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Robert "Bob" Sweeney

August 22, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
  • Bob Sweeney is fed cake by his wife, Olga, in this picture following their November 1955 wedding in Waterbury, Conn. Chocolate cake was one of Bob's favorite things. He requested and enjoyed German chocolate cake the day before he died, Olga said.
Submitted photo,

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Robert "Bob" Sweeney, who died Aug. 8 at the age of 81. His obituary appeared in the Aug. 10 edition of The Herald-Mail.

The year was 1953, and Robert Sweeney needed to learn how to waltz.

It was around the time of his 24th birthday, and Bob already had hitchhiked across the United States with a buddy, graduated from Pace College and served two years in the Marines. He was working as a salesman in Manhattan for business machines manufacturer Remington Rand.

Bob's best friend, Chico "Chic" Miguelez, was getting married. He had asked Bob to be his best man, so Bob decided he'd better get working on his box step. He set his sights toward the popular Arthur Murray dance studio franchise for help.

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Arthur Murray was running a promotion listing serial numbers for dollar bills in the newspaper daily. People who had the right bills would win five free dance lessons.

Always one to look for a bargain, Bob began scouring the papers for a match to his dollar bills, and he won. Though he was born, raised and still living in Brooklyn and there was a studio near his home, Bob decided to attend a dance center in Manhattan near his job.

"It was fate. It was meant to be," said Olga T. Sweeney, Bob's dance teacher.

Of all of Olga's students, Bob was the only one to find a "lucky dollar." And of all the teachers providing one-on-one instruction, Bob was assigned to Olga, a fashion design student turned dance teacher from Waterbury, Conn.

"He danced a good fox trot and he danced a good swing," Olga said. But his waltz did, indeed, need some work. When Bob got set to waltz, he stood with his heels touching and his toes pointed outward.

"I asked him, 'Did you study ballet?' and he said, 'No!' He brought his feet together real quick," Olga said. "He would have tripped over his feet."

Some of the other teachers were envious that Olga got to teach Bob, she said.

"Boy, he was good-looking. Everybody would say, 'How come you get all the good-looking students?'" Olga said. "They were jealous."

Bob completed his lessons and went on his way. Months later, Olga was instructed by her employer to call him back to offer another free half-hour lesson. Following this lesson, Bob asked Olga out. She told him, "No, thank you," she said. She had plans.

So Bob sent her a note including his phone number. After debating, she called him.

On their first date, Bob took Olga to see "Mister Roberts," a play starring Henry Fonda on Broadway, then to a night club in Hoboken, N.J., where he told her Frank Sinatra had gotten his start.

Bob continued courting Olga in a gentlemanly fashion. She liked his sense of humor and he took her dancing to big bands around the city.

"He did everything right," Olga said. "He made dates special. He knew I liked to dance."

Six months later, Bob told Olga he loved her. She was more cautious. She had planned to teach dance in California and Hawaii, and she didn't want to jump into anything. It was when Bob's work took him away for a month that she realized he was "the one."

"When he came back, he asked, 'Did you miss me?' I said, 'Yes, I did. I think I love you,'" Olga said.

Bob's mind for business jumped to action. Olga said he "never really asked me to marry him." Instead, he informed her that his parents would buy their bedroom set and he would open a charge account to establish credit for the couple.

Bob and Olga had four children. Their son Paul Sweeney said providing and taking care of business was important to Bob.

"He was a salesman and an accountant," said Paul, 53, of Hagerstown. "The accountant established credit and the salesman went in with the assumptive close."

But that was just one aspect of his father. Another was his caring and consideration of others. Bob had hoped to move his family away from the city.

In 1973, Bob was presented with a business opportunity in Hagerstown. After a visit to the area, he decided to move. Rather than abruptly uproot his family, he commuted five to six hours for six months on Sunday and Friday nights.

"He wanted us to be able to finish the school year and say goodbye to friends," Paul said. "He was very sensitive to that. At the time, a lot of people would not do that kind of thing."

Paul said Bob made the most of simple things. He loved chocolate cake and pretzels.

"If he was watching a movie and eating pretzels, you would actually hear him humming as he ate. It was really neat. You could tell he was as happy as could be," Paul said. "Whatever the moment was, my dad was one who was enjoying it."

Olga provided a written copy of the eulogy given by her son Steve Sweeney.

Steve, 48, of Brookville, Md., said he learned from his father that "caring for the ones you love is the most important thing you will do in your life."

He said Bob passed on his sense of humor and compassion for others to his children. He imparted his passion for chocolate to his daughter Susan and his love of music to his grandchildren. Steve said he sometimes even catches himself humming when he eats a pretzel.

"My father had a great life. He is present in so many people," Steve said. "Dad didn't die, he just dispersed."

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