Gary Schweinle
Home Up


September 2008 dealt a very tough blow to the SSQQ Community.  We were all stunned by the news that we lost two of our dear friends during the Hurricane Ike ordeal.  Gary Schweinle and Michael Friedberg died on the very same day - September 12 - within hours of each other.

A lot of people here at the studio were too shaken by these untimely deaths to even know what to say.  

As our group ages, the specter of seeing our friends pass on becomes a dark issue that lingers in the backs of our minds. However nothing will ever prepare us for the sudden events that took from us these two wonderful men.

When we lost our good friend Tim Green to cancer earlier this year, I thought to myself it is never easy to see a life cut short when the person is so darn wonderful and so talented. I am so sorry to say this is just as much true with Michael and Gary. Both men in particular were known for their giving natures. 

To think these two men were taken from us and their other loved ones when they had so much good left in them to share made it doubly hard to accept that they were suddenly gone from us.


July 2008 Wedding Announcement for Gary Schweinle

From the September SSQQ Newsletter Issue One


After a two-year engagement, Gary Schweinle and Tracy Kirkland were married on July 12th before a cast of thousands. Well, maybe not that many, but it did seem like there were 70 or so SSQQ friends in attendance including 10 different couples who met their spouse or spouse-to-be at SSQQ.

It was definitely a wonderful family affair! Please read the story and see the pictures!

The Story of Gary and Tracy's Wedding


September 2008 Obituary for Gary Schweinle

When Hurricane Ike started to make its presence felt in Chambers County, Gary Schweinle of Anahuac climbed onto his metal roof to secure it from the whipping winds.

His electric drill put in a screw that nicked a utility line. That electrified the roof.  Mr. Schweinle was electrocuted when he grabbed an antenna to steady himself in a gust of wind, family members said.

His bride of two months, Tracy (Kirkland) Schweinle, a registered nurse, was unable to revive him.

He died at the age of 52 on Sept. 12, the day before Ike’s landfall.

“He had a heart of gold,” said sister-in-law Nancy Schweinle, of Baytown. “He was a welder, the kind of go-to guy who can fix anything. That’s why this surprised us.”
His first wife, Lynn, died in a freak accident in 2001 from a “runaway barbecue pit,” the sister-in-law said, explaining that a trailer hitch came loose and the barbecue broadsided her vehicle.

Schweinle met his second wife at a dance class, SSQQ, where they practiced ballroom and western dance steps.

“They loved dancing together,” his sister-in-law said. “And sitting on the porch swing drinking coffee on his 14-acre horse ranch in Anahuac.”

Schweinle also is survived by daughters Heather Hagan of Houston, Valarie Schweinle of Winnie, Kimberly Schweinle of Sugar Land, Amanda Schweinle and Kayla Kirkland, both of Anahuac; son, James Allan Kirkland IV of North Carolina; his mother, Joy Runnels and her husband, Pete, of Brazoria; sister, Mona Nesbitt of Lubbock; brother, Leonard Schweinle of Crosby; and one granddaughter.



Written by Rick Archer
Please note this story first appeared in the
September 2008 SSQQ Newsletter Issue Four

Gary Schweinle died suddenly in a tragic accident on Friday, September 12.

That's right - in an incredible dark coincidence, we lost both men on the exact same day.

I suppose from now on 9/11 and September 12 will be linked together in my mind - one of the most tragic days in American History and definitely the saddest day in SSQQ History are back to back.

From what I gather, Gary died from electrical shock. Gary decided his home at his rural property needed more protection. So he got up on the roof with some boards.

As he drilled through the board, his drill bit hit a live wire inside the roof of his home. That is when Gary died from a horrible, inconceivable accident.

Putting things into perspective, just a couple days ago I removed protective siding from eight windows here at my house using a power drill. As I took down each board, I thought of Gary the entire time. I can't tell you how many times I have drilled something into a house wall without even giving it a second thought. Sure there is an element of danger anytime you use power tools, but Gary certainly knew what he was doing. He was a professional welder. If anyone knew his way around power tools, I would have nominated Gary Schweinle first! That is what makes this tragedy so senseless - Gary knew a heck of a lot more about what he was doing than the rest of us. He must have run across a hidden wire that no one would have ever anticipated.

It makes no sense. We are all numb and heart-broken.

Here is an email from Steve Gabino concerning the tragedy:

"Dear Friends, I spoke with Tracy (Gary's wife) today and wanted to update everyone.

She and Gary were in Anahuac Friday morning and planning to ride out the storm at their home there. Once they saw the size of the storm surge on tv, however, they decided to return to Sugar Land.

But before they left, Gary began to secure the home. He went up to the roof to add reinforcements to some loose areas. While up there he accidentally hit a live wire. Tracy was outside and heard his body fall on the roof. She went up to attend to him and give him CPR.

The paramedics soon arrived but he didn't respond to treatment. Tracy returned to Sugar Land once they stopped treatment and that's when many of us first began to receive the news. Tracy has since been back to their home a few times to salvage belongings. Their house is destroyed as is much of the belongings inside. Her car is also totaled from a falling tree. No funeral arrangements have been made yet. The funeral home where Gary was taken lost it's roof and communications in the storm. In fact, much of Anahuac has been destroyed so the wake is almost certain to be here in Sugar Land.

Tracy sounded remarkably strong for someone who has just lost so much in a single day. She is still pretty emotional and hasn't gotten much sleep since Friday. She says, however, that the worst part was that first day. Her ex-in-laws have helped her with food and support. I told her how much everyone is thinking of her and she is very thankful."

Painful as the details are to read, we are all fortunate that Steve was able to shed some light on the tragedy. I cannot, however, even begin to discuss what Tracy must be feeling. All I know is that my own wife was scared out of her wits the entire weekend as we cleaned up tree debris together - every time a twig scratched me and I yelped, Marla came out of her skin. She could barely even allow me to use a power saw to cut fallen limbs into manageable sections. The fear on Marla's face made me keenly aware that Tracy's misery is every wife's worst nightmare come true.

Not everybody knows Gary Schweinle on a personal basis like I do, so let me bring everyone up to speed - Gary had to be one of the most loved people at my studio. I am not even remotely exaggerating this - Gary, or Mr. Hat as I called him - was respected and loved by many many people.

I would have to say Gary was easily the most popular man at my entire studio. He had a heart as big as Texas.

Did you know upon his death Gary had only been married to his sweetheart Tracy for two short months? Count the days yourself: July 12-September 12.

Two months ago at Gary's wedding to Tracy Kirkland, there were over 100 guests from SSQQ that were able to attend. That is how much the people here at SSQQ love Gary and Tracy.  ( Wedding Story )

Gee whiz. That's just not right, is it? If this was a movie script, we would all say, 'nah, that stuff doesn't happen in real life. No one gets killed just days after their wedding.' Except that sometimes it does happen. And when it does, we realize the hard way that life is cruel. Inconceivably cruel.

For the most part, the people at SSQQ live sheltered, safe lives. Yes, we have fender benders on occasion, but for the most part we feel at ease when we walk out the door. It rarely occurs to us that tragedy could be lurking around the corner.

By coincidence, a day or so earlier I had been walking home from breakfast at a nearby cafe. As I crossed a minor street, a car made a fast turn from a major street. A woman talking on a cell phone assumed she had both sides of the street to make a wide turn, so she hadn't bothered to properly slow down. I saw her and she saw me at the some moment. She hit the brakes and I jumped backwards. Problem solved by a few feet. I spent the remainder of my trip home thinking about accidents. You never know. I was spared. I thought of writing the story in last week's Newsletter, but decided it was unnecessarily morbid. The next day my friend Gary was killed.

The car missed me, but my friend Gary wasn't so lucky. One moment he was the happiest guy on earth, the next moment he was gone.

Gary leaves behind several daughters from his previous marriage. His former wife died in a horrible traffic accident seven years ago. What I am about to write is way too personal, but if you knew Gary, you would know he would give me permission to tell the story.

After his wife died, Gary came to SSQQ in November 2001 in an attempt to pick up the shattered pieces of his life. I thought he told me he would drive all the way from Baytown, but in reality I think it was from his house in Anahuac, which is even further. The drive had to be well over an hour!

