Jim Swan moved from Illinois to Osceola County in the early 70s to become a fisherman with just $500 under his belt. He became a bass fishing guide. He then worked for Kissimmee Waste Management, which he called “playing in trash.”
His love for fishing led to his debut in local politics.
Swan launched a campaign using the slogan “Save our lakes”, after noticing the dumping of sewage into Lake Tohopekaliga from 1980 to 1982.
He was elected county commissioner in 1982 and served until 1994. He was later elected mayor of Kissimmee in 2006 and served two terms, ending in 2016.
Swan, known for his passion for fishing and his dedication to the city, died on Saturday. He was 74 years old.
“It’s the biggest loss I can imagine, but I think it will make me a better person,” said daughter Sharise Swan. “He taught me to be strong and independent and to always be kind and fair.”
Sherise Swan is joined by many Osceola residents who mourn the man they worked with in government or on community councils.
Mike Steigerwald, City Manager of Kissimmee since 2010, remembers Swan as a strong leader during the 2008 financial recession.
“Through his leadership he was able to establish a sense of stability here in the city during this time,” Steigerwald said. “He set the tone for the approach of the Policy Development Council and as a result we were one of the few organizations in this area that didn’t have to lay off to balance our budget.”
During his tenure as County Commissioner, Swan oversaw the planning and decision-making that led to the development of Osceola County Parkway, which connected Florida’s turnpike to Disney and enabled growth in the county.
Angel de la Portilla, a lobbyist and president of Central Florida Strategies, has known Swan for many years and said he was instrumental in directing the city and county’s transportation development.
“He was instrumental in defending the SunRail station that is here in downtown Kissimmee and much of the development going on,” de la Portilla said. “…The city was going through a big transition, so a lot of these projects that are currently being built were planned while he was mayor.”
Swan served as chair of the board of the Osceola Council on Aging alongside former chief financial officer, Connie Benca, who also served as secretary of the Osceola County Historical Society. when Swan was his President. Benca said Swan would donate money out of his own pocket if there was a funding issue.
“He was very involved,” Benca said. “He kind of gave you the impression that he was a little rough, but I’ll tell you he was a big teddy.”
Benca said Swan would tell his colleagues stories about his fishing expeditions during his time on both boards, but would gladly miss a trip. if anyone needed him.
“He will be remembered for his caring and generous heart,” Benca said. “He was instrumental in restoring the Kissimmee lakefront…I think we’ll always think of Jim when we walk around the lake.”
He mentored many people, including former Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who took the job right after Swan.
“He was my confidant,” Alvarez said. “He…made decisions that needed to be made that would benefit the whole community and that is why he will be remembered; you don’t see people like that too often.
Alvarez recalls Swan going to a Kissimmee Gateway airport park for lunch with his wife before he died of breast cancer in 2008.
“It was a place he kept going because it was a place he remembered his wife,” Alvarez said.
Swan and his wife Linda, described by many as “two peas in a pod”, have been married for 39 years.
“She was the only woman he ever loved,” Sharise Swan said. “When she died, it was devastating for him.”
Jim Swan suffered from dementia Iin his later years, Sharise Swan said.
“I feel blessed that he’s still able to remember people,” Sharise Swan said of her final moments. “I got a lot of ‘I love you’.”
Jim Swan’s pride and joy were his daughter and granddaughter.
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While in hospital, Swan learned that her granddaughter was running as a class representative at her school and that she could follow in her footsteps, which caused a huge smile to form on her face. said Sharise Swan.
Growing up in Bloomington, Illinois, Jim Swan watched his dad build many things out of wood, including squirrel houses in their backyard where he fed them peanuts. He continued this tradition when he moved to Osceola County, planting a big maple tree where he fed the squirrels every day.
“While he was in the hospital, our neighbors or my daughter would send him videos of them feeding the squirrels,” Sharise Swan said.
Sharise Swan, a sergeant with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, said she will remember her parents as amazing people who taught him to be a loving parent to his own daughter.
“Oh my God, I hope my daughter remembers him through what he taught her – be loving, kind…make peace with your mistakes because they have to happen, be brave and make things that seem impossible,” says Sharise Swan.
Visitation will be at Conrad & Thompson Funeral Home and Cremation Services from 5-7 p.m. on September 19 and funeral services will be at 11 a.m. on September 20 at First Baptist Church in Kissimmee.