Evelyn, Bub and their youngest brother, Charles Lee Wheeler, enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Tilden, Texas. They rode horses, raced goat carts, and swam in the Frio River. Evelyn played point guard on the Tilden girls’ basketball team – since they had just enough girls to make a team, there were no substitutions and all five girls played the entire game. Their team went undefeated.
Evelyn went to live with relatives in Kingsville when she was in her teens in order to finish high school, as the school in Tilden only went up to the tenth grade. Kingsville was where Evelyn met Camille “Sis” Horner (née Terrell). The two became fast friends and founding members of a girls’ social club, the Best Kids in Kingsville, a.k.a. the BKKs. The BKKs remained close throughout their lives, getting together whenever they could to laugh, giggle and catch up.
Evelyn graduated from Kingsville High School, and attended Texas A & I for two years before transferring to the University of Texas at Austin. Evelyn pledged Gamma Phi Beta sorority, was nominated as a Bluebonnet Belle, had the fattest “control” rat in her chemistry lab, and graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition. Evelyn was the first in her family to graduate from college.
After college and during WWII, Evelyn worked in a chemical plant in El Dorado, Arkansas, where unbeknownst to her, they were making components for the atom bomb. With a mother’s intuition, Nora Wheeler sensed Evelyn’s work was dangerous. In fact, Nora was so eager for Evelyn to stop working at the chemical plant that she didn’t bat an eye when Evelyn announced that she was joining the WAVES and taking a troop train to Northampton, Massachusetts for training.
Admiral Nimitz did not want women in the Navy, but Evelyn was glad that Uncle Sam did, as that gave her a chance to serve her country and see the world.
Evelyn’s final posting as a WAVE was to the Naval Station Great Lakes in Chicago. It was there that she met and worked with another naval supply corps officer, Sigurd “Sig” Ernest Swenson. However, it wasn’t love at first sight; they needed an assist from the U.S. Post Office.
After the war, Evelyn left the Navy and went to live in an apartment near Gramercy Park, in New York City. Evelyn enrolled in Columbia University and began work on a Masters degree in social work. When Evelyn learned that Sig was now stationed in New York City, she sent him a Christmas card. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Evelyn and Sig married and honeymooned at Pinehurst, North Carolina, where Evelyn learned to play golf – a game that she and Sig enjoyed playing into their eighties.
Evelyn and Sig were married almost 60 years, had two children (Peter and Anne), and courtesy of the U.S. Navy were lucky to live in a multitude of places, including Norway where Evelyn learned to ski, because as she said, “That was the only way down the mountain!” The friends they made in the Navy from all across the world remained their friends for life.
Over the years, Evelyn served as a den mother, Girl Scout troop leader, and homeroom mother. Evelyn learned how to write grants while volunteering on the Board of Directors of the San Antonio YWCA. A major accomplishment for Evelyn while serving on the Y Board was securing funding from the Ewing Halsell Foundation to build a pavilion at the Y’s Camp Idlewilde, located outside Comfort, Texas. Evelyn also served on the Board of Directors for the McMullen County Bank.
Evelyn said that her talent was organizing, but organizing was more than a just a talent for her; it was her superpower. Whether it was running her home, or coordinating a fundraising drive for charities such as the American Cancer Society, to hosting a PEO gathering, Evelyn was organized. And she never left the house without applying a little lipstick first!
Evelyn loved gardening and cooking; enthusiasms she shared with her son, Peter, and granddaughter Karin. Evelyn enjoyed dining al fresco and her lush, shaded backyard endures as a place for peaceful reflection during the hot San Antonio summer.
Evelyn also loved to travel: anytime, anywhere. Evelyn joked that if a car slowed down, she would hop in. Evelyn and Sig traveled to Alaska, Turkey and the Greece. Evelyn and her daughter also took a number of trips with the Flying Longhorns, traveling to China, Russia and Scandinavia (on a Russian icebreaker just back from Antarctica), Iguazu Falls, Argentina (to better see Halley’s Comet in 1986), England, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Canada and Machu Picchu.
Evelyn also traveled to New Zealand (green, lush and dotted with sheep – a land that Evelyn thought was just about the prettiest place she had ever seen) and Australia (with beasts more wondrous than Texas’ Jackalope, because these creatures were real!).
Evelyn, a proud and lifelong Texas Democrat, is survived by her son, Dr. Peter Clifton Swenson and his wife, Fran; daughter, Anne Evelyn Swenson; beloved granddaughters, Karin Swenson, and Meredith Swenson Paine and husband, Eric; great-grandson, Caiden Walker Adams; sister-in-laws, Jean and Gloria Wheeler; nieces, Katie Leon and Nancy Plumlee; nephews, Cliff, Forrest and Lee Wheeler; as well as a host of cousins, friends, good neighbors, and her ever-faithful feline companion, Flinky.
Evelyn would be the first to say that she lived a full life, and it is perhaps the fullness of her life that serves to magnify her loss to all of us lucky enough to have known her – especially those of privileged to call her Mom and MorMor. We were the light of her life and she let us know that every day.
Visitation was held at Hurley Funeral Home, 118 W. Oaklawn Road in Pleasanton on Friday, July 11, 2014, from 4 PM to 5 PM, followed by a memorial service held at 5 PM.
For those wishing to do so, the family suggests that memorial donations be made to the charity of your choice or the YWCA San Antonio, 314 N. Hackberry, Suite 101, San Antonio, TX 78202; the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, 811 N. Coker Loop, San Antonio, TX 78216 or the McMullen County Community Center, Tilden, Texas 78072.
Anyone wishing to leave condolences for the family, share memories or sign the guestbook may do so at www.hurleyfuneralhome.com.