Getting married was easy; staying married was tough

His business ventures, all successful, ranged from restaurants to mobile home parks.

By ANDREW MEACHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published December 26, 2007

TAMPA - Carleton Swenson attracted money. It was his talent, and he knew it.

At age 16, he owned more than 100 chickens. After college in Connecticut, his businesses multiplied. There was a hotel. Then a pizza restaurant and a pancake house. Condos in the British Virgin Islands. A mobile home park in Clearwater.

He was good at everything he tried, except staying married.

Mr. Swenson, who died in Tampa on Thursday at age 77, married five times. Two of the marriages ended within months. The other three lasted 10 years or more. All but the last one, to Catherine Swenson, ended in divorce.

"He always had someone waiting in the wings," said Catherine Swenson, 65.

A court bailiff, Catherine met Mr. Swenson at his pancake house in Meriden, Conn., One husband had died. She had divorced another. It was time to step out, to try something new.

He was a big guy, a take-charge guy, more than 300 pounds. He wore a Navy blue sport coat. His shirts were starched and bore his initials, CKS.

"If I went in for coffee, he would put up his hand and snap his fingers, and the girls would come," she said. "He was charismatic."

They took Sunday drives to see the fall leaves. They got lost and got ice cream.

"I treated him better than anyone," Catherine said.

So well, that when Mr. Swenson's diabetes worsened, she did all the driving on trips to Connecticut and back. Mr. Swenson sat in the back seat of the minivan, wearing headphones and watching DVDs.

He loved mystery novels and spending time at his six-unit condominium complex in the British Virgin Islands. In the U.S., presidents came and went, power changed hands and the country went to war. Mr. Swenson took little interest in those events.

"Politics was sport, and he didn't do sports," she said.

He did like a good game of poker, and hosted games in his homes in Connecticut and Clearwater.

He used vip.com, an online betting service, so much that his obituary appears on the company's Web site. He bought stock in Martha Stewart's company while its founder was in prison - a good bet, at least in the short term.

In October, as Mr. Swenson lay ailing in Kindred Hospital, he and his wife heard a woman's voice praying for her husband in the next bed.

"We had always been religious, but there was an emptiness," Ms. Swenson said. At her request, both couples prayed together.

Soon, Catherine Swenson will travel to the British Virgin Islands. She will release his ashes into the Caribbean.

"I know he was saved," she said, "and I know he went straight to heaven."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 813 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.



Carleton Swenson

Born: Aug. 13, 1930.

Died: Dec. 20, 2007.

Survivors: wife, Catherine; sister, Neva Roberts (Dick), nieces and nephews.

Service: Held Dec. 24 at Moss Feaster Funeral Home, Clearwater.