Karen (nèe Swanson) Berry

Considering all the non-family people Mike has known, Karen Swanson has "seniority": they've known each since they were 10 years old.   Classmates in grade school years 5-8 and part of high school, they actually met at the church their families attended, the First Congregational Church in Wilmette 1, in a Sunday School class there.   Mike was attracted by her brains, red hair and height.   Their friendship continued, on and off, for many years.

1. The Wilmette Congregational Church holds irony for Mike and Karen.   Both attended the church with their families; their pastor was Buckner Coe.   Years later, Karen and Mike separately had their weddings at this church: Buckner Coe officiated both ceremonies!.   The choice of this venue was personal for each couple; years later, they discovered the coincidence.

Along with shared times, he gives special credit Karen for:

  1. His life-long fascination with tall women
  2. A love of Classical music
  3. Therapudic "help", following his head injury, as suggested by his doctor
  4. Help from her husband, Herb, when Mike sought advice on cancer treatment options

Karen and Mike attended Howard School in Wilmette, Illinois from 5th-8th grades.   The school became just a "junior high" when they started 7th grade, but nothing changed for them.   Karen was one of the smartest kids in their class, which probably didn't help her popularity with the boys.   That didn't bother Mike, because he liked her as a person: she was his first female interest.

After a couple of years of boy-girl awkwardness, they exchanged id bracelets, and they were "going steady".   It actually meant little, as they couldn't go anywhere on "dates" without adult support.   So they only attended school and church social functions.   One year (possibly 7th Grade) they exchanged Christmas gifts: Mike gave her a simple pearl necklace, and she gave him a record album (see Classical music). Their relationship continued until high school (New Trier High School, in Winnetka, Illinois), where they became parts of a much larger (Freshman) class, merging with other local towns' junior highs (Winnetka, Glencoe, Hubbard Woods).   Karen and Mike didn't see much of each other, as new friends and activities entered their lives.   (Also, Mike moved and transferred to another school in Libertyville, Illinois...)

When Mike's family moved to a farm near Libertyville in the middle of his sophomore year of high school (LFHS), they lost contact for almost 3 years.  

Mike & Karen, circa 1958

After graduating high school, Mike was working in Libertyville at the A&P food store there, before starting college.   He hadn't etablished any "girl friends" in his 2½ years at LFHS, and he called Karen to reconnect.   She was still in Wilmette, preparing for college at University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
(Odd fact: to this day, Mike remembers her phone number - after 70+ years since they met.)   Karen seemed pleased to hear from him, and he drove back to Wilmette to see her a few times.   The picture on the left was taken on one of those visits, in the summer of 1958.

When he came home from his abbreviated college experience, he again called Karen, during the summer of 1959.   They dated a few times...and he finally kissed her.   When she returned to college, he wrote to her and was invited to visit her in Ann Arbor a few times.   Karen was active in a sorority (Pi Beta Phi) and college life, and they grew apart.  

On a visit to Ann Arbor to see Karen, she had a present for him.   The Pi Beta Phi sorority girls had created sweatshirts for themselves and the guys they were dating.   Karen had a set for herself and Mike: they put them on and had this embarrassing picture taken.   She saved this photo (and the one from the beach/boat evening), and when Mike asked her for some details about their past, she sent him the pictures.

Mike and Karen saw a lot of each other during the summers of 1959 & 1960.   He was living with his parents in an apartment in Evanston, but close to where Karen lived.   In a moment of unexplained action, Mike's father purchased a boat...to use on Lake Michigan.   This made no sense to anyone but him, as his wife couldn't swim, disliked the water, and the boat had to be parked in their single garage.   Mike was the only family member who could get the boat and its trailer into the small space, and they rarely used it.

Sweatshirts (1959)
"On the Beach", 1960

Mike did, however, have use of the boat when he wanted, and seizing an opportunity took it out a few times with Karen and friends of hers.   They waterskied and parked the boat along the beach shore for evening picnics.   Fun while it lasted, but Mike's father sold the boat, having rarely used it.

Oddly, Karen has some "ownership" in the "boat saga", as her father played a part in its creation.   When Mike's father bought the boat - and its trailer - he needed a way to pull the trailer & boat.   He didn't have a vehicle with towing capability, so he had to install a trailer hitch on his car.   As with most such details, he had to intrust Mike to purchase and install a hitch on the car.   Buying the hitch wasn't an issue, but installing it (drilling holes in the frame and bumper, bolting to the car) wasn't something Mike could do.

