PUBLISHED: 11:14 AM on Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Rica (Niemi) Swanson celebrates 100th birthday

Former Douglas resident Rica (Niemi) Swanson was feted at a party celebrating her 100th birthday at the home of her daughter, Aileen Herring, in Anchorage, Feb. 5. Niece Judy Ripley and her husband Rudy of Juneau and their daughter Kate and family from Fairbanks were among out-of-town guests. Rica's nephews Karl, Jerry and John Niemi also reside in Juneau.

Rica was born in Finland in 1905 to Karrlo and Ida Kiviniemi. Her father came to Alaska in 1906 to work for the Treadwell mines in Douglas. By 1908, he had saved enough money to bring over his wife, daughter Rican, and son John. They traveled from Helsinki to Liverpool, then by steamship to New York, train to Seattle and steamship again to Douglas. Two other children, Aileen and Tauno, were born in Douglas.

Rica graduated from Douglas High School in 1924 and Washington Teachers' Collge in 1927. A talented violinist, she worked summers playing musical accompaniment for the silent movies at the Palace Theater (later the Capital Theater and Baranof Book Shop).

After graduating college, she left Southeast to work as a teacher in Wasilla, Fort Gibbon and Haines. She married Frank Swanson in Anchorage in 1933. Frank was a traveling auditor for the Alaska Railroad. He was also a saxophonist, who formed a trio called "Swanson's Swingers." Rica's teaching career ended when she married, as the rule of the day required teachers to be single.

Rica was a founding member of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. The Swansons had four grandchildren, who now live in Anchorage and Kenai. She has 15 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

The Swansons later moved to Kenai, where the lived until moving to the Anchorage Pioneer Home. When Frank passed away, Rica left the ohme to live with her daughter and family.

Rica's actual birthday was Feb. 21.

Photo courtesy of Judy Ripley

Rica Swanson (left) with friend and fellow centenarian Lorene Harrison, whom she met in 1928 on a northbound steamer.