His youngest daughter Kim was 16. Kim took her mother's untimely death hard. She was in so much pain. Kim had no idea why her father was dragging her halfway across Texas to some stupid dance class, but she went along for the ride.

To the surprise of both of them, they had fun. Some dance class on the other side of the world improbably had given them their first smile together in a long time. I understand that if we saw this on Lifetime we might turn it off as too schmaltzy, but that is the exact story that Gary has told me time and time again.

Gary added that his angry, mixed up and miserable Kimberly magically started to come out of her shell at the studio. Gary said that his buddy MG Anseman, their Twostep teacher, had a gift for making his daughter laugh and feel good about herself.

Gary and Kim continued to make that three hour round trip once, twice, sometimes three times a week. As the years progressed, Kim realized that she actually had a gift for dancing. She began to take private dance lessons. Voila! The next thing you know Kim began to win dance contests.

2003 Halloween Party

Along the way, Kim entered college and did very well indeed. Today Kim is ready for graduate school in Nursing.

I watched with growing satisfaction as the young girl who was sloppy and loud and aggressive when I first met her began her metamorphosis into a graceful young lady. Kim dressed better, improved her posture, quieted down, lost some baby fat, and began to smile again as she gained confidence. To myself, I took note that Kim was becoming beautiful!

And if you see her on the dance floor, you can't help but be mesmerized!

One day early in their courtship, Tracy pointed out a girl dancing out on the floor at Wild West to Gary. Tracy couldn't take her eyes off the girl. Gary said he knew that girl a little bit. Sure enough, later on Gary brought Kim over to meet Tracy. When Gary said Kim was his daughter, Tracy turned red with embarrassment. Gary always did have a unique sense of humor.

As I have written, Gary has credited my studio for helping both him and his daughter right the ship. I do not print this to 'brag' about my studio. That would be inappropriate. But I do know this - when I was a young man, I came from a broken home. There were several adults who saw how unhappy I was. These people took me under their wing and helped me through some very tough times. So I understand full well what Gary is talking about. The kindness of strangers at the right time can make such a big difference in people's lives.

There are many people here at this studio who look out for one another without having to be asked. I for one can testify that the studio nursed me back to health in 1986 when I hit my own dangerous low point. That is why I can listen to Gary's story and know exactly what he means.   201 Nights

There are many stories I could tell about Gary, but there is one particular story that is important.

Just six weeks ago this summer, Marla and I had the privilege of sharing in Gary and Tracy's honeymoon. Yes, Gary and Tracy were part of our Greece-Italy 2008 Cruise.

Every night on that cruise, Gary and Tracy were accompanied by their close friends at the dinner table. That had to be the loudest table in the dining room!

At my table, we could barely hear ourselves think when the laughter hit the roof. And did we mind?  Heaven's no. We loved it!  We loved hearing the wonderful roars of happiness that came from Gary and Tracy and their friends.  Marla and I would look at each other and just grin. That is what it's all about.

Gary, Tracy and the Noisy Bunch on the Greece 2008 Cruise

One day our friend Iqbal Nagji took a group of us on a tour of Athens. Although there were many wonderful things to see, I confess that the summer sun took its toll on me. I wilted like a flower out of water. Thank goodness Iqbal found a great place for our group to have lunch! It was an outdoor café, but we had huge umbrellas to shield the sun combined with fans that spread cool misted air throughout. Ah, sanctuary!

Once Tracy figured out the perfect beer for the meal, the four of us hoisted our bottles in the air and toasted our good fortune to be together. And that's how it was on this trip - Happiness followed this couple everywhere they went. This just happened to be the moment that Marla and I got to bask in their sunshine... it felt very good indeed.

So Gary was in a talkative mood.  When isn't Gary talkative?  Actually, I imagine he can be moody like me, but for the most part Gary is extremely outgoing. Gary talked for a while about how he and Tracy met, how their relationship grew, and so on. And then he returned to the theme of how the studio had helped him so much and how grateful he was that the studio had helped Kim overcome the grief of losing her mother. I had heard this before, but saw no reason to interrupt. Gary seemed to have something he wanted to say.

This picture was taken by Marsha Baxmann.  It captures the first moment
on the Greece Cruise 2008 when I saw Tracy and Gary. 
As I remember how happy I was to see them, it just breaks my heart.

Gary said that after a couple years into the studio, something switched inside of him. Gary realized that he had finally healed from the loss of his wife. Gary wanted very much to return to the studio the same warmth that had helped him get back on his feet. So that is when Gary decided to become a volunteer dance teacher at the studio. In particular, he teamed up with his buddy MG Anseman. Soon his friends Gary and Cheryl Davis, another SSQQ couple (2004), began to volunteer in the same class. And when Tracy came into his life, she joined in as a volunteer too. With people like Gary and Tracy and Gary and Cheryl helping him, no wonder MG's students learned faster than mine!

I find this hard to believe, but for three, four, maybe five years now, Gary Schweinle made that trip from Anahuac every Sunday afternoon - his own free time - to help teach a dance class. No one asked him to do it. It came from within. He said it gave him tremendous pleasure not only to help people learn to dance, but to watch some of the people who were down in the dumps start to regain their confidence. Gary beamed as he told me of all the friends he made this way.

I had never heard this story before from quite so personal an angle. I knew Gary enjoyed coming to the studio, but I had no idea the intensity of his feelings. That's when I realized that Gary Schweinle was a born social worker. He might not have called it that, but there is no denying that Gary derived great satisfaction from helping people.

As we sat around the table at the Greek Café, Marla, Tracy, and myself didn't really say much. Gary was getting deeper into his story. Gary was a great raconteur and we enjoyed listening to him. But now Gary got very quiet. He wanted to say something, but seemed unsure whether it was appropriate or not. We waited. Gary decided to continue.

Now I apologize in advance that I may not get the details perfect, but I promise you that wherever Gary's soul is, he will guide me as best he can to capture the right spirit of the story.

Gary said that one night at the studio at the end of Practice, the place was pretty much deserted. As Gary walked through the studio, he saw a woman getting ready to leave. Gary had never seen her before in his life. However Gary was instantly worried for her. This woman had the most terrible, awful sad look on her face! Gary stopped the woman and struck up a conversation.

I am unsure how long the conversation lasted, but Gary said the conversation became very personal. It became obvious the woman was in a lot of pain and really needed a friend. Gary did everything in his power to cheer her up.

A week later, this same woman came up to Gary at the studio. She smiled and clasped both of his hands. She then told Gary thank you. The woman said she was pretty sure that she was going to commit suicide that night when she got home, but the talk with Gary had helped her change her mind. She said that Gary had saved her life.

As Gary told us this story, he was embarrassed. He squirmed in his seat. This is not the kind of story you pass around. And it is definitely not a story I would have included in the cruise writeup. But I have included it now because it shows what a huge heart this man had. As I listened to Gary's story, I got goose bumps. I want to tell you that I was in total awe of this man. He got his greatest satisfaction from contributing to people's lives, be they friends or strangers.

Gary Schweinle was a great Husband. Gary Schweinle was a great Dad. Gary Schweinle was a great Friend. But most of all, Gary Schweinle was a great Human Being.

Gary Schweinle was an incredible guy.


The Story of the Saturday Cleanup at
Gary's House

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: Jeanne Tobin, a close friend of both Gary and Tracy Schweinle, took matters into her own hands and organized some help for Tracy as well as Gary's daughters.  Many people from the studio all met on Saturday, September 20th, to pitch in.


As many of you know - Gary Schweinle passed away last Friday while in the midst of preparing for the Hurricane.
His wife Tracy is safe but stunned and numb. She is asking for your prayers and some personal space.
No arrangements have been made yet and I will keep you informed as things develop.


