Jerry Dean Swanson story from the Feb. 14, 2019 issue of the Berlin Journal, Princeton Times, Green Lake Reporter, Omro Herald and Markesan Regional.
Area Resident Plants Trees...
Bottle Trees, That Is
Genealogy expert’s ‘family tree’
reveals rich heritage
By Jim Wolff
“Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
Don’t be surprised if that slogan is someday on the tombstone of Princeton’s Jerry Dean Swanson. His job and his hobbies are often intermingled, but he will never refer to them as “work.”
As the creator of the Bottle Trees that characterize yards and gardens everywhere, Swanson has done business in all 50 states and has enjoyed every second of it. Some would say those cobalt blue trees will define his legacy, but there is much more to him than that.
Swanson’s impressive hobbies have been equally rewarding—astronomy, genealogy, master gardening, computer repair, and he will soon be applying to join The Sons of the American Revolution, a national organization whose membership requires descendancy from an accepted Patriot.
As the Family Genealogist, he has compiled a family tree on Ancestry.com which includes data on over 32,000 individuals. “My family tree is quite extensive,” he said recently. “My father’s side is Mormon, which means the amount of recorded genealogical information is as broad as it is limitless. The Mormons are the experts in preserving genealogical data.”
Swanson has had his DNA tested at both Ancestry.com and 23andme.com. As a result, he has added hundreds of new families to his tree, with many celebrities on that list. Names like Mitt Romney, Rutherford Hayes, Prince Phillip, Leo
Tolstoy, Edwin Hubble, Alexander Hamilton, Warren Buffet, Samuel Adams, Katharine Hepburn, Mamie Eisenhower, James Garfield, JP Morgan, Napoleon, Calvin Coolidge...well you get the idea, all have a connection.
Five years ago, Swanson published a 12-year genealogy project, a book titled “Wegert Family and Friends Cookbook and History.” It includes over 85,000 words, tree charts and graphs, family stories, maps, copies of family documents, and thousands of photos...in full color. “I printed 60 copies of the 480-page book and also personally hand-bound them,” Swanson said.
“I also made the book available as a PDF. The book started as a family cookbook intermingled with a little family history but ended up as a family history with a few family recipes here and there. There are names for all the faces.” Swanson is currently working on another family history book called “Dockstader-Wegert Family and Friends—Heroes.” It will be a book about family members who served, fought and/or died serving our country. “There are many stories to share and many heroes to remember,” he said.
Jerry Dean Swanson and his partner, Lori Bianchi.
Several of those stories are on Swanson’s genealogy website. One, is about Captain Paul Derby, one of the 37 Wisconsin Vietnam soldiers who are still missing in action. Another is about William Avery who landed on Utah Beach, fought
on to Belgium and was later killed in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, which is still the longest single battle the Army has every fought. There are many more stories to tell.
“I have also been working on my application to join The Sons of the American Revolution,” Swanson said. “I have crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s, except for one relationship that needs yet to be proven and I am close to doing
that. The project has been in the works since 2001. It was during this process when I discovered that Nicholas Bush (1818-1902) of Berlin, a famous Green Lake County pioneer, was my first cousin, five times removed.”
Swanson’s fifth great grandmother, Hannah Nancy Babtist lived in Chautauqua, NY where Nicholas Bush was born. His paternal grandmother hailed from Springville, Utah and died October 8, 1998 in Montello, Wisconsin. These are the kinds of fascinating discoveries that motivate Swanson to keep digging deeper and deeper into his rich lineage.
Originally from the Madison area, Swanson was once a District Manager for a convenience store chain, Open Pantry, for about 10 years. “My district ran from Green Bay to Aurora, Illinois and from Madison to Milwaukee, overseeing over 60 stores and driving over 1500 miles per week,” he said. “Behind the wheel in that work became more than I had chosen to do. Green Lake had always been a favorite vacation area, so when an opportunity came to purchase a convenience store in Ripon, we bought it in 1983. Our business name was Ripon Food Mart & Deli.
Swanson’s partner is Lori Bianchi, is originally from Grand Rapids, MI. “We met on Match.com in 2010,” Jerry says, “and are living happily ever after. I have a son, Jeremy Lebica, 46, who owns a roofing business in Bloomington, IL,
and lives there with my grandson, Kyler DeFries, age 20. I also have a daughter, Eliisa, 39, who with her husband, Ken Harman, are teachers in the Washington, D.C. area. There, I have two grandsons, Sebastian, 10, and Oliver, 8.
During his time in Ripon Swanson did computer service and repairs, since that was also a field in which he worked. After 12 years, they sold the Ripon deli business and he concentrated only on his computer business. They moved to Princeton and have lived in this area since then.