Karen's father had a small machine shop in his business (he designed and made bottling machines), and Mike got him to help with his tools.   Thus, because Karen's father provided important help in getting the boat to operate, Karen seems to have a "connection" to it.

Mike somehow learned that Karen had moved back to Chicago after graduation, was working in a hospital, and had married a medical student, Herb Berry, late in 1963.   At a chance meeting in 1964, Mike and Libby ran into Karen and Herb at Chicago's Old Town Art Fair.

Since then, their friendship became one of "Christmas card" and occasional e-mails.   Once, when Mike was travelling on business for Field Enterprises (looking at computer upgrades for the company), he visited the Berrys in Seattle.   He was meeting with computer managers at Seattle First Bank and made a point to call her when he got into town.   Karen and Herb showed him the famed Pioneer Square, where they had a nice dinner in a restaurant that featured wine, cheeses, and fruit.   Memorable for Mike, but Karen has forgotten the visit.

Karen & Herb Berry


It is clear that Mike has an affinity for tall women; he's always been attracted to tall, slender females.   What's unclear is why this is so, given that the women in his family are not tall...or even average height.   Mike's mother was short, his sisters aren't particularly tall.   It seems likely that the first girl Mike became interested in (Karen Swanson) became the "template" for most that followed: a succession of tall girls (some redheads), with one exception - Janet White.

So it must be concluded that Karen was the "model" that Mike found appealing, knowing what followed.   Libby, while not quite as tall as some girls he dated, was 5'11"" when they met and got married.   Credit may go to Karen, but the success of Mike & Libby's union (>56 years to date) is what's important.


As noted above, Karen and Mike exchanged Christmas gifts (once), probably in 7th grade.   Karen's gift had a profound impact on Mike's life, as it was a Classical music album: several Tchaikovsky pieces, including "Romeo & Juliet Overture" and "March Slav".   Mike can't recall if he had ever shown an interest in classical music, and he certainly hadn't heard this music, so the inspiration for her gift is a mystery (she doesn't remember).

Nevertheless, Mike discovered he really liked such music, a genre he has grown to love and cultivate.   He renains grateful for the "intro", because it has enriched his life ever since.


When Mike was seriously injured in the car-bike incident in 1988, his head injury was most significant - and required years of recovery.   He spent almost 6 months in neurological rehabilitation at Barrow Neurological Institute's Adult Day Hospital, and part of that treatment was working with (Dr. George Prigatano), the facility's psychologist.   Mike was aware he had come close to death, and he was confused, depressed, and unsure of his future.   Dr. Prigatano told him that he needed to "touch his past", to understand himself moving forward.   It would be best if Mike could reconnect with an old friend, but not just a family member.

Because of his frequent family moves, Mike had few "old friends" he could contact...only Karen.   As luck would have it, he had a chance to fly to Seattle to process a Coors Light Duathlon race (see Raceplace) in early September of 1988.   This concerned Libby and the ADH staff, but Libby agreed Mike could go as long as she went with him.   They travelled with the Raceplace crew.

Mike and Libby arranged to meet Karen in downtown Seattle, both apprehensive about how Mike would handle this meeting.   He saw Karen, approached and hugged her.   Karen didn't know the special purpose of this encounter, but the action of touching her had a profound effect on Mike: a sense of peace and calm overcame him immediately.   It was nothing short of amazing...


Karen's husband, Herb, a retired cancer radiology oncologist, was very helpful in 1999 when Mike was diagnosed with Prostate cancer.   Mike's urologist, when discussing available treatments, suggested he seek multiple opinions.   One treatment was surgery, but his cancer's stage allowed non-surgical options, and Mike was well advised to explore them.   His dilemma was not knowing who to see, and Mike didn't know anyone who had dealt with prostate cancer.   He knew Herb Berry knew a lot about non-surgical treatments, so he called Karen and asked to speak to Herb about his "problem".  

Herb talked to Mike on the phone, and was emphatically against surgery (his admitted bias).   He did, however, suggest a local oncologist he might consult.   Mike and Libby saw this doctor, who was clear and up front about the procedures and consequences of radiation treatment.   For various reasons, they decided on surgery, but Herb's help was important in their difficult decision.


Last Updated: June 1, 2022