Prayers of course, but Tracy has asked for help this weekend in Anahuac. The home that she and Gary shared was virtually destroyed. The barn is in the house, the shed is down, and the roof is off most of the house. She is asking for assistance to clear limbs and with clean up.
Anahuac is under a curfew - so don't arrive before 10 am and will have to leave before 6 pm
Where: Schweinle Residence, I-10 east to Anahuac exit, head South, go exactly 5 miles.
Look for drive with archway with 'Schweinle' at the top.
Arrive: after 10am.
Bring: chain saws, saws, rakes, ropes and able bodies
Also, bring your own refreshments - beverages of choice and food - snacks.

When: Saturday, Sept. 20 and Sunday Sept. 21
I have a 7 passenger Ford Explorer - anyone interested in carpooling please email me or call me on my cell, 832.283.6951. I live in Cypress, but we could find a meeting point somewhere to head over.
If you know people that would be willing to help, but do not have email access, please get in touch with them by phone. Any questions - contact me.
Thank you - and hope this finds you safe.
I have no power at my home, but I do at work. If anyone needs to recharge phones or computers, you are welcome to come to Messiah Lutheran, 11522 Telge Rd., Cypress, TX.
We do not have landline phones, but have free coffee and electricity.

Jeanne C. Tobin

(Rick Archer's Note: I suggest anyone who wishes to volunteer would try to contact Jeanne on Friday to make sure this trip to Anahuac is still on. Things have a way of changing these days from hour to hour. But if the clean-up request is still valid, I think this would be a fine way to pay our respects to Gary and Tracy and Kim.
Just remember to email or phone Jeanne first to get the latest information.)

The Big Saturday Cleanup at
Gary's House

Story written by Rick Archer

On Saturday, September 20, 2008, somewhere between 60 and 80 people swung by Gary's country property in Anahuac to help clean up the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ike.  Even if Gary hadn't suffered his cruel and surprising accident, I imagine he could have really used our help... the place was one huge mess!

There were three problems - the roof had blown off Gary's house and needed to be repaired.  The second problem were gaps in fences that had been knocked down by falling trees (the horses were in danger of getting out).  Third, there was general debris everywhere.  Gary's property was huge.  It looked large enough to build a good-sized golf course on.  The bad news was that there were fallen trees everywhere!

I can't be sure just how many people came for the cleanup.  The people divided into two groups - those who worked on the house repairs and those who worked on the debris.  I was out in the field and couldn't keep track of the house worker numbers. 

In addition, there were people leaving as I arrived.  For example, Bill and Judy Collins got there at 10 am.  I saw them were heading out as I got there at 1:30 pm.  Obviously I had no idea how many people had already come and gone.  Oh well.

Since I was a field hand, I am unable to detail the glories of the house crew.  I do know that Gary Davis and MG Anseman were hard at work trying to get the roof repaired as I arrived.  I had brought my carpenter friend Solomon along with me just in case they needed another man with experience.  I presented Solomon to MG and Gary.  Both men regarded him with curiosity.  They had no idea that Solomon was very talented.

However, once Gary Davis saw Solomon in action, he was impressed!  Gary told me that both he and MG had been the ones in charge, but they soon gave Solomon the lead instead.  Gary praised Solomon by saying his work saved them at least three hours.  Solomon was able to spot shortcuts that made a difficult project go much quicker.  

Actually I did have a spy in the house. My friend Maureen Huddleston had joined Conor O'Muirgheasa, Solomon, Sol Eisenbaum and me for the long ride to Anahuac.  Maureen was in the house all day long.  She helped pack dishes, clean up the mess left by the collapse of the roof and lots of other projects.  On our trip home, Maureen told me that MG and Gary worked their tails off all day long and deserved a lot of credit.

One of my few regrets from the day is that I forgot to take pictures of the house crew.  I hope they will forgive me.

There were many heroes out in the field as well.  We weren't quite sure of what we were expected to do.  Since most of us were city folk, we immediately made a city-related error.  We thought we were supposed to take the debris to the road for pickup.  I think it was Leslie Goldsmith, raised in the country no less, who pointed out how silly it was to load up these trucks with debris and drive them to the road.  Didn't we realize that country people BURN their own debris on their property?

We all kind of looked at each other for confirmation.  Burn the debris out in the open?  Our utter ignorance on the matter will surely bring a smile to the country-raised people reading this story.  Well, hmm, Leslie's suggestion did sort of make sense.  After all, there wasn't much chance of a fire getting out of control.  The area of the tree damage was wide-open pasture. 

So we switched gears.  Instead of loading the trucks with the fallen tree limbs, we began to build enormous debris piles instead.  Thank goodness we had a country girl with us!

As the day unfolded, there were new mysteries for us city folk to witness.  For example, several ladies could not stop talking about the 5-legged horse.  Apparently this fifth leg was a reproductive organ.  The women roared with laughter as the 5-legged horse tried to chase the female horses around the corral (without much luck I might add- get that thing outta here!)

I had been told that no one needs sex education courses in the country.  Apparently the 5-legged horse was Exhibit A in this matter.   No need for National Geographic out here.  Country Graphic works just fine.

Then the cry went up, "Close the Gate!"  I looked up to see seven horses stampeding at a full gallop across the immense property trying to get to an open gate.  It made no sense.  What was so interesting on the other side of the gate?  Someone whispered that horses always try to escape.  It is in their nature.  They always want to get away with something they aren't supposed to do.  Horses are natural mischief makers.

Fortunately Leslie Goldsmith heard the cry and was able to beat the horses to the gate.  I didn't know Alph could move that fast!  Very impressive speed. 

There were many heroes on the day.  For example, there was a man named Greg who made a huge contribution.  Greg is the boyfriend of former SSQQ Hall Monitor Aisha Currie.  Due to an injury, Greg couldn't work himself, but he had a good idea.  Greg hired three day workers to help with the cleanup. 

Greg sure knew how to pick them!  These three young men were not only skilled with their own chain saws, they fixed other people's saws that broke, and they carried heavy logs to the debris piles when they weren't busy sawing.  These three men were simply terrific.  We were grateful for their help.

Another hero of mine was Jim Colby.  Jim worked his chain saw magic practically non-stop the entire afternoon.  He had to be exhausted out of his wits, but since the rest of us depended on him so much, Jim kept going to the very limits of his strength.  That's a good thing, because we needed him!

People like me had no skills.  The only thing I was good for was lifting heavy branches and carrying them over to the debris piles.  But trees have a way of staying relatively intact even after they fall.  Thus I was totally dependent on Jim to cut the limbs into manageable sections.  Using his chain saw, Jim single-handedly kept an entire army of ssqq limb carriers busy.

Another hero of the day was a man named Sparky.  I believe that Sparky used to work for Gary Schweinle.  I also think they were pretty good friends.  Sparky brought a giant machine known as a "Backhoe".  Sparky was clearly an expert.  He used this powerful tractor-like device to lift the heaviest logs and drop them onto the pile.  Other times Sparky would simply push the massive tree trunks over to the pile. 

The jaws on the backhoe were something to behold.  When they opened up ready to snatch another log, I couldn't help but imagine the T-Rex from Jurassic Park bending over to snatch some helpless dinosaur and devour it whole. 

Other times Sparky would do his 360 routine.  He would position the backhoe halfway between the targeted tree and the debris pile.  He would pick up a huge log, spin the jaws 180 degrees, drop the log on the pile without even stopping and finish the circle by spinning right back to the tree for another log pickup.  As a city boy, I had little experience with heavy-duty machinery. I enjoyed watching Sparky make that backhoe hum!

Although I always felt like I was contributing, quite frankly Sparky and his monster machine did the heavy lifting that the rest of us could never have accomplished.  For example, there was a huge tree that fell on the fence.  Without Sparky lifting that tree off the fence, we could never had repaired the gap.  As a result, the horses could easily have wandered off.   Sparky definitely gets my personal MVP award for the day.

Did we get dirty?  You better believe we did.  Sweaty, dirty, smelly, the works.  But the hard work was wonderful therapy for all the grief and frustration we felt at the loss of our friend.  I literally threw myself into my work as a way to get the ya-yas out.  I was mad at the world for taking my friend and this was a marvelous way to channel my energy. 

Unfortunately I got a little carried away at times.  I got plenty of scratches and bruises.  I also took out some innocent victims like Sylvia Watuski by swinging some limbs without looking.  Fortunately I don't think Sylvia was hurt too badly, but it was still careless on my part. 

