She is 91 years old, takes daily walks, drives her own car and remembers walking 100 miles to avoid the Russians and living in West Germany in the aftermath of World War II.
Born to a wealthy family on an estate in Pommerania, a district of northeastern Germany, Lavinia Swanson, nee Scheller, grew up in luxury, the middle child of five sisters.
"My father certainly didn't like it," she said of the five girls. "But what could he do? It was all my mother's fault."
Her memory is still sharp.
"We had our own lake," she said. It was that lake and an early desire to get into the water that gave her a life-long love of swimming. By the time she and her sisters were high school age, her father decided that the governess in charge of their education was not sufficient. They moved to the town of Hamlin - yes, that Hamlin, chronicled by the brothers Grimm in the story of the pied piper.
"We had a house with a big garden behind it," Swanson recalled. "Father couldn't sit around, so he started a chicken farm - which was a real bad thing." It happened that the German railroads and Dutch chicken farmers had special transportation arrangements, "but my father didn't. He didn't know, so he had to give it up."
The family money came from Swanson's mother, who had a small fortune from her father who did business in England, though Swanson does not know what the business was.
"She was very rich, and my father sure spent it," Swanson said, shaking her head. She said she suspects her father only married for the money.
Swanson recalls being the middle child was "terrible," though she admits her memory may be a bit selective.
"The three older ones - clean the playroom," she said, mimicking orders. "The three younger ones, go to bed at six o'clock."
Wanting to work
Her father did not want his daughters to work. He wanted them to marry and raise families, but Lavinia thought that sounded boring. She attended university in Berlin, taking economics, but found she was not very interested in that. Later she attended school to become an English interpreter, against her father's wishes. Her brother-in-law paid for the courses, and was later reimbursed by her father, though she was not supposed to know.
"Obviously I was meant to come to America," Swanson said. "My first employer in Berlin - American Express!" After the war she became a court interpreter for the United States Army, but was cautioned not to stay too long working for the army because it would not look good on her work record. Her next job was working for the United States embassy.
Needing to move
She was living in Berlin when the war ended.
"The Russians came and I had to leave Berlin," she said. When the soldiers came through the house she hid in a small closet.
"I certainly didn't want to be raped," she said. "I walked all the way to the Elbe [River] and then I got a train to the West. I was not the only one. A lot of people went west to get away from the Russians." The Russian occupation sector was bounded by the Elbe River on the west.
In 1960, Swanson was working at the U.S. embassy.
"So then I thought, 'Why don't I go to America and see what is there?'" she said. She arranged to visit the United States for a year, and her first stop was Beverly Hills. She had only been in the country three days when she met William Swanson on the beach at Santa Monica. She fell madly in love. That was January. They were married in November.
When he retired from his occupation as a marine engineer, crewing oil tankers, they retired to a farm in Oregon.
She is a member of Subud, an international spiritual association. After her husband died she found the farm too isolated and wanted to move, though she did not know where. She had a great many books and wanted to give them to the Subud center in Bellevue. The next thing she knew, she had accepted an offer to move to the Seattle area. She bought a condo on Capitol Hill and settled in.
Swanson has traveled all her life, crisscrossing Europe, Asia, the United States and South America.
"That traveling has been just wonderful," she said.
Finally she grew tired of cooking, shopping and housework and moved to Fred Lind Manor, at 17th Avenue East and East Howell Street.
She is lively and healthy, taking daily walks and getting out and about. She said one of her early ancestors, in 15th century Austria, lived to be 102 years old.
"I'm still driving, but I only go where I have been," Swanson said. She doesn't use the freeways, nor does she use a walker or a cane. She takes part in many of the activities at the retirement center and is eager to do new things.
"I was a traveler, and now I'm sitting at home wondering what I am going to do all day," she protested, a bit too much, perhaps. "Oh, if you come, call first. I am not often in my apartment."
Freelance writer Korte Brueckmann lives on Capitol Hill and can be reached at editor@ capitolhilltimes.com.