Marlys Swenson Waller


April 16, 1924  –  March 9 2023


image of Marlys Swenson Waller

Marlys Swenson Waller

Marlys Swenson Waller passed away peacefully March 9, 2023 surrounded by family just short of her 99th birthday.

Known by family, friends, and professional colleagues as a passionate advocate for outdoor recreation, the arts, and dance for all,  she will be remembered as profoundly humble of her many accomplishments throughout her life as well as always finding “one more chair” to include family or new found friends around a table to share a meal.

Born and raised in Stockton, Ca. to Bert and Stella Swenson, Marlys Ann was the fourth of five children (siblings Harold “Bob”, Helen “Jean”, Bert, Jr., and Bill).  Summers were spent in the Sierra Mountains near Silver Lake at summer camps founded and run by her parents, and at Four Winds Camp on Orcas Island.  Graduating from UCLA in 1945 with a degree in Physical Education, Marlys went directly to Teachers College Graduate School at Columbia University in NYC, earning a Master’s Degree in Education. In her free time she attended dance and theater performances, museums, and visited various ethnic communities, learning the arts and dance traditions of immigrant families.  Marlys went on to teach physical education, recreation and dance at the University of New Mexico, University of Texas (Austin) and University of Washington where she was also the head coach of the Women’s Ski Team and Women’s Field Hockey Team.   Marlys co-authored the higher education textbook, Dance A While, first published in 1950.  Considered the foremost publication on social and folk dance in the United States, its10th Edition is still in publication. In 2010 she was honored as the recipient of the National Dance Association Heritage Award for her significant contributions to dance in North America.

It was at the University of Washington in 1949 that she met her future husband of 66 years, Lynn Waller, when he ventured into the PE Dept. looking for a recreation specialist to help him run the weekend teen program and teach square dancing at the Seattle Ski Club. They married in 1950.

In addition to raising four children and teaching, Marlys endlessly invested in her Seattle community.  She held numerous volunteer and board positions with Campfire Girls, Medina Children Services, University Congregational Church, and the King County Arts Commission, including serving as Board President, helping to pass the 1% for Art Ordinance in 1973.  She also taught skiing at Snoqualmie Summit and Crystal Mountain for over 35 years and led the Four Winds Camp Mountain Camp.

Marlys and Lynn joined the Mountaineers and climbed several Cascade peaks together, and the whole family participated in Mountaineers hikes and work parties over the years. They taught Family Camping through the UW extension program.  They joined the Rec-Co-op (REI) and proudly held a 4-digit Co-op membership number.  They were founding members of Skiers, Inc. at Crystal Mountain where the family spent many winter weekends skiing and summers hiking.  Enjoying free lift tickets after a certain age, there were many trips with Ancient Skiers, and she attended Ancient Skiers meetings in Seattle, well into her 90s.

Marlys shared her love of the San Juan Islands with Lynn and in the early 1960’s they purchased property on Lopez Sound.  They spent many years between Seattle and Lopez Island, eventually settling permanently on Lopez in retirement where they continued their community involvement.  Marlys was an active participant of the Center Island Lutheran Church.  She belonged to the Weavers Guild, Book Club, and Garden Club and served on the board of San Juan County United Way.  She was a founder of the Lopez Island Tennis Association which built the community tennis courts.  She volunteered with the Cemetery Association, Senior Center, Thrift Store and innumerable community enrichment projects, tirelessly raising funds to improve the community.  Her grandchildren remember her for organizing family croquet tournaments, beach breakfasts, numerous baking projects, and hot dog roasts.  She held enthusiasm for all kinds of dance, calling square and contra dances for the Lopez Community for decades, as well as bicycling, hiking, canoeing, skiing, and clam digging.  She was never happier than when sleeping under the stars. An amazing cook, she loved to eat by candlelight and a wonderful letter-writer–to the very end.

Marlys is survived by her brother Bill Swenson (Ann) of Tracy, CA, four children Kristi Golden (Michael), Johanna Dakopolos (Paul), Erica Waller (Dave Bernert), and Peter Waller (Denise), 10 grandchildren(Benjamin and Alex Golden, Andrew and Matthew Dakopolos, Teddy, Connor and Henry Wingo, Kimberly, Zach, and Lucas Waller) , 3 great grandchildren, numerous nieces, nephews, the many children of family friends whose parents passed before her which she then considered her own,  and friends around the world. Her husband, Lynn, predeceased her in 2016,

A memorial service will be held on Saturday June 3rd, on Lopez Island at 2:00pm at the Center Island Church, 311 Davis Bay Rd. Internment immediately following at Lopez Union Cemetery.  Celebration of Life and reception 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm at the Lopez Center for Community and Arts, 204 Village Road.

To honor Marlys, the family suggests donations to:

Lopez Center for Community and the Arts
PO Box 291
Lopez Island, WA  98261


Folklore Village
3210 CR-BB
Dodgeville, WI 53533

One Response to “Marlys Swenson Waller”

  • Anne Green Gilbert says:

    Marlys and I met in Seattle in the early 1970s through AAHPERD. We loved the same organization and had the same publisher. We immediately bonded. I was honored to present her with the 2010 NDA Heritage Award. I bought every edition of her Dance Awhile Book and recommended it in all my dance courses. She was passionate about dance education. She was a dear friend and force for good. I will greatly miss our conversations and correspondences.

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