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On February 18, 2021 our beloved Ruth Berta Swenson passed from this
world after a final champagne toast to us all. Just a few days before her
92nd birthday, it was the bittersweet conclusion of a life well lived, finished
as always on her own terms after a brief illness.
Born in Pirmasens, Germany on February 23, 1929 to Friedrich and Maria
Zwissler, her childhood was shaped by the struggles of both the economic
depression of the 1930’s and the horrors of World War II. The family had
moved to Stuttgart Germany when the bombing resulted in the wartime
evacuation from the city to the countryside. Returning after the war along
with her sister Doris, Ruth set about creating her new life. With the end of
the war came an influx of American GI’s one of whom caught her eye, the dashing young officer John ‘Nord” Swenson. Love ensued, and she
returned with Nord to the U.S. in 1954, marrying in Salt Lake City Utah that
Graduate school at UC Berkeley for Nord soon brought the young couple to
the San Francisco Bay Area, where they set up housekeeping in Oakland in
a house on a hill with a million dollar view. It was around this time she
began her five decade career in fashion and retailing at the elegant
Ransohoff’s department store in San Francisco. Film buffs will recognize
the store in scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film “Vertigo”. Over the
years she rose to be one of the senior executives of the store and its
primary buyer, taking annual trips to New York to view and select the latest
fashions with the aid of her discerning eye for style and beauty.
In 1960 Ruth and Nord were blessed with the birth of their daughter
Monique. Ruth’s mother Maria, from then on Omi, came to help with the
new baby, and decided to stay after the untimely passing of her husband
Fritz back in Germany. In 1962, Ruth’s sister Doris emigrated to the US as
well, along with her son Alexander, completing the reunion of the small
The house on the hill on the aptly named Harbor View Avenue was the
home to many famous parties in the 1960’s. Ever the gracious hostess,
Ruth knew how to entertain old friends and new with fabulous food and
plenty of good drinks and music. The 70’s brought a move to another lovely
home on a hill on the other side of Oakland. As always, it was decorated
with Ruth’s immaculate taste and style.
As the retail fashion industry was changing, Ransohoff’s departed San
Francisco in the late 1970’s for the central California cites of Sacramento
and Fresno, and Ruth followed, establishing a new life in Fresno while also
regularly commuting to Sacramento, helping to manage both stores. It was
a rich and rewarding career for her, always seeing to the needs of her many
loyal customers and friends.
But she was soon to embark on a new career, following in the steps of her
mother, that of being Omi to her beloved grandchildren Natawnee and
Forest. To be be close to them both, she and Nord moved to Grants Pass
Oregon in 2000 to take on this new assignment with gusto. Again with
grace, style and elan, a new role was created. It was during this time that she also had the opportunity to return to Germany after so many years to visit her beloved cousins Rudy and Friedl Mueller, along with their son Bernd. These connections forged so long ago remained vibrant and meaningful as ever.
On another trip she went with her sister Doris who had also moved to
Grants Pass, again reuniting a family that shared bonds unbroken. Doris
and Ruth, who had been inseparable in their youth, were together again,
living across the street from each other. They were the best of friends as
well as sisters, bickering over recipes and loving and supporting each other
A central theme that helps to define Ruth, and that spanned her life, was
her love for her dogs. From Wenig to Tasso, Beezlebub, Olga, Oscar, Mitzi
and finally Shilah, Ruth’s love and passion for her pets was
unsurpassed...as was her proclivity to spoil them rotten!
A remarkable life well lived, passed quietly to the world at large, but
memorably to those that knew her. We were a lucky few.
Ruth was loved dearly, and is survived by her daughter Monique Kell and
her partner Rick Barrera , granddaughter Natawnee Kell; grandson Forrest
Kell; her nephew and his wife, Alexander and Jimmie Lee Zwissler; her
grandnephew Chase Zwissler; her nephew and his wife Andrew Generalao
and Susan Pi and their children Max and Evan; her nephew and his wife
Michael Generalao and Julia Generalao; her nephew Victor Generalao; and
her beloved Cousin Bernd Mueller.
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