'Mrs. Music' to lead Summerfest festivities

Gail Swart laments the fact that she will not be able to hide behind her piano when she rides as Grand Marshal of the Summerfest Parade on Saturday. (Photo by Rocky Wilson)

Everybody knows Gail Swart.

To the younger crowd in Enterprise Elementary School she is known by the nickname she loves, "Mrs. Music."

Many adults know her as the caring lady who taught for 30-plus years in the elementary school, teaching both themselves and their children. Many also know her as the lady who volunteered her teaching services this past year in the same school.....volunteered her services without pay. Those who know her a little better know she is going to volunteer her services again next school year.

Politicians know her as a concerned citizen who speaks her mind in a positive manner. Her latest crusade is to convince state legislators that the state's defeat of Measure 13 does not mean that the public is content with how their schools are faring. She argues to Simmons, Kitzhaber and on down the ladder that her vote said "you don't dip into savings without a plan."

She is a lady who has gone on record more than once encouraging people to get involved with their community.

Gail Swart will be riding in the Summerfest Parade this Saturday as a Grand Marshal. She would rather be out hiking, swimming or practicing her piano.

"I won't have a piano to hide behind," says the complex lady with a smile. "I would have given anything to tell them 'no' when they asked me to be Grand Marshal. I don't want to ride in a parade. Then I realized how hypocritical that would have been and I said 'yes'."

It won't be easy, but Gail Swart looks at it as her civic duty.

At age 66 the accomplished pianist puts only her five children and 10 grandchildren as higher priorities than teaching kids. "I love teaching," she says. "It's an opportunity at my age to come back and do what I love to do anyway."

Pinning down the number of years Swart actually taught is hard to do. She retired earlier than she should have, missed a few years, gave way for several years to Mary Ann Harris and Michele Homan, taught part time in between the two. She also taught for a short while in Lostine, taught for three years in a regular classroom, and then taught primarily as a K-8 music teacher in the Enterprise elementary for many years. Most gracefully, does not remember how many years of each.

Gail Swart moved from the Chicago area to Enterprise when she was five-years-old in 1941 when her father, the late Gwen Coffin, purchased the Wallowa County Chieftain. The Chieftain has run in her blood since that time and still has family ties, with son Rick Swart working as editor/publisher. During summers growing up she would work in the office and still, on occasion, she drops off a batch of her cinnamon rolls for employees to consume.

Many people remember Gail Swart as the lady who has worked weekend nights for over 10 years playing piano at the Wallowa Lake Lodge, taking requests that range from Ebb Tide to Norwegian Wood. She was also organist at the Enterprise Community Church for 25 years.

Swart raised five children, Rick, Don, Jr., Jennifer, David, and Lisa.

One of the trademarks of the music education she shares with her students is the 8th grade operettas where she annually directed junior high youngsters acting and singing on stage. By that time she knows the kids "like family" and draws something special out of each kid. As the years go by she has played at many weddings.... and some funerals.

Recently she had the privilege of directing an operetta with three grandsons playing lead roles.

"If I ever do retire," she says with a warm smile, "I'm going to write a book about operetta rehearsals and wedding rehearsals and give Bill Cosby some competition."

So when you wave to Gail Swart in the parade Saturday don't let her endearing smile fool you. She is just doing her civic duty.   

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