They called him “Mr. Mars.”
William “Bill” Swaney, who passed away Feb. 9 at the age of 86, was in many ways the epitome of a perfect citizen: He was a hard worker, community-focused and all about getting things done.
“He absolutely loved Mars,” said John Watson, president of Mars Area History and Landmark Society. “He was the big push to get the train station.”
A celebration of Swaney's life is planned from 2 to 5 p.m. July 25 at the Mars History and Landmark Society's train station. Participants are invited to drive an antique car or motorcycle to the gathering.
Swaney wasn't a Mars native, according to his daughter, Mary Jo Phillips. He was born in Pittsburgh, raised in Beaver Falls and landed in Mars after his parents moved to Wexford.
But having roots in other cities didn't make him an outsider.
Swaney was a member of Kiwanis, borough council and the former Mars Fire Department. He helped charter MAHLS and design the borough's well-known “spaceship.”
It was Swaney's penchant for staying involved that earned him the honorary title “Mr. Mars.”
“I never asked him why he did this stuff,” Phillips said. “He's always found some way around to make ... things work.”
“He'd actually make (things) come true,” Watson said.
Watson first met Swaney around 1993. Both men had antiques and an interest in preserving history.
Sweet and sour
Watson said Swaney didn't immediately warm to him. But over time, Watson discovered that was one of Swaney's character traits.
“Bill was like a Sour Patch Kid,” Watson said. “'First he's sour, then he's sweet!'”
Phillips said Swaney was “quirky” and “stubborn,” a man who liked old things and working with his hands.
After the Mars spaceship was built, Swaney would move it with his Swaney Automotive tilt bed. He would drop the ship off around town or in someone's yard for a birthday party.
“People would come looking for it,” Phillips said.
One of the ways Swaney and Watson came to know each other was as businessmen.
The two were part of a lunch group that met Mondays through Thursdays at Susie Q's Place.
Buzz Kelly, another member of the Mars historical society, was part of that lunch group. Kelly met Swaney in the 1950s.
“His biggest dream was to hit the lottery big time,” Kelly said.
According to Kelly, Swaney's plan was to buy everyone in Mars the same model and make of vehicle.
That sort of gag was in his wheelhouse: Phillips said Swaney in 1979 built an “Odd/Even” car to poke fun at gas rationing.
“The last digit of your license plate determined the day you could buy gas,” Phillips said.
Using a 1967 and a 1968 Cadillac Eldorado, Swaney stacked them roof-to-roof. The motor was removed from the top car — called “odd” — to make it lighter.
The vehicle stayed stacked by two supporting poles, welded to the car fronts. A steel plate bolted between the roofs kept the cars aligned. Well-placed blocks kept the “even” car from bottoming out.
The lights on both cars worked.
“He had a wicked sense of humor,” Watson said.
From Swaney, Watson learned to appreciate the people behind the scenes. Swaney's example also taught Watson about being part of the community and about loving Mars.
“He was brilliant,” Watson said.
Phillips said her father's lead-by-example approach to things has been a catalyst for her community volunteering.
“You just do it,” Phillips said.
Swaney's family is planning a special gathering in July at Swaney Pavilion. The pavilion, named for Swaney when he was alive, is very close to the train station. The station was a big part of Swaney's life, according to his friends.
Both Phillips and Watson recognize how involved Swaney was in MAHLS. In fact, his family has asked memorial donations be sent to the society.
“He was down here every Friday,” Watson said. “Always tinkering on something.”
No one may ever know just how much Swaney did do for the community, according to Kelly.
“He was a very good friend,” Kelly said.