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This afternoon I returned from the 35th reunion of my final class at Haverford, '73. The last thing before I left was to go with two others to the home of Dana Swan, the long-time athletic director.  Dana was also the last football coach, and the person who introduced Lacrosse to Haverford - which this year saw its men's team nationally ranked and going to the NCAA quarterfinals.    But Dana did not get to see them perform.   He is home now.  And he is dying of brain cancer.

I never played for Dana - when I returned as a 25 year old junior my eligibility to play had long since expired.  But I managed the soccer teams and got to know him in that capacity.  Later, after he left athletics, he served in the admissions office for a number of years, including having responsibility for the states in which I work and live.  I have known him since 1971, only two years after he first arrived at the College.

One of the two people with whom I went to visit Dana considers him a surrogate father.  His own died while he was a student.  He also lived with Dana and his wife for during one school year.  

Dana is a man who is intelligent and caring and decent.  He graduated from Swarthmore High School and Swarthmore College, and ironically never played Lacrosse at either - it was a sport he learned while an assistant coach of football at Washington & Jefferson.  Since Swarthmore and Haverford are archrivals in sports, it was interesting that he has spent more than half his life with us.  He has been an essential part of our community.

Dana was frail, tiring easily.  It was difficult for him to talk, and frustrating that he could not always make his intentions known.  He was able to recognize all three of us.  

This was not as difficult for me as for the other two, who had played for him, and returned to play in alumni games against his later teams.  But he always had time for me when I saw him, and I valued what he had to say.

Still, seeing this once vibrant man now physically a shell,unable to do simple tasks for himself, was difficult.   It was the third time I have had to say goodbye to someone without saying goodbye, knowing it was the last time I would see him but wanting to stay positive.  I saw my Uncle Peter in his hospital room in Miami perhaps a week before he passed.  And a man who was important in my spiritual journey, Father Vladimir Borichevksy, could not take hospital visitors so I talked on the phone with him one last time about two days before he died.

Dana was a fierce competitor - one can still see that in him as he struggles with this final illness.  But he insisted on playing fair, and would not tolerate his players cheating in any fashion.  Nor would he allow his players to taunt or mock - he insisted upon sportsmanship.  Perhaps that is why so many of us remained attached to him long after we left the College, and even those like me whom he had not coached but had touched always looked forward to seeing him.

I had not known before I arrived on Friday how ill he was.  I almost did not come to this reunion, and had thought about leaving on Saturday afternoon.  Had I done either, I would have missed getting to catch up with some classmates, and make contact with our sisters in Bryn Mawr '73, some of whom I had not previously known.

Most of all I would have missed this chance to be with Dana one last time.  Sometimes we encounter people who merely by our knowing them a little affects us deeply.  Dana Swan has been that way for many.  I feel fortunate to have had his life cross mine.

And of course, as a politically active Democrat who felt great sadness at learning of the parallel illness of Sen. Ted Kennedy, his future was also on my mind, as I hope and pray that he can remain as vibrant and active as possible for as long as possible.

As for Dana?  He is on a bed that enables him to look out over his garden.  The members of his family and his friends often come by to sit with him.     He is at home with people he loves and who love him.  Perhaps that in some way makes up for the discomfort, and the knowledge that his life is slowly leaving him.

People are precious.  It is important to take every opportunity to thank them for what they have given us.  This morning I had that opportunity for a man whose life was a positive influence on almost four decades of Haverfordians.

Thank you, Dana Swan.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 04:26 PM PDT.

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