As a young boy in third grade, Ron Swank found a connection to music that would hold many memories for him throughout his life.
Nancy Button, a music teacher at Lincoln Heights Elementary School, invited Swank to join the school choir.
“It was in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, then you had to be invited and I was invited when I was in third grade, so I thought I was pretty special,” Swank said. “She paved the way for me. I have a good ear, I suppose.
Swank performed as a high soprano in the school choir for three years, gaining experience as a singer and performer. He also performed at the Baptist Church and at St. Agnes in Scottsbluff. One of their songs they performed was called Sit Down Servant. Swank recalled one of the sixth grader’s voices sounding like Louis Armstrong, but one day the boy didn’t show up. Button looked for someone to perform the solo and Swank volunteered. After this performance, it became his solo.
Swank’s older sister played the organ for the church choir, and he followed to sing with the ladies.
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“I used to sing in church when I was starting out and I thought, ‘I can sing higher than these ladies can’,” he recalled.
Then Swank’s father sold the Goodyear business and the family moved to Florida for a year, then to Greeley. While at Greeley Central, Harold Hambler gave vocal lessons to Swank. While he became involved in several plays and in the music department at Greeley School, the family moved back to Scottsbluff during his freshman year of high school.
“My junior year, I wasn’t the happiest camper,” Swank recalled. “Scottsbluff has a very good acapella and a very good musical program.”
Luckily, Swank was allowed to participate in the acapella mid-year and some of the seniors befriended him which helped lift him up.
“Whenever I’ve been down, music has always lifted me up,” Swank said.
Scottsbluff High School’s spring musical was Carousel Swank’s first year where he was cast as a fisherman.
“I had a two-line solo and I remember the student director coming up to me and saying I knew who the frontman would be next year,” Swank said. “I didn’t try for Tony. I tried for Action (one of the Aces of the Jets). “
Although bass singers aren’t the best melodic singers, being better at harmonizing, Swank took on the role of Tony in West Side Story his senior year, which remains fond memories of his senior musical.
“It was the high point of my high school career,” he said.
The senior year is also when Swank met his future wife, Teresa. One day, during music class, he grabbed his music binder when another binder hit him on the head. He looked up and his future wife, Teresa, had dropped her binder on him.
“She dropped the music on my head and that’s how we were introduced,” he said. “That was 48 years ago, so I found my wife through music.”
After graduating from SHS in 1976, Swank walked away from music for a few years. While he was going to college, he was also working, which didn’t leave much time for music. During this time, Teresa became involved with the local chapter of Sweet Adelines, an international organization of singers who sing hair salon harmony. This connected Swank with the local barbershop chapter, which plays acapella.
“It kind of filled a void for me and kept me going,” he said. “Of course the Sugar Valley Singers, we’re still going although COVID has pretty much wiped us out.”
Swank was a member of the Old Pals quartet along with Dan Clark, Jim Schmucker and Rod Businga. The four men competed and delivered Singing Valentines to people in the valley.
“Jim, Dan and Rod were half musical geniuses,” Swank said. “I just open my mouth and sing. These guys make arrangements and piece together the harmony.
Swank would travel to Denver, Colorado to compete with the barbershop chorus. The quartet finished third in the competitions. During his time with the choir, he participated in several international Barbershop Harmony Society competitions in Montreal, Louisville, Salt Lake City and Denver.
The Swanks continue to sing in their barbershop choirs, but have also been active in theater productions in the valley for about 15 years.
“The Theater West is so good because you work with these future professionals and they mix people in the community with that,” he said.
Swank portrayed Mil Debeck in South Pacific and the barbershop quartet performed in Theater West’s Music Man. He also performed at the associative theater of Bayard.
“I really can’t think of a bad experience with music,” Swank said. “Music has just been the highlight of my life. It’s something I shared with my wife and we can do together.
As someone who says his identity is music, Swank said he owes his good health to the power of music.
“When I sing, I don’t think I’m getting old,” he said. “The music is uplifting and you forget about all your problems. It keeps you young.
While Swank may be known to his colleagues as a banker or to his tennis athletes as a coach, music is Swank’s outlet that has guided him through his childhood and adulthood, a melody a la time.
“Music is part of my life,” Swank said. “It keeps me grounded. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without music.