On Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, Mary Louise (Kurtz) Sweigard, devoted and loving wife of John, passed away after contracting COVID-19 following a hospital and rehab stay.
Mary Lou was born in Pottstown, Pa. on Feb. 8, 1931 to R. Russell and Ruth (Cummings) Kurtz. At 18-months-old her family moved to Jenkintown where Mary Lou spent her childhood years. She attended Jenkintown Methodist Episcopal Church where she sang in the choir and was very active in the youth group, forming friendships there and in school that endured until her death. At Jenkintown High she played field hockey; played glockenspiel and kettle drums and was the drum major of her high school band. She often recalled being “mortified” the day a dog came onto the field and howled through the Star-Spangled Banner as she was conducting.
While visiting relatives in Millersburg, Pa. as a rising high school senior, she met her future husband when the two were tasked with picking cherries on the Cummings’ farm in June 1948. From there their love blossomed and grew, with John saying decades later, “The cherries kept getting sweeter” with every passing year. Mary Lou attended one year at Lebanon Valley College (LVC) as a music major and then left to work at PSFS in Philadelphia to put John through college at LVC. The two married on April 5, 1952, and raised their four children in Farmington and Seaford. Mary Lou loved being a mom and wanted a large brood of children, sometimes mentioning the numbers eight-ten! Sadly, she was only able to carry four to term.
Mary Lou was an extrovert, people-connector, organizer, independent thinker, open learner, trusted friend and caregiver. In her lifetime she sent out tens of thousands of letters, birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards, treating each person as a special individual. In her children’s formative years, she annually baked a birthday cake for each, even though three of the four had birthdays within five days of each other. She worked with others in organizing countless friend and family reunions which brought her immeasurable joy.
At the center of Mary Lou’s life was her faith, lived out daily in big, small, and meaningful ways. For 45 years she was a beloved pillar of the Bethany Church of the Brethren (Farmington) where she faithfully attended. There she served on the board and many committees; as choir director; congregational song leader; part of the Gift of Song quartet; teacher; and occasional delegate to denominational conferences.
Mary Lou’s deep, enduring faith especially embraced Christ’s missive of Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did to me.” She often quoted Hebrews 13:2 to her family and was dedicated to providing “hospitality to strangers” and welcoming everyone who entered her domain. To that end for many years she was one of a trio of women who managed the Hospitality Shop at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, making an oasis of food and drink available to employees and visitors.
In the 1960s as racial and economic disparities were unveiled, she became part of grassroots organizing to bring Head Start to Seaford. She served on the Community Concerts Association which made a diversity of professional-quality performing arts available to Lower Delaware. She was passionate about music and the way it brought people together and fed them. In Seaford Mary Lou also served as a dedicated election poll worker. She cared about and supported many non-profit organizations, including those focused on nature and the environment.
Mary Lou was a laundry expert, being able to get a stain out of anything. She was an amazing master of growing happy house plants, especially African violets, fan irises, night-blooming series, and succulents. She was a keen observer and critic, was kind, generous, and had a great laugh. On more than one occasion her decisive actions saved persons from medical demise, including her youngest child, who required lifesaving surgery at age 8.
Having pinched pennies for their entire lives, an inheritance from a favorite aunt and uncle (Dorothy and Nelson Loughery) allowed Mary Lou and John to become world travelers, mostly through Ken Kreider tours. Their travels included: several countries in Western Europe; Canada; Fiji, Australia, New Zealand; the USSR; a cruise through the Panama Canal and the southern Caribbean Sea; Alaska; Hawaii; and trips within the continental U.S. They spent several years wintering in North Fort Meyers, Florida.
In their retirement the couple lived in Millersburg for 10 years and then moved to Messiah Lifeways long-term care facility in Mechanicsburg for the remainder of her days. Mary Lou was a volunteer at Messiah prior to residing there and was a past treasurer of the Messiah Village Auxiliary. She became an integral member of the Messiah Village Church, where she served on the social committee; sang in the choir and the mixed quartet; was part of the choir chimes; librarian for choir music; and on occasion, was the worship and song leader.
Because of the pandemic, Mary Lou spent the last eight months of her life in a quarantined situation with little to no in-person contact with her family and friends, but at age 89, had learned to use Zoom on her laptop by herself!
Mary Lou was preceded in death by her parents, and her younger brother Robert (Bob) Kurtz. She is survived by her heartbroken husband of 68 years, John Sweigard; her sister and friend, Marion Adams of Chenango Bridge, NY; her four devoted children, Susan (Donn) Balcarcel of Jamestown, CA, Jim (Barb) Sweigard of Elkton, Laurie (Jackie) Sweigard of Malvern, PA, David (Cathy) Sweigard of Shrewsbury, PA; eight grandchildren Jonathan (Kristynn) Boyajian, Samuel Balcarcel, Peter (Alison) Sweigard, Naomi (Kevin) Nash, Rachel (Aaron) Carmichael, Eric (Ting) Sweigard, Andrew Sweigard, and Ben Sweigard; and eight great-grandchildren: Avery, Elliott, Joey, Will, Michael, Keira, Lily, and Teagan. In addition, she is survived by many in-laws, nephews, nieces, first and second cousins, and numerous beloved friends that span generations. We loved her dearly and are devastated by her loss. Wear a mask; save a life.
Interment was private at Oak Hill Cemetery, Millersburg on Nov. 21; a Celebration of Life will be planned in the future. In her memory donations may be made to Bethany Church of the Brethren, 91 School St, Farmington, DE 19950, Messiah Village Church, 100 Mt. Allen Dr., Mechanicsburg, PA 17055, The Historical Society of Millersburg and Upper Paxton Township, P.O. Box 171, Millersburg, PA 17061 and The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Arts, 176 Water Company Rd., Millersburg, PA 17061.