The Way We Were : Bob & Barbara Swindell

The Way We Were : Bob & Barbara Swindell
Swindell Family 1967: Bob and Barbara with daughter Carrie and son Chris

Bob Swindell says that his and Barbara’s love story is the “greatest one ever told.”  “We’ve been married 57 years, 5 months, 26 days and 2½ hours,” he announced, glancing at his watch during an interview at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2018. 

With a steel-trap memory, tempered and honed by deep affection for his wife, Bob Swindell explained exactly why he considers their love story to be the greatest ever told.

He was about 13 years old when he found a wallet in the San Marco Theater. It had no money in it, but there was an I.D. that said it belonged to a Barbara Wilson with an address on Sorrento Road. Being an honest boy, he took the wallet to that address. When he knocked on the door, a lovely lady with beautiful eyes answered it. She was so grateful that she gave him 50 cents. 

Barbara and Bob Swindell in Charleston, April 1959

Barbara and Bob Swindell
in Charleston, April 1959

Fast forward to Landon High School, where Bob was a junior and Barbara was a sophomore. “We didn’t know each other back then,” recalls Bob. “I was dating a girl and thought she might be at a party on Ridgeland Road, so I knocked on the door looking for her.”  The door was opened by that same lovely lady with the beautiful eyes! She had moved, but she recognized that boy who returned the wallet. When he discovered the girl wasn’t there, she invited him into the kitchen and gave him a bowl of ice cream.

In the meantime, Barbara remembers asking her neighbor, Bob Harris, who was that boy who always wore a cowboy hat. That was, of course, Bob Harris’ best friend, Bob Swindell. 

Their parallel lives were again reinforced when Bob’s parents took him at about age 13 to Southside Christian Church in San Marco to be baptized, because their church in St. Nicholas didn’t have a baptismal font. Barbara’s family attended Southside Christian Church.

Then there was the day at the beach, shortly after Bob graduated from Landon, when he was playing with his new puppy, a Boxer named Satan, and a group of girls came up to him.  “What’s wrong with his ears?” one girl asked. Patiently, but with an irritated sigh, Bob explained that Satan’s ears had been clipped and nothing whatsoever was wrong. Barbara, the girl with the question, was destined to meet Satan again. 

Fast forward, Bob was in his sophomore year at The Citadel and was home on Christmas break. He and his buddy, George Truitt, were hanging out at the Crystal Drive-in (across the street from Bishop Kenny High School). 

They ran into a couple of cute girls and jumped in the back of their car. The girl driving the car was quite attractive. Her name was Barbara Wilson. Bob asked her for a date and when he knocked on her door, the Ridgeland Road address seemed familiar. Sure enough, the lovely lady with the beautiful eyes opened the door. Barbara was stunned to see her mother laughing and talking with this young man as if she knew him. Ruth Wilson explained to her daughter, “I knew him long before you did!” 

“We had all these crazy connections that went back years!” exclaimed Bob. “We were truly meant for each other.” 

In addition to the fact that he already knew her mother, Bob connected with Barbara on the dance floor as well. She loved to dance and, wow, that boy could dance! “My parents used to push the furniture back in our living room on Friday nights and dance,” recalled Bob. “They taught us well. Barbara always says the reason she married me was because I could dance!” 

The daughter of Royal and Ruth Wilson of San Marco and the son of Robert and Gladys Swindell of Arlington, Barbara and Bob were secretly married on July 18, 1959 at the First Methodist Church in Folkston, Georgia. 

Barbara, having attended Jacksonville University for a short time, was a student at the University of South Carolina and Bob was still a cadet at The Citadel. A member of the elite Summerall Guards, Bob wasn’t due to graduate until 1960. Cadets were not allowed to be married and he would have been kicked out of school, so he and Barbara told no one that they had tied the knot. 

Winners of a San Jose Country Club costume party, 1974

Winners of a San Jose Country Club costume party, 1974

“When I look back, we were foolish,” said Barbara. “There was no reason for us to get married except that we didn’t want to wait any longer…back then, six or eight months was a lifetime.” 

By November 1959, however, Barbara’s mother had started making wedding plans for her daughter, so they had to tell their parents. Luckily for them, both sets of parents already had accepted that this young couple would be together forever.

After Bob graduated from The Citadel, the Swindells moved to Savannah, Georgia for a short time until Bob heard from his best friend, Bob Harris, that a better opportunity awaited them in their hometown. Bob and Barbara were thrilled to return to Jacksonville, where he began a long career in the print industry, working for the Jacksonville Paper Company, International Utilities, Palmer Paper Company and the International Paper Company, eventually retiring after 38 years.   

In the meantime, Barbara gave birth to their two children, Chris and Carrie, and when she wasn’t carpooling them to school at Bolles and making sure that her husband and children were well-fed, clothed and happy in their San Marco neighborhood, she developed a great interest in antiques. 

“My passion for antiques went from being a hobby to becoming a career, first as an antique store owner of a small shop called 76 Antiques and then, in real estate,” she said, noting that she began attending estate sales with her friend, Beverly Brandenburger, earned her real estate license in 1978 and became a real estate broker in 1983. 

And it was in 1983 that another parallel happenstance occurred. Barbara, who grew up in San Marco and has always loved Brookwood Road, was a realtor now and learned about a home for sale on Brookwood. When she saw the home, she immediately called Bob and told him he needed to come right away because she had found the house she wanted to live in. Bob pulled up and walked in and immediately said, “Let’s buy it.” She looked at him inquisitively and said, “You haven’t even gone upstairs.” Bob smiled. “I’ve been in this house before,” he said. “My friend, Don Smith, lived here.”

They still live in their beautiful brick home on Brookwood Road and, after graduating from Bolles and the University of Florida, both of their children, Chris Swindell and Carrie Atkins, returned to their home turf, raised their children in San Marco, and live nearby. “We all love San Marco,” said Barbara. “Our fondest memories are right here.”

Barbara remembers learning to drive within the confines of Hendricks Avenue over to the River, which included the famous “Thrill Bridge.” “It was high and steep back then,” she recalls, “but they eventually took the thrill out of it, for safety reasons.”

Barbara and Bob Swindell, 2009

Barbara and Bob Swindell, 2009

Back in the 1950s, it seemed that everyone knew everyone in Jacksonville. Landon High School students frequented the San Marco Theater, Blane Rexall Drugstore, the bowling alley and Abe Lavert’s Record Shop. Kids could listen to a record and if they liked it, they could buy it. One day, a man came into Abe Lavert’s Record Shop and approached a group of teens, asking to take a photo of them because he was doing “a thing on Elvis Presley.” Barbara was among those teenagers and that photograph eventually ran in Life Magazine. She still remembers the kids in that photo and, in fact, still sees some of them to this day. 

“We have a Landon reunion every five years,” said Barbara. “Bob and I have never missed one.”

Today, Barbara’s Riverpoint Real Estate Office is located nearly within walking distance of their home. Bob maintains their home and Barbara’s office building, which they own, and spends time with his grandchildren, Zach, Lauren, Shannon and Robby. He visits with his father, Robert Swindell, now 101 years old, plays golf at San Jose Country Club, visits with his best friend, Bob Harris, in Orlando, and substitute teaches at Hendricks Avenue Elementary, Mandarin Oaks, and Stanton High School. 

“We have a great life!” said Bob. “We’ve traveled the world and introduced our grandchildren to a love of travel, but there’s no place like home. Every day, Barbara and I pass by a memory. It’s great to live where you grew up.”

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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