To my surprise, a bunch of girls started cheering for me.  I was a little bit lost in my own world, so I didn't quite understand why they were making a big fuss over me.  I wasn't working any harder than anyone else.  It wasn't till later in the day that I realized I had somehow ripped out the back of my shorts and now my boxer shorts underneath were poking through. Cheap thrills. Obviously those ladies were starved for amusement now that the 5-legged horse had disappeared.  I can promise you no picture of those ripped shorts will appear on this web page.

Of all the many people who contributed, I have to say the guy who amazed me the most was Leroy Ginzel.  I think Leroy was motivated in the same way I was - he seemed angry at the world.  Leroy was a Texas Chainsaw Maniac all afternoon long.  Now I could be wrong, but I got the impression that Leroy bought a new chainsaw strictly for this event. I am guessing, but I don't think Leroy had ever used a chainsaw before. For example, Leroy badly burned his hand earlier in the afternoon.  I suspect the injury was related to his inexperience. 

But that nasty burn on his hand didn't stop him. Once Leroy figured out how to use his new toy, he attacked those tree trunks with a fury straight out of a gladiator battle.  He was the ancient warrior.  Leroy went mano a mano with one tree trunk after another and ripped them to shreds. 

There was only one problem - Leroy had heart surgery not too long ago.  Every single one of us was worried sick that Leroy would overdo it.  I promise you that I asked every woman to use their charms to pry Leroy loose from his chainsaw. 

Sometimes the women succeeded, but the next thing I knew, Leroy managed to regain his saw and get right back out there! Leroy was unstoppable!   Leroy was a man among men.

Personally, I was exhausted.   We worked out in open with the sun beating down.  It was hot out there!  But as hard as I worked and as tired as I was, I could see that Leroy was working even harder.  Except that Leroy is twenty years older than me!  Plus he has another heart surgery scheduled soon to correct a mistake from his previous operation.  A little thing like heart problems... did that stop Leroy?  Hell no. 

Leroy was a man on a mission.  We couldn't get Leroy to stop, so finally we all just stood back and admired him.  Leroy was incredible.  Personally, I think he was just as sick at losing his friend Gary as the rest of us.  And I think he was grateful for the chance to take his anger out on the trees.  It must have worked.  Leroy had a big smile on his face when we finished.  He even invited me over to his nearby house to get a shower, but I had to tell him to keep his voice down lest someone misunderstand.  It must have been the boxer shorts.

There were many heroes this day.  Yes, it is true that most of us didn't possess many carpentry skills.  And yes, it is true that most of us didn't have any chain saw skills either.  But we were a great team.  Thanks to Sparky, Jim Colby, Kurt Wind and Wild Man Leroy plus the 3 hard-working handymen that Greg brought, there was an endless supply of tree limbs available for our army of log luggers to drag over to the various piles. 

And let me tell you something else - the women worked just as hard if not harder than the men.  For example, Sylvia Watuski was a master with her rake and Jean Wind lifted logs so heavy I thought she was Wonder Woman.  Our women were just as determined as the men to get this job done right.  Nor did I see even one woman remotely appear to care about glamour.  They got just as bad to the bone filthy and sweaty as any man out there.  Those ladies worked hard!

As a result, we accomplished so much in a short time.  As the day progressed, I estimate we created a dozen different monster debris piles.  We pretty much cleared the field of every fallen tree.  As we headed back to the farm house, I smiled with satisfaction when I noticed someone had begun to burn one of the piles.  Aha!  Leslie was right!  Thanks to us, this place was back in order.  It was a great team effort. 

Meanwhile the carpenters had finished putting a temporary patch across the roof.  Both missions accomplished.  We got so much done that they canceled a second day of work that had been scheduled.

We were all proud of ourselves.  This was had been our chance to show our respect to Gary Schweinle, a guy we all loved and admired.  I cannot begin to explain how good it felt to help out our fallen hero.  Somehow I bet you understand. 

Pat Mahaffey and Jenny DeLaFuente

Sherry Thornton, Jeanie Tobin and Jenny DeLaFuente
Jeanie was the person who organized the entire event

Pat Mahaffey and Marlane Kayfes starting a debris pile

Leslie saves the day by closing the gate as the horses charge

Jim Colby, the Chainsaw Wizard, in action cutting up trees

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre named Leroy!

Sylvia Watuski and Vivian Gustafson hard at work

Jeanie, Sol Eisenbaum, Cheryl Davis, Sherry, Kurt and Jean Wind, Jennie and Leslie, Joe Lachner, Pat, & Ed Anderson

The Dirty Dozen: Conor, Sol, Kurt, Jean, Patty Harrison, Doug Gephardt, Joe, Leslie, Vivian, Steve Gabino, Rick, plus Leroy and his toy.

Funeral Arrangements for Gary Schweinle

-----Original Message-----
From: tracy schweinle
Sent: Saturday, September 20, 2008 1:05 AM
To: SSQQ Newsletter
Subject: Gary's funeral arrangements

Dear Rick and Marla,  Thank you soooo much for the wonderful words you expressed about Gary.  He would be so proud to know that you felt this way about him and his family. He adored both of you and his family @ SSQQ.

I am such a total loss without him.

Gary always said that God would never give you more than you can handle.  I think that this is the most I can take and I am not sure I won"t go completely insane.

 I want to thank all of the people who will be helping us put back the pieces on Saturday in advance.  He would be overwhelmed with the generosity already expressed to us.  SSQQ was a "family" to Gary, as well as me, and he would be so happy to see everyone who helped us with this recovery.

Please keep Kim and his other daughters, Heather, Valarie, and Amanda in your prayers.  And pray for me as well, as I don't know how I can ever go on without him. He was "the best" thing that ever happened to me, and I only hope that everyone at SSQQ  finds that kind of happiness in their lifetime.

We have finally made funeral is hard because Anahuac is 98% gone.

Sterling Funeral Home In Dayton, Tx. (they have power)  We will have visitation his Sunday from 5-8 pm and the Funeral will be there on Monday @ 11 AM. You can look up the website and I will send it ASAP, but since this is short notice, I wanted to at least get the word out. Dayton is about 30 miles East of Houston down I-10, then you take 90 into Dayton, turn L at the Prosperity bank and it is about one half mile down the road.  It looks like you are going into a residential area, but that is where the funeral home is.  Sunday from 5-8 viewing and Monday @ 11 will be the funeral both are going to be at Sterling funeral homes on 602 N. Main Dayton Tx 77535

The number there if you need it is 936-258-2678. they do have power and AC.

Will see all those that can come to Anahuac on Saturday.  Thanks again to all our friends, Trace


Gary Schweinle's Funeral

On Monday, September 22, 2008, the time had come to finally put our Cowboy to rest.  The Great Trail Boss in the Sky had come calling for Mr. Hat (you had to be at his wedding two months ago to understand).

Marla and I drove out to a community just east of Baytown known as Dayton.  Mind you, our computer failed that day so we had to find the place without a hard copy map (Dayton was just off my Houston Key Map) or even a peek at an Internet map.  Fortunately Dayton was not hard to find - drive east on I-10 till you see a sign.  Some quick directions at a local gas station and we found the Sterling Funeral Home.

The room where the service was held was filled to the brim.  I looked around.  There were probably 100 people there including at least 25 who stood.  Marla and I were among the standing... you know what... I didn't mind a bit.

As I browsed the brochure detailing the service, I noticed at the very bottom of the page that I had been listed as one of the pallbearers.  I turned white.  That's when I realized where the term 'appalled' might have come from.  Is there any skill required for this duty?  Oddly, just as I read that item, my wife Marla and Marcia Thomas both read it as well and looked up at me.  Seeing the look on my face, they quickly asked if I had known.  I shook my head and joked I must not have gotten the email.  I decided it couldn't be that difficult if they had chosen me.  Didn't they see how many logs I had dropped the other day?  

