the center’s exercise program and taking walks regularly. Sherman said Swanberg had no health problems to contend with because she always took very good care of her health.
But that, Sherman thinks, is only one of the reasons Swanberg enjoyed such a long life.
“I think she loved life and she loved people,” Sherman said.
“Everyone will miss Hazel,” Buck said. “I will miss her. I don’t even know how to say it.”