Editorial: Remembering Anne Swenson

by Lisa Vidal
Word came on Wednesday afternoon that long-time publisher and owner of the Ely Echo, Anne Swenson, had passed away peacefully. I had known that her time was coming to an end, but I was still unprepared for the flood of emotions that came next after her passing.
I was fresh out of vo-tech when I was hired at the Echo back in the spring of 1999. The Echo had been my first real job and right away I got the impression that Anne was a tougher-than-nails boss. I’d have to say that those first few years working for the Echo were rough. I recall having quite a few conversations with my dad expressing my frustrations about her and he would explain to me what being a business owner is like and that I should “stick it out - things would get better.” Wouldn’t you know he was right. And I’m glad I listened to him.
Over the 20 plus years I had known her, I felt her tougher-than-nails demeanor soften.
I spent countless hours with Anne. Being only 15 feet away from her Monday-Friday 8-4pm, a lot of down time was spent discussing every topic under the sun such as politics, business, life, being a mother and a divorcee, friendships, enemies, religion, love, death - you name it, we talked about it. She always seemed to put things into perspective, logically, and offered insight that I will never forget.
Yes there were things we disagreed on, but we always heard each other’s side of the story and tried to understand each other’s point of view.
She had my utmost respect and she was an extremely strong and independent woman - traits that I hope carry on in myself and pass on to my own three girls as well.
Anne loved her family, friends and was so proud of her newspaper, and rightfully so. It’s one of the only locally owned newspapers in northern Minnesota remaining.
I often heard her say she was lucky enough to find a job that she loved to do and it showed.
She loved to write, loved the arts and music, loved to greet customers walking in the door and answering the phone. She NEVER missed a beat on answering on the first ring. At 80 plus years of age, even if she was 20 feet away, she would get to that phone first and answer with an upbeat friendly voice… “Ely ECHO!”
Whenever there was something bothering me, I knew that I could either take the initiative to confide in her about it, or she would sense that there was something troubling me and ask me “what’s wrong?” Since her retirement a couple of years ago, I have missed those daily conversations.
Anne was a lifelong learner of all things. She tried her best to keep up with the fast-changing technological world. On occasion I’d hear her call out in a panic from across the room, “Lisa! What happened to my document? It’s gone!” I’d rush to her computer only to find out she pressed the minimize button. With one mouse click, I’d fix it for her and she would look up at me with a face of disgust with herself. I would laugh.
When I heard the news of her passing, I sent out a text message to a friend that said, “My boss passed away.” I struggled and hesitated to send that message out. Not because it was hard to believe she was gone, but because describing her as “my boss” didn’t seem to do the relationship between us justice. She meant more to me than just that.
Later on in the evening I ran into a friend that I texted earlier that day. He asked me how I was doing. With a shoulder shrug, I said “I don’t know. I’m sad and I’m grateful. I have a mix of emotions” He said, “Don’t be sad. She’ll always be around. Look in the eyes of her family members and that’s where she’ll be.” I replied, “When I look in the mirror, I’ll find her there too.”
Thanks, Anne, for having faith in me, for being a great teacher, a mother to me at times, and most of all, my friend. And I promise you every time I hear the phone ring at the Echo, I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t ring twice.