Beloved husband of Katherine “Kitty” Swanger (nee Bilinski), father, and grandfather, Harry was a lawyer by training, concert band impresario by destiny and bingo hall provider by necessity. Harry was the son of Harry “Haps” Joseph and Ethel Mae Swanger (nee Boyer) and younger brother of the late Dr. Ronald Swanger.
A three-sport athlete and dedicated musician at Lebanon (PA) High School, Harry attended Brown University on one of the last football scholarships extended by the college. He graduated in 1961 with a degree in Economics. Harry spent three years as a starter on the Brown University varsity football team and several years on Brown’s inaugural rugby team. He also played basketball at Lebanon Junior High School.
Following his unremarkable (by his own admission) service in the United States Air Force and an initial foray in flooring industry sales, Harry had a brief stint (two days!) of substitute teaching in a Lebanon PA school where he had the good fortune for himself and his progeny to meet his future wife, Kitty in 1963.
Harry attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Law before transferring to the Duquesne School of Law, where he graduated with a Juris Doctor degree. Harry started a law practice in Pittsburgh, PA, with other young socially aware attorneys. The Law Commune (a firm name that was rejected by the local bar association because it did not include the names of attorneys) brought him together with other well-known lawyers, including Bill Kunstler, who anointed the Swanger family home with his autograph on the kitchen wall. Following his work in social justice (prisoners’ rights and juvenile justice), Harry and his family moved to St. Louis, MO in 1975 where he had accepted the position as Deputy Director of the National Juvenile Law Center within the St. Louis University School of Law.
Harry expressed his love of music (some might say obsession) in founding the Compton Heights Concert Band: Harry made the mistake of complaining about the lack of live music (a man was carrying a tape recorder!) for the neighborhood Easter Parade in 1975; this earned him the assignment to organize music for the next year. An initial group of a dozen neighbors grew into the 60+ members community band.
Harry was the President and bassoonist of the Band which performed a beloved free summer concert series for more than forty years to appreciative audiences in the Tower Grove and Francis Parks (among other outdoor and indoor venues) and for more than 20 years at an annual holiday concert in Powell Hall. During his time as President, he further expanded the Band’s outreach by producing a TV show, “Sunrise Serenades” beginning in 2000 that aired at 6:00 AM on Saturdays for 15 months. You really had to love John Philip Sousa to get up that early! A brief non-musical feature of the shows was Kitty’s Kitchen, where Kitty shared recipes from the Band’s cookbook “Cooking to Beat the Band”.
One of the band's featured artists was an international operatic tenor whose popularity with the band's audiences inspired Harry to became an international opera tour organizer as well! A small group of dedicated fans became “regulars” on these trips - Munich (in time for Oktoberfest!), Paris (twice!); Amsterdam; Windsor, Ontario and London (reception hosted by world champion whistler in Saddleworth!)
When bingo fundraising for non-profits was legalized in Missouri, Harry was one of the first to jump into those waters! Band member volunteers staffed and operated bingo at several different locations over many years until the Band suspended operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there was support from sponsors and fans, bingo was the primary source of revenue.
In addition to his musical career, Harry was an avid collector of vinyl, proudly acquiring the first record in his hometown as a teen. His eclectic collection ranged from Jonathan Winters comedy albums to the rock band Cream to the jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman to Wagner. He also collected pinball machines, jukeboxes, and three barely working vintage Mercedes.
Harry always loved a joke, even when it came at his own expense; he reveled in the ribbing he received at the hands of his three daughters. He loved wordplay and peppered any conversation with puns; he was pun-questionably pun-stoppable when it came to making puns! If you are still reading this, Harry wishes you a band-tastic day!
He is survived by his wife Kitty, daughters Elyse (Michael) Tillman, Kirsten (Pim Lustig) Swanger, Justine (Joseph) Lipiarski and grandchildren Stephanie Tillman, Maude Lustig, Nathan Lipiarski, Samuel Tillman, and Alden Lipiarski.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Harry’s memory to a local arts organization of your choice.