Marlys Swenson Waller | Passages

April 16, 1924 – March 9, 2023

Marlys Swenson Waller, a long-time resident of Lopez Island, passed away peacefully March 9, 2023 surrounded by family just short of her 99th birthday.

Known by family, friends, and professional colleagues as a passionate advocate for outdoor recreation, the arts, and dance for all, she will be remembered as profoundly humble of her many accomplishments throughout her life as well as always finding “one more chair” to include family or new found friends around a table to share a meal.

Born and raised in Stockton, Ca. to Bert and Stella Swenson, Marlys Ann was the fourth of five children. Summers were spent in the Sierra Mountains near Silver Lake at summer camps founded and run by her parents, and at Four Winds Camp on Orcas Island as a camper and counselor.

Graduating from UCLA in 1945 with a degree in Physical Education, Marlys went directly to Teachers College Graduate School at Columbia University in NYC, earning a Master’s in Education.

Marlys taught physical education, recreation and dance at the University of New Mexico, University of Texas (Austin) and University of Washington where she was also the head coach of the Women’s Ski Team and Women’s Field Hockey Team. Marlys co-authored the higher education textbook, Dance A While, first published in 1950. Considered the foremost publication on social and folk dance in the United States, its10th Edition is still in publication. In 2010 she was honored as the recipient of the National Dance Association Heritage Award for her significant contributions to dance in North America.

It was at the University of Washington in 1949 that she met her future husband of 66 years, Lynn Waller, when he ventured into the PE Dept. looking for a recreation specialist to help him run the weekend teen program and teach square dancing at the Seattle Ski Club. They married in 1950.

Together they shared a lifelong love of the outdoors and skied, hiked, biked, canoed, gardened and passed these passions on to their children.

In addition to raising four children and teaching, Marlys endlessly invested in her Seattle community. She held numerous volunteer and board positions with Campfire Girls, Medina Children Services, University Congregational Church, and the King County Arts Commission, including serving as Board President, helping to pass the 1% for Art Ordinance in 1973. She also taught skiing at Snoqualmie Summit and Crystal Mountain for over 35 years and led the Four Winds Camp Mountain Camp.

Marlys shared her love of the San Juan Islands with Lynn and in the early 1960’s they purchased property on Lopez Sound. They spent many years between Seattle and Lopez Island, eventually settling permanently on Lopez in retirement where they continued their community involvement. Marlys was an active in the Center Island Lutheran Church and she belonged to the Weavers Guild, Book Club, and Garden Club and served on the board of San Juan County United Way. She was a founder of the Lopez Island Tennis Association which built the community tennis courts. She volunteered with the Cemetery Association, Senior Center, Thrift Store and innumerable community enrichment projects. Her grandchildren remember her for organizing family croquet tournaments, beach breakfasts, numerous baking projects, and hot dog roasts. She held enthusiasm for all kinds of dance, calling square and contra dances for the Lopez Community for decades. She was never happier than when sleeping under the stars. An amazing cook, she loved to eat by candlelight and a wonderful letter-writer–to the very end.

Marlys is survived by her brother Bill Swenson (Ann) of Tracy, CA, four children Kristi Golden (Michael), Johanna Dakopolos (Paul), Erica Waller (Dave Bernert), and Peter Waller (Denise), 10 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren, numerous nieces, nephews, the many children of family friends whose parents passed before her which she then considered her own, and friends around the world. Her husband, Lynn, predeceased her in 2016,

A memorial service will be held on Saturday June 3rd, on Lopez Island at the Center Island Church, 2:00 pm. Internment at Lopez Union Cemetery immediately following. Celebration of Life and reception at the Lopez Center for Community and Arts 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm.

To honor Marlys the family suggests donations to Lopez Center for Community and the Arts,

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