Joshua McManigal, the young man who presided over the service, apologized for starting late.  He added that from what he had heard about Gary, that was probably fitting.  We got a chuckle out of that.  His jest put us all a little more at ease.  Just as well. There were a lot of somber faces, let me tell you.  Between Hurricane Ike, no power, Galveston flattened, Michael Friedberg's untimely death, and now Gary's terrible accident, we were all one big giant mess.

The director told us about Gary's life.  He talked about Gary's love of dancing and how he was part of the 'ssqq cult' from Houston.  That line drew a gasp to be sure.  Considering how utterly harmless our group is, we weren't quite sure if the man was joking or serious.  Fortunately he started to smile, so we took the comment in stride.  Gary's daughter Heather had coined the phrase, but completely in fun.  Nevertheless I have a hunch that quip will become a part of the legend of Gary Schweinle from this point on. 

At this point there was a Garth Brooks song played, "If Tomorrow Never Comes".

Sometimes late at night
I lie awake and watch her sleeping
Shes lost in peaceful dreams
So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark
And the thought crosses my mind
If I never wake up in the morning
Would she ever doubt the way I feel
About her in my heart


If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That shes my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last?

Quite frankly, I had never listened to the lyrics before.  But as the song unfolded, I realized for the first time why Garth Brooks is considered something of a genius in the C&W Music world.  Those were very powerful lyrics.

Of course, the cruel fate that had befallen our friend Tracy (Kirkland) Schweinle, Gary's bride of two short months, was one of the unspoken demons in the room.  This song hit right on that nerve.  I am certain that every person in that room was shaken at the thought that there are people in our lives who do not know how much we love them.   As the song ended, we all took a very deep breath indeed.  The loss that Tracy suffered was so profound that quite frankly I don't even dare discuss it further.

At this point, the service director invited people to speak.  This surprised me.  I am no veteran of funeral services.  At the February 2008 funeral of my dear friend Tim Green, three people had spoken, but it seemed that they had been asked to do so.  At last week's funeral for Michael Friedberg, a Rabbi did all the speaking.  So this request for impromptu thoughts took me off guard.

Nevertheless I watched and listened with interest as a lady named Robin Comeaux got up to speak.  Robin explained that Gary had "semi-adopted" her after her own father's death.  In her mind, Gary's daughters were her sisters and Gary was her father.  Robin missed him just as much as any person in this room. In a brief talk filled with many tears, this young lady spoke glowingly how Gary reached out to her and helped her through some very tough years.  He was always there for her (a phrase I heard repeated time and time again this day).  There were very few dry eyes in the house after Robin's heart-felt testimony.

My mind works like a camera - one brilliant Flash and it is gone.  I was just too wrapped up in the service to fully concentrate on my reporter duties.  Plus I was preoccupied with anticipating all the unknown requirements of my upcoming pallbearer duties (as I found out after the service, it was a ceremonial listing, a tribute for which I was deeply honored).  Consequently the whole morning remains a blur.  I know I am going to get the speakers out of order.  I might even forget one or two.  And I definitely will forget some of the important things they said.  So I ask you to forgive me in advance for any inaccuracies and I promise to correct any mistakes if someone will remind me.

After Gary's adopted daughter Robin finished, the next person up was Jeanne Tobin, the lady who had organized the spectacularly successful cleanup effort two days earlier.  Jeanne is a long-time card holder in the ssqq cult.  Her days at the studio go all the way back to the previous century.  It was very difficult for Jeanne to speak.  Gary was her best friend in the entire world.   As she explained, Gary was her 'go-to guy', 'her best bud', her constant escort for Christmas Parties, weddings, Wild West, you name it.  Gary was a brother and a friend to her.  Gary was 'always there for her'.  Gee, where have we heard that before?

The mood of the room lightened when Jeanne began to talk about the origins of Gary and Tracy's special bond.  From what I gather, Tracy and Gary at least knew each other's name from hanging around the same circles.  But one night, they 'noticed' each other in a new way.  Gary was Jeannie's escort for some party or maybe they were just out dancing.  Whatever.  Tracy was at the same event. 

I am reminded of Julius Caesar.  They danced.  They talked.  They clicked.

The next morning, Jeannie fielded an early phone call from Tracy.  Trace was curious to know the extent of Jeannie's relationship with Gary.  Jeannie assured Tracy there was nothing to worry about.  Jeannie's only request was that Gary would still be allowed to be her best bud, a condition Tracy laughed about and agreed to on the spot. 

Moments later Jeannie received another phone call.  This time it was Gary.  Could he have Tracy's phone number?  Heck no!  Girls don't give out the phone numbers of girlfriends!  (Mind you, every guy in the room groaned at this maneuver.  Hadn't Tracy just been on the phone raving about the guy?)  Then Jeannie cheered Gary up by telling him she knew where Tracy would be the following weekend in case he wanted to casually drop in and 'accidentally' run into her.   (I for one have always believed that women are devious.  Therefore I thoroughly appreciated this candid evidence which confirmed my suspicions yet again).

So now the tears in the room had turned to smiles as we savored the origins of the special relationship between Tracy and Gary.  It was a great story, one that I had not heard before.

Next up to the podium was Gary's second oldest daughter Valarie.  Valarie appeared to be about 28.  She was tall (5' 8") and very athletic in appearance.  Valarie even described herself as the son Gary never had.  Valarie's stories made us happy and made us sad.  She talked about how happy Gary would be to get his morning coffee and go sit out on the porch to enjoy the day.  Then Valarie told us how her Dad could do anything; he was the super-hero to the daughters.  Valarie added her Dad was awesome at getting things started, but not always quite as good at finishing them.  That got a laugh.  Then Valarie said she wished her Dad could be here right now so he could help get the property straightened up!  The girls really needed him!  I half-laughed and half-cried at that one.  Valarie said she missed her Dad dearly.  We all nodded in agreement.  No kidding.  We all missed him.

Cheryl Davis came up to speak.  Cheryl and her husband Gary Davis, MG and Gay Anseman plus Gary and Tracy Schweinle are very close friends.

My mind immediately raced to the Hawaii Cruise of 2007.  Beep Beep!  One day Marla and I were shocked to see all six people packed into a bright yellow Mustang convertible waving as they passed us by in Honolulu.  What I would not give for a picture of that moment!

At that time, they were the happiest six people on this planet.  Cruising down the Boulevard in a Mustang more yellow than Tracy's hair!  Oh, they had so much fun together in Hawaii.  One of the highlights of that trip for me was watching the three couples interact with such pleasure.

2007 Hawaii Cruise: Band of Brothers and Sisters
Gary and Cheryl Davis below
left, Tracy and Gary top center,
Gay Anseman below in blue, MG above, and Sherry Thornton

Cheryl spoke mainly of Gary's love of service.  As I have written previously, Gary Schweinle would get in his truck and drive 50 miles over to the dance studio once, twice, sometimes three times a week.  He did this for years!   After Gary reached the stage where he was a proficient dancer, he turned around and asked his friend MG if he could become a volunteer instructor.  As a result, for three, four years (maybe more) Gary and his lovely daughter Kim would make the trip every Sunday down I-10 to help MG teach his western class.  After Cheryl and Gary Davis got married, they joined in too.  Then later Tracy joined the team as well. 

Gee whiz, no wonder MG kept getting all those 'I learn so much in your class; you're my favorite teacher' compliments - look at all the help he had!

Cheryl talked about Gary's famous sense of humor.  He loved to tease and he loved to play.  Gary insisted that Tracy and Cheryl learned to lead Twostep.  Both Garys would dance the 'follow' role and let the girls try to move them.  Mind you, both men are big guys!  But that wasn't what bothered Tracy and Cheryl... what got them good was when the boys decided to act like girls.  Make that 'silly girls' with the high voices and the dainty gestures.  'Don't you want to dance with me?  Aren't I pretty?'  Cheryl smiled as she admitted that Gary's 'girlie ways' bugged her no end.  What would girls do without boys to tease them all the time?