It was in 2001 that Swanson had the idea of creating Bottle Trees. “Several years ago, while looking out the window during a blizzard snowfall, I was contemplating what to do with all the blue bottles I had been collecting over the years,” he says on his website. “My library shelves were full of the blue bottles I had saved and those given to me by those who knew of my fondness for Cobalt Blue.
“My first idea was to put up a post with PVC tubes anchored to the post...something like those aluminum artificial Christmas trees from the past. The snow outside was very inspiring! Remembering those trees, I thought I would put my blue bottles over the ends of the ‘branches.’ I thought they would look nice in the sunlight...and the snow. I soon forgot about using wood or PVC
because I wanted my tree to last. I chose the best solid USA-made steel for the job and never looked back.”
These cobalt blue Bottle Trees which can be found throughout the country and around the world are a creation of Jerry Dean Swanson.
He discovered that real bottle trees grew in Africa and Australia and ordered one on the internet from a tree grower. “Mine is now about nine feet high,” he said, “It’s a good thing we have very high vaulted ceilings!” He also discovered
there was a 1000-year Congo tradition of creating Bottle Trees. This tradition followed the slaves when they were brought to North America. The real attraction for Swanson was the varied Southern traditions and stories of
the bottle tree beliefs which inspired him to make his own as garden art. Being an avid gardener, he thought he would offer them to other gardeners. Since his first design in 2001, he has compiled some of the beliefs associated
with the Bottle Tree Tradition and posted them on his website.
“I have been creating and selling bottle trees ever since,” he said. “My business name is Bottle Tree Creations and my website is www.bottletreecreations.com. I ship my designs everywhere.
I am proud to say my trees are ‘planted’ in all 50 states. Also, in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan in Canada, Jamaica, Philippines and Great Britain. FedEx now picks up my tree orders twice
Shortly after starting this business, Swanson was contacted by a writer for the Wall Street Journal. “She did an article about my Bottle Trees,” Swanson said, “and it proudly ended up on the front page of the WSJ. That article was seen by other newspapers, resulting in subsequent articles about my Bottle Trees in several dozen newspapers across the nation and in several other countries.”
Nearly all of Swanson’s Bottle Tree sales are online, but he does offer them locally at Bloch’s Farm in Green Lake and at All in Good Taste in Princeton. He also has outlets in Waukesha, Lake Geneva and Madison, as well as in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.
In addition to his genealogy research and Bottle Tree business, Swanson has numerous hobbies. He smiles when he says, “There aren’t enough hours in the day.” He is an amateur astronomer with a website http://www.compassist.com/jerry/scopeandstuff.htm. In a somewhat related field, since 1999 he has been using his computers to crunch numbers for the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project. “My computers have been working on that project 24/7/365,” Swanson said, “and have computed about 50 million of their data packages. No extra-terrestrials yet (he smiles), but I’m working on it.”
CompAssist is the name of his computer business, but he only does work for those clients with whom he has been doing business for many years. “My Bottle Tree business and other things occupy too much of my time to pursue new computer
work,” he says.
Swanson did his Master Gardener training in Green Lake and his gardens are extensive with a couple small ponds filled with Koi and hundreds of varieties of flowers scattered throughout the Swanson acreage. “When we purchased the property in 1993,” Jerry said, “the landscaping consisted of seven small shrubs along the front of the 750 square-foot Chalet-styled A-frame. We added on to the house and went to work on the gardens. One of my goals: more room for the flowers and less room for the grass.” Mission accomplished.
Rows of daylilies and over 400 varieties of Hosta can be found in the spacious Swanson garden.
For example, just his collection of Hosta numbers over 400 varieties. “I received my green thumb from my mother, Marilyn J. Schanel, of Westfield, WI” he writes on his website. “You should see HER gardens. Nine of her twenty acres
are flower gardens. My gardens are a labor of love! They are very informal, but they do have many cozy places to sit and enjoy the plants and the view.” Swanson has a Virtual Garden Walk on his website which takes viewers through
“My Secret Garden” in photos and drone videos. It may be visited by accessing http://.compassist.com/jerry/VirtualGadenWalk-A.htm.
Those who visit Swanson’s property between Green Lake and Princeton for a garden walk during the growing season will find rows of daylilies, a bottle wall with 200 cobalt blue bottles, buttercups, red and white impatiens (in a whiskey
barrel), an 84-inch Christmas bottle tree, an “invisible dancing crane,” and much, much more. He has only two rules for visitors: (1) Try not to step on anything green, and (2) “See a weed, pick it up...and all day you’ll have
Garden visitors will find cozy resting places and a telescope observatory representing Swanson’s love for astronomy.
My Bottle Tree Business:
My Telescope Hobby Page:
My Secret Garden Walk:
My Genealogy Page:
The Dockstader-Wegert Family Tree