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Thinking Outside The Box

Swanson Family Celebrates Matriarch’s 103rd Birthday

Mel Swanson, center, waves to his mom, Priscilla, from the parking lot at Memory Garden on Fairmount Avenue in Jamestown. Priscilla, a resident of Memory Garden, turned 103 on Monday and watched her family — numbering more than 20 — send birthday wishes from a window on the second floor. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

His mom Laura in close pursuit Monday morning, Hank Swanson, almost 2, walked around the parking lot at Memory Garden on Jamestown’s westside repeating one word.

“Cupcake,” he said over and over. “Cupcake.”

And then he’d smile.

It appeared the toddler knew it was time for a birthday party and all the goodies that come with it, even if it wasn’t the usual setting for such things. Then again, these are unusual times that require outside-the-box thinking. So the loved ones of Priscilla Swanson didn’t allow the novel coronavirus pandemic and the care provider’s required safety precautions to prevent the family from showing their matriarch just how much she means to them. In fact, many in the parking-lot gathering of more than 20 people held signs — “We love you” and “Happy Birthday” among them — and pointed them in Priscilla’s direction as she watched from behind a second-floor window.

And when the last word of “Happy Birthday” was sung, daughter Eileen LaPorte blew kisses to her 103-year-old mom, who was smiling from above.

Among the family members who turned out to celebrate Priscilla Swanson’s birthday were Laura Swanson and her son, Hank. Hank is one of 18 great-grandchildren. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

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Back in the mid-1980s, Eileen coached girls high school basketball at Chautauqua, while younger brother, Mel, was doing the same at Sherman. Watching and supporting them were their parents, Earl and Priscilla, a couple who were married for 47 years until Earl passed away in 1988.

“Our parents would sit in the middle section (at Chautauqua) and cheer for both of us,” Eileen said.

Participating in and cheering for an athletic endeavor have been stitched into Priscilla’s DNA since she was a student at Frewsburg (Class of 1934). It was a lifestyle that continued into adulthood and included golf, bowling and a good walk. Heck, she was participating in golf and bowling leagues until she was 90.

“Mom was always an athlete,” Eileen said. “She was always a healthy eater and she didn’t smoke or drink. She is a very positive lady and always looks at the glass as half full. She just finds joy in everything.”

Family members sing the “Happy Birthday” song to Priscilla Swanson from the parking lot at Memory Garden on Monday. From the left are Helen Willman, Sam LaPorte, Darien Swanson, Rick Willman, Eileen LaPorte and Justin Loverme. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

Most importantly, Eileen said, she has taken pride in her family. In addition to children Errol, Helen, Eileen and Mel, Priscilla also has 10 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

A good share of them were standing in the parking lot at Memory Garden yesterday and celebrating birthday 103.

“One of the reasons we’re such a tight family is because of our mom,” Eileen said. “Our mom and dad loved having family gatherings and we now all do the same. We love each other and stay in touch with each other. It’s just a blessing. We’re very grateful that many of us live in the area, so we have that opportunity to get together.”

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Priscilla, who was a nurse at WCA Hospital in Jamestown for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1977, has lived at Memory Garden for three years.

In this file photo commemorating her 100th birthday in 2017, Priscilla Swanson, right, celebrates with her sister, Francis. Photo courtesy of the Swanson family

“They’re very nice to her,” Eileen said. “The people here are so kind and I think she’s content and happy here. We have nothing but positive things to say about Memory Garden. From the beginning, they have been so thoughtful and kind.”

So even though it was a cold, dank morning in late March, you couldn’t tell by looking at Eileen.

“It’s hard not to be with her today, but she was smiling up there,” she said. ” … I think that’s mainly why she’s lived so long. She just enjoys life and loves people.

“It’s a crummy day (weatherwise), but it’s a wonderful day for us.”

Cupcakes and all.

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