Thursday, February 9, 2012

'Son of Sassamansville' pens memoir

Leonard A. Swann Jr. grew up in Sassamansville, pretty much at the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, which happens to be not too far from where I sit typing this blog post.

Swann has written a memoir about his upbringing in the tiny village in Douglass Township, Montgomery County. Aptly titled "Son of Sassamansville" (AuthorHouse, August 2011, 248 pp., $15.95 paperback, $25.98 hardcover) the book may be ordered directly from the publisher at

This well-written and thoughtful self-published memoir would appeal to local historians. It includes lots of facts, anecdotes and asides about the Douglass (Mont.) areas. It also mentions my paper: Apparently Swann's mother was fond of doing the crosswords in the Pottstown Mercury. Also mentioned are frequent early trips to the thriving metropolis of Pottstown (about six miles away from his modest childhood home) for weekend leisure or school shopping at the former J.C. Penney's.

Swann attended the one-room schoolhouse on Hoffmansville Road and the former East Greenville High School. He married a local girl, Judy, at 18, and went on to study at Muhlenberg college as a commuter student. He and Judy became parents during his freshman year, and a second daughter came along shortly: "Only 20 years old, married with two daughters, ages 3 and a newborn, I really couldn't take time to complain. Reality replaced romance. Responsibility forced a maturity," Swann wrote.

Despite the burden of all that responsibility, Swann had bigger plans for himself. After graduating from Muhlenberg, he packed up his family to Cambridge, Mass., and enrolled in Harvard, which he refers to as "intellectual heaven." At Harvard, he published his 420-page history thesis, "John Roach, Maritime Entrepreneur," in 1963.

Then, in short order, his wife had a baby boy and left him (they were divorced in 1963). He looked for teaching work at universities in the Philly area, and, finding none, went to work for the family business, Swann Oil, in Sassamansville. Swann served as company president for many years.

Swann found a new love, Dolores, got married and built a home in Villanova. They had children together and created a home, but Swann does a lot of complaining about Dolores over several chapters (She didn't cook or clean very well, apparently). Which may explain why the book is dedicated to a Gayle. (In the book there are lots of photos of Swann, his family members, children, and Gayle, who became Swann's wife in 1996 ... but none of his first two wives).

Swann Oil's run of success came to an end when the business was liquidated in bankruptcy in 1986 following Swann's messy divorce from Dolores. "The indignities had no limits," he wrote. Two years later he established a business in the name of his son, Tres. Then he started doing all kinds of things: promoting a band, the TFC Band and creating documentaries with Gayle on dolls. He also backed his son in record production ... ultimately producing the Dave Matthews Band.

It's kind of a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story. Swann had his ups and downs with relationships and jobs. An interesting life so far.

Book summary from the publisher:

Leonard A. Swann Jr. in his memoir, "Son of Sassamansville," traces his humble childhood in rural Pennsylvania, education in a one-room schoolhouse, graduation from Muhlenberg College and Harvard University, experiences in the petroleum industry, bankruptcy and oblivion, rebirth as a producer of documentary videos, and surviving the loneliness of old age. Learn from "Son of Sassamansville" how to recognize and incorporate the hustle gene into an energetic approach to life. Witness how rural values and family experiences in childhood become important shields for the vicissitudes of adult life. Follow one man’s journey through William Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man to reinforce your own fortitude and protect your happiness in aging.

About the author:

Leonard A. Swann Jr., a graduate of Muhlenberg College and Harvard University, is the author of "John Roach, Maritime Entrepreneur"; numerous magazine articles, and 40 scripts for documentary videos in the Sirocco Historical Doll Series and the Sirocco Master Artist Series. He resides in Norfolk, Va., with his wife. They have seven married children and 15 grandchildren.

Would you like a chance to win my review copy of "Son of Sassamansville"? If so, please comment here or email me your mailing address at


nylon burning said...

I wonder is three any relation between the (Swann Costume Shop begun by Sarah and Margaret Swann) and Swann Oil which is right next to the costume shop? I am unable to find any information through census etc.

nylon burning said...

I will buy the book. sounds entertaining.

nylon burning said...

Sarah was the wife of Sydney Swann Son of Sassamansnville author's uncle. Sarah started Swann costumer shop. I got the book. Great stuff.

Michelle Karas said...

Glad you found the blog and the book useful. There is a lot of local history in that book, and it was a fun read.

Anonymous said...

Didn't he have a brother? I think his name was David and he went on to become a well known artist.

Inflow said...

Great Book with many life experiences and being successful while never giving up. Great father & son relationship.