The announcement was brief, barely an inch of column in the 1963 Billings Gazette. It invited anyone interested in starting a community theatre to meet at the home of Mrs. Gerald Swanson. Thus began the humble resurrection of the Billings Studio Theatre — the hopeful dream of Colleen Swanson.
It is with profound sadness the family informs that Colleen Swanson passed away on Aug. 26, 2014, following a prolonged fight with lung cancer. She was 84 years of age.
Colleen was born on Jan. 18, 1930, to Merl and Laura Ebbe in Salem, Ore. Her twin sister, Pauline, died at birth. Merl was a manager of Pacific Power and Light at various locations including Big Fork and Kalispell, Mont., as well as Sandpoint, Idaho.
Colleen met her partner for life, Jerry Swanson, while attending the University of Idaho. In their early years of marriage they lived in Portland, Ore.; Walla Walla and Spokane, Wash. Eventually Jerry and Colleen moved to Billings in 1961. It was during those early ’60s that Jerry and Colleen joined other intrepid thespians to build Billings Studio Theatre from a ramshackle abandoned church on North 29th Street to what it is today — one of the many foundational blocks of the Billings performing arts culture.
The family fondly recalls memories of those early years: Dressing the Swanson boys as cherubs for Halloween sporting placards advertising the BST production of “My Three Angels,” Mother’s Day camping trips up the West Rosebud, fishing excursions on the Bighorn and at Camp Tuffit on Lake Mary Ronan in Northwest Montana, and hunting antelope on the Kluk ranch out of Ingomar. Colleen’s love of the theater, PEO sisters and the outdoors was only surpassed by her great affection of the people and island of Kauai, which they visited often. Their home in Indian Cliffs overlooking the Yellowstone valley was the center of many social gatherings. Life at the Swanson household involved loads of laughter, a fair bit of wine, and always … always multitudes of friends.
Colleen is proceeded in death by her mother, Laura; her father, Merl; and twin sister Pauline. She is survived by her husband, Jerry; sons, Jim and wife Jannette of Colorado Springs, Colo., Marc and wife Letty of Seward, Alaska; grandchildren Dain and wife Heather, Derek and wife Michelle, Tara and Jerry; AFS sons Ikuo Okuda of Japan and family, Steen Jorgensen of Denmark and family; and two beautiful great-grandchildren, Mia and Caleb.
She is missed so much and touched the lives of many.
A community celebration of Colleen’s life will begin at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4, at the First Presbyterian Church, 2420 13th St., followed by a reception at Billings Studio Theatre.
To honor Colleen’s passion, in lieu of flowers, contributions to the Billings Studio Theatre would help sustain Colleen’s dream.