Sewickley Herald Woman of the Year: Honoree finds countless ways to help her community
If you live in or around the Sewickley Valley, there's a pretty good chance you know Maria Swanson, even if you don't know her name.
Sewickley resident Catherine Tyson wrote in a nomination letter to the Sewickley Herald that before she knew Swanson personally, she remembers seeing her outside of St. Stephen's Church on Election Day greeting voters. She was struck by how many people seemed to know her.
“Gradually, as a neighbor, then through the neighborhood book club, I became aware of how much Maria does behind the scenes to make Sewickley a great place to live,” Tyson wrote.
For her dedication to the community, Swanson was named the 2012 Sewickley Herald Woman of the Year.
It didn't take long for Swanson to get involved after moving to Sewickley in 1991 with her husband, Joel, a doctor at Butler Memorial Hospital.
She said because they chose Sewickley as their home, it was important for them to nurture it and contribute to its growth.
“It definitely keeps the community connected and vibrant,” she said of volunteerism. “It's saying, ‘My community is important to me.”
Over the years, Swanson has been a member of the borough's tree commission, on the board of the Friends of Sewickley Public Library, a past president of the Trowel & Error Garden Club and is the chairwoman of the Sewickley Republican Committee, who is dedicated to recruiting candidates for local government and school board seats.
But Swanson said the bulk of her volunteer work has revolved around the Quaker Valley School District and the activities of her four children — Will, 22; Katy, 21; Ben, 19 and Rose, 18.
She has held various positions in the Home & School Association at both Osborne Elementary and Quaker Valley High School and has volunteered with the Quaker Valley Marching Band, offering support and organizing fundraisers. Each of her four children have participated in the band, either playing an instrument or performing in the color guard.
Though there were times over the years when life got hectic, Swanson said, they've always managed to find a way to spend time with each other.
“We've always tried to have dinner together as much as possible,” she said, though sometimes coordinating schedules was impossible.
“I think it's just having four kids. We tried to keep it relatively sane,” she said.
Instead of complicating life further, Swanson said volunteering actually has helped bring the family closer together by providing countless hours of high-quality time.
For eight weekends in the spring and fall, Swanson and her husband, both certified referees, are involved in Sentinels soccer and are in charge of scheduling officials for games and training new referees.
And Swanson said she has been involved with the Girl Scouts for the past 15 years, which has allowed her to spend time with her daughters doing activities they might normally not have done, such as service projects.
“It's great because you spend time with your daughter and her friends and do really neat stuff,” she said.
Swanson said everyone should strive to volunteer, even if it's a small amount. She suggests picking something of interest and getting involved in things one's children are doing.
“There are so many little ways (to help out),” she said.
“A lot of the activities I do are kid-related. It's not like I had any special training. I kind of just go with the flow,” she said.
Swanson, who works part time as a physical therapist for AOT Inc. based in Coraopolis, said she is fortunate that she is able to volunteer as much as she does.
“I'm very, very fortunate and just blessed, really, that my husband has a job and that I don't have to work full time,” she said.
“It's been a gift to me, all of the stuff I've learned and the people I've met (through volunteering),” she said.
Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-324-1405.