Then Cheryl had every woman in the room smiling as she explained that when Gary Schweinle led something on the dance floor, you followed whether you liked it or not.  Gary was well-known for his strong leads.  Even I danced with him once and I was shocked at his strength.  We should have seen it coming, but Cheryl pulled the rug out from our feet when she added that Gary's strong arm leads disappeared once he met Tracy.  Tracy told Gary she wouldn't put up with him being so strong.  Practically overnight Gary changed.  His leads were almost gentle now!   What a transformation.  Yet again more testimony to the power of a good woman to make a good man even better. 

Mitch Istre was kind enough to speak.  He told about another Anahuac man named George who had lost much when Hurricane Rita hit back in 2005.  Although Houston was largely spared, Anahuac took a brutal blow.  Apparently this man struggled for six months trying to get his property back in order without a lot of luck.  Finally George told his story to a person at Second Baptist here in Houston.  The next thing you know, the group at Second Baptist organized a cleanup similar to the one we did for Gary.  A few days later, it dawned on Mitch that both Gary and this other man both lived in the same area.  Gary was crushed to learn that no one had told him about the problem.  If he had only known, Gary swore he would have been there with every tool he owned to help with the cleanup.  Mitch's point was that Gary was ready to help any man, stranger or not, get back on his feet again if the opportunity presented itself.

I got up to speak as well.  Actually, I was the last to speak, but I felt my words were unimportant compared to the others.  In fact, I am still  embarrassed at my own so-so contribution.  I had nothing prepared and certainly nothing new to share that I hadn't already said in an article I had written three days earlier.  While I was up there, I kept hoping to get inspired, but mostly I just ached.  I was so numb, a robot could have done better.  I felt like I was mumbling.  Blah blah blah.  I wished I had notes.  I was just one big puddle of emotion. 

For that matter, afterwards I couldn't remember what I had said!  Fortunately Marla helped remind me a little.

I spoke of how proud I was that the SSQQ Community had stepped forward in such a powerful way to help Gary's family.  I told how grateful I was to Jeanne Tobin for organizing the event and to all the rest who stepped up to the plate.  I said I was amazed and touched by the outpouring of love for Gary and Tracy evident at the Saturday cleanup.

I pointed out how grateful I was to have the chance to visit Gary's home.  As I drove the many miles from Houston then back home again, I could not help but notice this was the same long route that Gary himself drove once, twice, three times a week to be with us.  Unfortunately the drive only deepened a mystery I had been struggling with - what was it about this dance studio that possessed Gary to drive such long distances and be so willing to share his valuable free time ?  I mean, truth be told, I never paid Gary a red cent in my life to help at my studio.  Nor did I even ask him to be a volunteer.  But without any encouragement from me, Gary was the constant energy source that kept on giving and giving and giving.  Why?  What did Gary get in return?  This mystery tore at me all weekend long.  Every time I picked up a log and threw it on a pile, I asked myself what motivated this man to give so much of himself. 

I also told the group in the room that I had been looking hard for the reason for Gary's death.  Why did the good die young?  Once Gary and Tracy had found this happiness together, why did they have to be ripped apart so suddenly? 

Quite frankly, I am not the first to question the meaning of death.  Nor will I be the last.  There may be a divine hand in this, but the cosmic plan is obviously far too vast for a simple person like me to discern.  What I do believe is that it up to us the living to create a purpose for Gary's death.  It is our responsibility to create something in his memory and assign our own purpose.  It is my hope that one of us will find a way to channel our sadness into some sort of permanent good in his memory.  Unfortunately, I have to confess that this inspiration has eluded me so far.  But I intend to keep thinking about it.  So should you!

The final thing I said was that I was proud to have given Gary his nickname "Mr. Hat".  I actually think he enjoyed the nickname.  I know I certainly did!  So I put on a cowboy hat as a simple gesture and tribute to my friend, then stepped down. 

My hat trick may have been stretching things.  I had assumed I would be complimented for taking a fashion risk.  Wrong.  One person later asked if I had rented or bought the hat for the occasion.   No, for the record, it was my own hat.  Let me add that when Marla saw me first put the hat on, she shook her head and indicated it was not a good look for me.  Please take it off.  Between the hat negativity and the laughter over my underwear, it wasn't a good weekend for my fashion confidence.  It may be a while before you see me in that hat again.  Oh well.  No loss to society.  Besides, I suppose there can only be one Mr. Hat. 

My good friend MG Anseman spoke shortly before me, but unfortunately I don't remember much that MG said other than the two men liked to talk about their family and how grateful he was to have made such a close friend in Gary.  I was in a fog at this point. MG will understand when I admit I was lost in my own thoughts. 

The truth of the matter was that I was still thinking about what Kathleen Rose had said moments earlier.  As Kathleen approached the front, I realized I had not seen her in over two years (I later discovered the reason was that three years ago Kathleen had quietly married Alan Arnett.  Together they moved out to Tomball). 

I was curious to hear what Kathleen had to say since she has always been something of an enigma to me.  I sense that Kathleen is incredibly smart, but that said, she is not someone I understand very well.  This time however I heard Kathleen loud and clear.  It turned out that Kathleen's story completely blew me away.

Kathleen spoke of meeting Gary for the first time at SSQQ.  Apparently they started classes at the same time (2002).  Gary was in Kathleen's Twostep class which I believe was being taught by MG.  As you know, it is an ssqq tradition to do a pattern and change partners as we rotate around in a circle.  Kathleen and Gary struck up a conversation.  After reading his name tag, Kathleen asked, "So were are you from, Gary?"  Kathleen was stunned to discover that Gary had come all the way from Anahuac.  Isn't that kind of a long drive?  Oops... time to switch partners. 

The next time Gary came around, Kathleen asked why Gary had driven so far for something as trivial as a dance class.  "Because my wife was killed in a head-on collision, my daughters cry all the time, so do I, but I have to pick up pieces somehow!"  Kathleen's eyes bulged at that disclosure.  Oops, time to switch partners again.  Five minutes later, Gary rotated back.  Kathleen was still in shock from Gary's previous remark. She asked why Gary had told her such personal information.  "Heck, I gotta tell someone.  I can't stand it!  I'm miserable!"

For two entire hours, Gary told Kathleen his recent life story in one and two minute segments as they rotated through partners.  Have you ever heard a more absurd anecdote?  I swear my mouth dropped at this strange tale and tears welled up in my eyes.  This poor man must have been in so much pain!  Meanwhile the quiet help from a total stranger like Kathleen allowed him to share his grief.  I don't know if Freud ever recommended dance class therapy while rotating through a circle, but Kathleen made a huge difference by asking simple questions and caring about the answers.  Some of the best therapists are just good listeners.

I will share that Gary told me on several different occasions that the studio helped him recover his sanity.  Gary claimed that the time he spent here allowed him to get on with his life.  Those are very strong words.  I would always smile and accept that Gary was sincere, but to myself I thought he must be exaggerating the importance. 

How can a dance studio make that kind of difference?  I barely knew who Gary was back when he started.  I certainly could not recall anything I had said or done to help him through the awful misery of his first wife's death.  Furthermore, by the time I came to know him, Gary had already bounced back into the saddle.  And yet here he was trying to give me credit.  Credit for what?  I was plainly mystified.  For all those years, I can't honestly say I ever believed or understood what Gary meant until this very moment when Kathleen shared her story of the Circle of Kindness.

Now finally it all dawned on me.  It had taken Kathleen's poignant story to help me see what Gary had been trying to explain to me all these years.  Like the proverbial iceberg, I imagine there are twenty other stories floating somewhere around the studio where the kindness of other strangers just like Kathleen helped Gary on his road to recovery.  Everybody did their small part to cast a blanket of warmth around this troubled, lonely man.  It was hardly a coordinated effort.  I doubt seriously that one person knew what the next person was doing.  But over time each person in their own way helped Gary overcome his pain and regain his happiness.

One year later Gary was back on his feet again.  No more wounded bear.  Time to move on to something else, right?  No.  Instead Gary decided it was his turn to help.  Of all the friends he had made, MG was one of the closest.  Why not help MG teach the Texas Twostep?  Gary chose to drive two hours every Sunday (one hour one way, one hour back).  While he was at the studio he would spend two hours, maybe even stay for the second Sunday class as well.  Often Gary would spend four hours each Sunday at SSQQ doing whatever he could to help other people.  Four hours of teaching and two hours of driving of his free time every Sunday just to help other people he didn't even know!  The man probably never had a college course in social work in his life, but so what?  Gary was a born social worker.  Heck, you don't need training.  You just get out there and help!  Gary gave up his Sunday afternoon every week for three, four, five years simply because he wanted to contribute. 

