Tumbleweed Festival founder dead at 70
David K. Sweley, formerly of Garden City, also known for community involvement.
BY RACHAEL GRAY
A former Garden City resident known in the church, music and charity communities will be remembered as a vibrant man of faith, with love for people.
David K. Sweley, 70, of Salina, died Thursday.
He was best known in this community for starting the Tumbleweed Festival, developing Habitat for Humanity and serving at the Presbyterian Church of Garden City.
He also participated in Lions Club and was honored for his work with United Way, CASA, Habitat for Humanity and Family Crisis. He and his wife Cheryl served in several offices for National Presbyterian Mariners.
The Finney County United Way developed the Dave Sweley Volunteer Award, which is named after the former board member who "combined a dream, faith and desire to better his community." He also was the award's first recipient in 2007.
Upon retirement, Sweley moved back to Salina and was a member of Sunrise Presbyterian Church and Rotary. He enjoyed reading, traveling and playing bridge, according to his obituary.
Daryl Hamlet, Garden City, said he first met Sweley when he interviewed him for the pastor's job at the Presbyterian Church.
"I considered him a friend ever since," he said.
They also worked together doing Habitat for Humanity Projects.
"He wasn't so much the first president, but he was the motivator and instigator to bring that to fruition. And we're on our seventh house now," he said.
Hamlet also worked alongside Sweley on the Tumbleweed Committee.
"He had started a festival in Gordon, Neb., and wanted that concept to be a part of Garden City. I originally wasn't on the board, but joined several years later," he said.
Hamlet said Sweley was a people person.
"He was very much a people person. I saw that through the interaction with crowds at the festival. He developed the festival as a great way for people to enjoy our community and for people to enjoy each other," he said.
Kathy Friesen served on the Tumbleweed Board with Sweley and attended the Presbyterian Church while he was pastor.
"He really enjoyed life. Wherever you went with Dave, it was fun," she said.
Friesen said he was a man of faith.
"He had a deep faith and was very much guided by his faith. I would also say he had good perceptions about people," she said.
Friesen said her children also enjoyed Sweley.
"He was the pastor when my kids were in the church. He was great with the kids," she said.
Lana Christensen, former director of Family Crisis Services, said Sweley had served on the board as president.
"He was an amazing leader for us. He was so down to earth and always had a story and joke to tell," she said.
Nancy Harness, former Garden City mayor, first met the Sweleys when she and Cheryl worked at the Adult Learning Center and Community Learning Center. She first came to know Cheryl, then Sweley.
"He came to Garden City full of life and had tremendous experiences. He also started a festival in Nebraska. He loved to start festivals and worked really hard to enrich communities he lived in," she said.
Harness said Sweley gave Garden City everything he had.
"When he left, his health began to be compromised and I think that was due to all he did when he was here," she said.
Harness said his life was about service.
"He was just always out and about helping, greeting and visiting with folks. He wasn't just a minister for the folks at the Presbyterian Church, he was a minister for all of us," she said.
Harness said Sweley was all about fun.
"They just had fun. He and Cheryl traveled a lot and they did it like kids do — with backpacks and clothes from the Salvation Army. They went to New Orleans for the jazz festival and to Europe and all over. Dave just had a good time. I think he was able to that because he had Cheryl there beside him," she said.
Sweley graduated from Salina High in 1960 and Kansas State in 1967. He managed a farm and hog operation for Dean Evans, was vice president for EVCO Distributing Co. and was a New York Life Insurance agent in Salina.
During this time, he was active in Salina Jaycees, managed the Salina Charity Horse Show, was on the founding board of the Smoky Hill River Festival and served as Deacon and Elder at Sunrise Presbyterian Church.
In 1980, Sweley received a master of divinity degree from Dubuque Seminary. Following ordination, he served Presbyterian churches in Gordon, Neb., and Garden City. He founded Willow Tree Festival, started a food pantry, served as a volunteer for fire and rescue and was active in Lions Club of Gordon.
Sweley was preceded in death by his parents.
He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Cheryl; daughter, Stephanie and husband David, of Fort Collins, Colo.; son, Sean and wife Dani, of Clovis, N.M.; 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from noon to 8 p.m. with the family receiving friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Ryan Mortuary.
Memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Monday at the Sunrise Presbyterian Church, 825, E. Beloit Ave, in Salina.
Inurnment will be at a later date in Gordon, Neb. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be given to the Sunrise Presbyterian Church or Hospice of Salina and left in care of the mortuary, 137 N. Eighth St., Salina, KS 67401.