MIKE SWOBODA: 1938-2008


Mayor will be remembered for his passion, love for Kirkwood



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Kirkwood Firefighters from Firehouse 1 place black bunting across the entryway to city hall Saturday evening. On Wednesday, flags were flown at half-staff throughout Missouri in remembrance of former Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
September 12, 2008
Kirkwood's Michael E. Swoboda was honored by friends and the community during a celebration of his life scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 11, at First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood.

The two-term mayor was severely injured in the city hall shootings of Feb. 7. He died during the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 6. Mr. Swoboda was 69. He and his wife, Sue Swoboda, have a daughter, Katy Hutchison, and a son, Michael.

"The last month or so of his life, my dad really started to really suffer. My mom is relieved, we are all relieved, that he is not suffering any more," said Michael Swoboda.

Swoboda, 35 and a Kirkwood resident, said the highest point of his father's recovery came April 17, when Mr. Swoboda attended a city council meeting, his last as the eight-year mayor of Kirkwood.

"He didn't do that for himself. His recovery was difficult and painful. I felt he did that for everyone else who needed to see that as a moment of hope and healing," Michael said. "That was pretty much the height of his recovery. It took him about four hours to get dressed for that evening."

Mr. Swoboda's health deteriorated following a fall he took in early May, according to his son. He also had cancer. Mr. Swoboda was moved to a hospice on the campus of St. Anthony's Medical Center on the Tuesday prior to his death.

"The cancer really got worse as his health was compromised. He had a number of cancers," Michael said.

For seven months friends and well-wishers visited the former mayor's Kirkwood home.

"I got to see a lot of that, and that's what I personally remember," he said. "He would sit on the porch and just talk to people. They would pull up, he would tip his hat to them. They would sit down and have a drink of ice tea and talk about the times, and the old times. So many people did that. It was great."

Current Mayor Art McDonnell said Mr. Swoboda died "peacefully and in the company of his family."

McDonnell described Mr. Swoboda as a "man of tremendous energy," a public servant who worked to get people involved in community efforts.

"He will be greatly missed by this community which he loved and was privileged to serve," McDonnell said.

At a noon press conference on Saturday, Sept. 4, McDonnell said Mr. Swoboda had a favorite quote, one he used during a speech marking the city's 150th anniversary celebration.

"Kirkwood is lavished with history, traversed by railroads, shaded under tall trees, bordered by a wandering river and filled to the brim with good people."

Mr. Swoboda served four terms on the city council before being elected mayor in 2000. Kirkwood Council Member Tim Griffin served alongside Mr. Swoboda when both were councilmen in the early 1990s, then again when Mr. Swoboda was mayor. Griffin said he grew close to the mayor over the years.

"He had a very intense style of leadership. What I mean by that is that when he had his mind set on something, there was a correct way — the right proposal or the right project — he basically did everything in his power to bring whatever it was to fruition," Griffin said.

"He definitely stepped on a few toes during his time. But everything he did, in his mind and his heart, was in the best interests of Kirkwood. He worked harder than anybody I know to do what was best for Kirkwood," Griffin concluded.

Griffin described Mr. Swoboda as a good man, a man who "ate, drank and breathed Kirkwood."

Mayor Swoboda was shot twice during the Feb. 7 rampage at city hall. One of the bullets struck his right cheekbone. The other bullet grazed the back of the mayor's head.

Mr. Swoboda was scheduled to serve as the grand marshal in this year's Greentree Parade. Instead, the family has welcomed students from Robinson Elementary School to ride in the parade's lead. Mr. Swoboda visited the school often over the years, serving as a mentor and talking to children about history and citizenship.

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Michael E. Swoboda (click for larger version)
"It was probably one of his favorite things to do," said Michael.

McDonnell said that while many still suffer emotionally from the events of Feb. 7, Mr. Swoboda's death can be viewed as a closing event to the horrific shootings of that evening.

"We know that the love of this community which surrounded us after Feb. 7 will again comfort us all in this time of grief," McDonnell told the Times.

Killed Feb. 7 were Kirkwood Police Office Tom Ballman and Sgt. William Biggs; Council Members Connie Karr and Michael Lynch; and Public Works Director Ken Yost. A reporter was shot in the hand and has since recovered.

Mr. Swoboda took early retirement from Monsanto after 27 years in management information systems. He had resided in Kirkwood for 39 years.

In addition to his service as an elected official, Mr. Swoboda had, throughout the years, served as president of the Kirkwood Historical Society, Kirkwood School District Foundation, Kirkwood Lions Club and the Kirkwood Garden Club.

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Mayor Mike Swoboda shares a touching moment with his son, Michael, at the April 17 meeting of the Kirkwood City Council. This was the mayor’s last public appearance, and his final meeting as mayor. At left is Council Member Tim Griffin. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
He was president of the St. Louis County Municipal League, Mayors of Large Cities of St. Louis County, and Missouri Municipal League. These are just a few of the organizations he was involved with over his long career of community service. Mr. Swoboda was also a regular at The Saturday Morning Breakfast Club that continues to meet each week at Spencer's Grill.

Mr. Swoboda's body will be cremated, his ashes divided among his wife and two children. Michael said his father's ashes will be spread where deemed appropriate.

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