Most of the time, Gary's contribution was no greater than showing someone their footwork in dance class or offering some encouragement not to give up too fast.  Simple acts of kindness do not always have to be dramatic.  But sometimes a simple act of kindness can be more profound than any of us realize at the time. If you read my previous story about Gary, you will remember how Gary told me of a serious moment when his own kind words helped a woman change her mind about committing suicide.

Gary was willing to help in any way he was asked to.  In this way, Gary has become an inspiration to all of us.  Besides the fact that the man was funny and friendly, his depth of character touched every single person he came into contact with here at the studio.  It can't be difficult to see why we all love this guy so much.

I can assure you that as Kathleen sat down, I was crying now.  Big deal.  I guess if our women can toss logs around like lumberjacks and be seen sweating in public, then I don't mind admitting that losing Gary hurts me so much that I have to cry.  And I haven't been the same since.  Everyone at Gary's funeral knows exactly the same numb feeling of loss I am talking about.

To the naked eye, SSQQ is a dance studio.  But under the surface, this place is so much more.  We certainly aren't a cult and we definitely aren't a church.  We aren't a singles group and we are not a bar or nightclub either.  But we have become a family.  That much is obvious.  We are a club... not an exclusive club, mind you, not a bunch of snobs or cliques and certainly with no fee to join.  We are a community that is open to anyone who enjoys being around decent and kind people.  We are a Family of Friends, a band of Brothers and Sisters.  We all joined originally through a common interest - dancing - yet our involvement with the program over time has evolved into something far more important thanks to the contributions of people like Gary and many others.  We have become a Family united by friendship.

SSQQ isn't just "Rick's Studio".  SSQQ belongs to people like Gary, to Tracy, to Jeannie Tobin, to Gary and Cheryl Davis, to MG and Gay Anseman, to the 100 people at Gary's funeral, to the 80 people at Gary's house, to the Thousand Plus people who take dance classes each month and to the two thousand people who read the Newsletter.  SSQQ belongs to all of us, to all of you.  SSQQ is your clubhouse if you like being here.  And to join, all you have to do is show up and begin to participate.   Slow Slow Quick Quick... one day you will be shuffling your feet and suddenly it will occur to you this place is kind of weird in its own 'Cheers' or 'Northern Exposure' sort of way, but you don't mind.  You are having fun being here.

Just don't give me all the credit.  I hate that!  Yes, I help.  I am the leader.  I keep the rhythm while you keep the ship rolling.  But you can't tell me that I am wholly responsible for the kindness of the countless people who contribute freely of their time and their wisdom without being asked. 

These people offer kindness from their heart without any prompting from me.  Nor do they desire any credit.  People contribute because they want to, not because they expect someone to pat them on the back.

If anything, the social networks and the bonds that have formed here at this place are so profound that I am humbled by their magnitude. 

And if any one person can ever be a symbol for that kindness, there can be no doubt that single person would be Gary Schweinle, our very own Mr. Hat. 

There can never be a purpose for Gary's death that will satisfy me.  But I can say that his passing has at least allowed me to point out in a very public way the remarkable story of his service here. In Gary's passing, I have been given the chance to explain his kindness to all of you.

Back in 2002, Gary was not only healed by that kindness, he turned around and gave it back
just as many times as he humanly could until his heart stopped beating. 

I intend to make sure his constant good will continues to be an inspiration to every one of us as long as I run this place.

What greater testimony can any person have?   Let's hear it for Mr. Hat, our friend and our inspiration.  Now go help someone learn to dance and carry on his work.  I am certain that is what Gary would want us to do. 


-----Original Message-----
From: Polly
Sent: Thursday, September 25, 2008 10:28 AM
Subject: Gary and Michael

Dear Rick - -

For once I am almost at a loss for words. Everything which happened in the day before the storm and in the 9 days afterward when we had no power is almost a blur for me. We had no phones, newspaper, television, computer or anything. A radio in the car was about it. Quite an experience for two people like Jose and me who are really "wired" in every respect.

At any rate, when I finally got on the computer and read all that you wrote about the deaths of Gary and Michael I was stunned. Although I did not know either of these men well, I was certainly in dance classes with both over the last three years. In addition, Jose and I are particularly fond of Kim and loved getting to know her. Interestingly enough it was some time before we even knew Gary was her father. I think I was remarking one night about them dancing together and Kim revealed their relationship with a twinkle in her eye.

My most vivid memories of Gary are watching him a "man of size with a big hat to boot" glide across the dance floor. Being a girl of country roots he reminded me so much of many fine cowboys I have been privileged to know as I grew up. In fact, he bore a real physical resemblance to my brother-in-law who was a foreman at a feed yard/cattle ranch in West Texas for many years. At any rate, I remember the first time I danced with Gary ( and yes he was a strong lead but that worked for me then as I had little idea about what I was doing). At any rate, I remember saying "are you sure you want to dance with someone as short as me with that hat on? I am afraid I might knock it off!" - to which he replied with his signature smile - "you let me worry about the hat - I haven't lost it yet" And indeed I was amazed at all the moves we did and I don't think I ever even touched that hat!

Now that I have learned so much about him and his family( thanks to you), I value that wonderful smile and sense of humor he had even more ( and that goes for the smile of that "sassy miss Kim" as well). Why? Because I too have experienced personal almost unbearable loss and I KNOW how hard it is to recapture a smile or the feeling of happiness when life so unfairly slaps you in the face. It takes a long time, alot of work and quite frankly a deliberate CHOICE to overcome and NOT allow the pain to defeat you.

Clearly, somewhere along the road, and obviously with the help of the healing environment of dance offered at SSQQ , Gary and Kim made that CHOICE . Each showed remarkable courage in rejecting bitterness and anger and choosing instead joy and life! I pray that Kim can dig down deep and once again make that choice for herself. I don't need to tell her that this is what her Dad would most want for her - - she already knows that by the course he charted for the two of them so many years ago. Finally, I pray that Tracy one day down the road will remember that Gary refused to be defeated by his own pain; and that she will honor his courage by claiming it for her own. It is because of Gary's courage that "she" happened for him!

As for Michael, I did not know him very well, but he had a truly distinctive face. I have a vision of him regularly standing at the threshold of the door between #1 and #2 at practice - - - just watching. As I recall he asked me to dance two different times. Now that I have read about his private nature and group anxieties, as well as the fact that he was not a fan of dancing with the geriatric set, I actually feel honored by those invitations! It means I was neither threatening nor too over the hill to dance with this serious and brainy 69 year old. Hallelujah! I enjoyed our dances - - not too much conversation but a gentleman in every respect and as I recall at least the hint of a smile at the beginning and end of each. Wow - - topological algebra - - if only I had known! It would have been interesting to see whether he could even explain what that is in terms a math drop-out like me could understand. I am glad this fine man had a special woman as his companion and that she and his sister could be with him at the end of his journey on this earth.

All in all the loss of these two fine gentlemen reminds me once again that most of us arrive at wherever we choose to gather with our own unique experiences, complete with sets of emotional baggage and heartaches. Yet, somehow in an environment where we feel comfortable and at home, we can choose to be "overcomers", people who rise above the difficulties in our lives and just have fun.  For many of us (Jose and I are included in that group) dance lessons and particularly SSQQ have provided just such an environment.

I know if Gary and Michael could they would offer you, your staff and all the dance community at SSQQ their heartfelt thanks for helping to create a place of comfort and fun for them over the years. Since they cannot do so, may I offer such thanks in their behalf and for all of us who in one form or another are part of the SSQQ family.


p.s. Sorry this got so long but so be it. Also, I would like to add what I think about "Donna"; however, it might not be printable. I could recommend a couple of other studios where she could go; pay lots more money and be assured that she would not run into either friendly staff, teachers or fellow dancers. From the sound of things that would be a better fit for her personality.


