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Robert Swenning

Robert Joseph Swenning

Jul. 25, 1924 - Nov. 8, 2012


Bob Swenning passed peacefully at home on November 8th, 2012 after a short illness. Bob was born July 25th, 1924 to Robert John Swenning and Gertrude Josephine Beisinger Swenning, in Greenwich Conn. Bob recalled his early years as "an accident waiting to happen" as he was gregarious, curious and mischievous... traits that got him into trouble at 5 years old: an accident to one eye reduced his vision by 90% and caused the eye to turn inward towards his nose. The eye was able to be repaired at age 13, but Bob was never able to regain his sight.


Shortly afterward, Bob started figure skating at the Rye Playland Ice Casino in Rye, N.Y.


He kept at it and improved to the point that the Skating Club of New York offered him a full scholarship including free ice and lessons, which lasted throughout his amateur career.


By 1945 he and partner Kathe Mehl Williams were the US National Dance champions representing SCNY. Bob had moved on to Pairs skating with Yvonne Sherman and they won the US Pairs in 1947 and placed 2nd in 1948. They went on to compete at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland and placed 4th. After the Olympics Bob would speak often about the US Figure skating team touring Europe afterwards and being able to skate for Royalty and Heads of State in amazing locales. He Returned to Playland to turn Pro and teach, but was offered a position in 1950 at the new skating rink in Berkeley, Calif.


Bob, his wife Alice and newborn son Doug drove from New York to California, soon to be joined by his younger brother Richard and his parents. Bob and great friend Maribel Vincent Owen (and many others!) taught at Berkeley Iceland up until Maribel, her daughters and the US Figure skating team's plane crashed in Belgium, on their way to the Worlds championship on Feb 15th, 1961. By that time, Bob was branching out to riding Show horses competitively, owning Rogue Fox, his buddy, whom he would enter in various Equestrian & Show Jumping competitions throughout the State. After losing so many friends, skating was hard for Bob, and after parting ways with Alice, Bob moved on to partner with Dr. Sam Castro and they bought 50acres in St. Helena and started Big Tree Ranch. Bob earned his Trainer's license; began raising and training race horses. 20 years and many horses later, Bob & Sam sold the property to Charles Shaw and they bought 100 acres in Clovis, Ca, continuing their operation. Bob retired from the track, but continued to breed and sell yearlings for many years. Eventually, he and Sam moved into Fig Garden in Fresno, Calif., where they became avid tennis players, world travelers and great party hosts.


Bob is survived by Sam, his partner of 54 years, His brother Richard, and children Doug, Christine & Victoria along with their families and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.


A celebration of his life will be held at the St. Helena Cemetery, 2461 Spring Street, St. Helena, Ca 94574 at 2pm on Saturday March 23rd. Please join us.


Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Mar. 17, 2013
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