From the November 2008 SSQQ Newsletter Issue One
Written by Rick Archer

We all suffered from Hurricane Ike.  No one was spared completely.

For example, as expected, the studio’s October registrations were seriously down.  We had 920 people this month compared to 1140 a year ago.  Like everyone else in Houston with the exception of the tree-cutters, roofers, electricians, and handymen, that hurricane really hurt our business.  Oh well. 

But you know what?  After seeing what happened to our friends in Galveston, I figure we got off easy. 

There is one person who didn’t get off easy at all. Tracy (Kirkland) Schweinle gets my vote for the individual who may have lost the most.  Not only did she lose her husband of two months, she lost a heck of a lot more. The pain she must have gone through is the stuff of nightmares. Since the horrible tragedy, Tracy has been dealing with headaches and heartaches non-stop. 

Gary never had the chance to change his will.  Tracy was left nothing. 

Not surprisingly, due to the stress and the problems she has to handle, Tracy has been unable to work for two months.  There was no insurance on the Gary and Tracy's home.  She has been dealing with FEMA.  It took her 4 days alone just to fill out the application.  Due to circumstances beyond her control she does not even have access to her personal belongings.  Along with all the other horrors, her car was destroyed in the hurricane - she has/was to receive a check for the value of her car but it has been withheld from her, but she needed to purchase a car. 

Things are probably even worse than that, but I think we all get the rough idea. 

I know that in time Tracy has the ability to get back on her feet all by herself.  But you know what?  We can help her get there a lot faster. 

I have scheduled a benefit dance – the MR HAT THANKSGIVING WESTERN DANCE – for Saturday, November 22nd, at 9 pm till 11:30 pm.  Admission is $10 (cash).  This money goes straight to Tracy. If you wish to give more, by all means feel free to do so.  Just drop it in the hat. 

Speaking of hats, one more thing – try to wear a hat to the party!  I think Gary would like that. It would a nice way to do good in two directions – helping Tracy and honoring Gary’s memory.

Please come by.  Thanks!   RA




On Saturday, November 22, SSQQ hosted the Mr. Hat Country-Western Dance Party that served to honor the memory of our departed friend Gary Schweinle as well as to benefit his financially-strapped widow Tracy.

I am proud to report that 200 people came by to show their respect for Gary and to Tracy as well. The many smiles and the laughter were a sight to behold.

So many people brought food that there was a huge spread resembling a down-home country potluck dinner. The food, the friends, and the dancing all worked in tandem as people danced well into the night.

In addition to the people who attended, Gary and Tracy were on the minds of many people who were there in spirit if not body. A group of Swing Dancers who attended a party at Charlie Denton's house were kind enough to take a collection of their own and make generous donation to Tracy the following day.

The money was significant, but far more important was the incredible warmth showered on Tracy by the many guests on this night.

I can report with great satisfaction that for the most part Tracy had a big smile throughout the evening. I think she is almost ready to face the world again.

Speaking of smiles, everyone was pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Grouch (me) actually beaming throughout the evening. After my recent "RANT" a couple weeks ago, a fire-breathing dragon seemed a real possibility. Surprise Surprise, I actually enjoyed myself throughout the evening. It was fun doing a good thing for a good person. Lots of people thanked me for hosting the benefit. Truth be told, I considered it an honor to throw the party. Marla and I agreed it was one of the happiest, warmest events we have ever hosted.

And we were so touched by the constant generosity shown by our guests towards Tracy. Many people contributed way more than we asked them to. They didn't want their names printed, they didn't want anyone to fuss over them, and they didn't want any credit. They just wanted to help.

There are some really great people that hang out at this dance studio. Let me tell you - You all did a really good thing. I am so proud of all of you. Thank you. RA


From: Tracy Schweinle
Sent: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 12:49 AM
Subject: Benefit party

Dear Rick, Marla, and everyone at SSQQ,

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU, Thank you, THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Saturday night was the best night I have had since my darling Gary had to leave me.

Gary would have been so proud to see ALL the people that attended in his honor to help me. I know he was there with us. I could feel him there, and so did alot of other people. It is so comforting to me now, to be around all of our friends. It helps me so much to talk about Gary, and share stories, and receive the hugs, especially the hugs.....because that is one of the things I miss the most, is feeling his loving arms around me.

I am overwhelmed with the generosity of our SSQQ family. This has been the most difficult time of my entire life. The worst part was losing the best thing that ever happened to me. But add on top of that losing our home, and not having the resources left to me to carry on what Gary would have wanted me to do.....has been devastating. He was too busy being on our honeymoon to make sure that I was taken care of. I do not fault Gary for that. I would have done exactly as he did. I am at least grateful that Gary was able to provide for his children......they are just as big a victim in this whole tragedy as I am, and I hope that all of Gary's SSQQ family, will cont. to keep, Kimberly, Amanda, Valarie and Heather in their thoughts and prayers as much as they have done for me.

What everyone at SSQQ did for me Saturday to help me move on with my life. I know that it will be possible to continue forward, because I have such a HUGE family @ SSQQ. For the first time since Gary died, I had a little bit of fun. I just wish that he would have been there beside me, like he always was, to share in our mutual joy. Even though I know he was there in spirit.....I would have much preferred he be there holding my hand....But God has bigger plans for Gary, and who am I to hold him back?

From myself, and Gary, thanks to everyone who made this possible. I CAN'T thank you enough.
With much love, Tracy

Written by Rick Archer
November 22, 2008

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: I originally wrote this testimony to read at the Mr. Hat Party. However once I realized the party had turned into a Celebration of Gary's Life, I decided this testimony was far too serious in tone to share at the party.

That said, let me share something with you. The Mr. Hat Party was something I thought about doing long before I learned of Tracy Schweinle's financial plight. My original plan was to devote attention to Gary's memory. But as far as I was concerned, Tracy really needed our help more than anything. So I turned the focus of the party from Gary over to Tracy.

As I said earlier, our group came through like champions. So consider that a mission accomplished.

But in my mind, I was sad that I was unable to focus much attention on the memory of Gary Schweinle. And guess what? Gary would have wanted it that way. Gary would have been very happy that we turned our attention to Tracy's needs at a time when he himself was no longer able to help her. So I am okay with changing the nature of last week's party.

Nevertheless, there were two people in particular who were conspicuously absent Saturday night.

One person who was missing from the party was Kimberly Schweinle, Gary's lovely 20-something daughter. Kimberly has been completely distraught over the loss of her Father. Many people are unaware of this, but Kimberly lost her mother in a horrible car accident seven years earlier. The double tragedy that has hit Kim at such a young age has been a terrible burden for her.

After Gary's accident, Tracy was unable to go back to work for months. In a similar fashion, Kimberly has been totally unable to concentrate on her nursing school studies and has fallen behind in her studies. Kim says she feels abandoned, lost, confused... the works.

It is my understanding that there have been some rumors floating around about Gary's daughters. As far as I am concerned, Kim stayed pretty much out of that. In fact, this past Sunday Kim and Tracy spent two hours together as they volunteered their time in MG Anseman's Western class at the studio. No one ordered Kim to help out last Saturday. Kim came of her own free will because she remembers SSQQ with fondness too. It would break my heart if we left Kim out in the cold.

So I am going to ask another favor. Whatever you have heard, don't take it out on Kimberly. She needs a friend, not someone treating her like some sort of leper. I know Kimberly is a great kid. Like her father Gary, Kim has been volunteering her time here at the studio as well for the past six years. I have watched Kim grow from an angry, confused kid (right after her mother's tragic death) to become a beautiful young lady. Yes, I understand that now she is back to being angry and confused again... but who wouldn't be under the same circumstances?

So the next time you see Kimberly, give her hug, not a frown. We need to do a complete job of healing. This is the only wound I can think of that has yet to be handled correctly. I know her Father would be mighty glad if you did.

Speaking of Kimberly's Dad, so what is it that I wanted to say about Gary at the party last weekend?

I realize that some of this testimonial has previously appeared in other things I have written about Gary, but I don't think you will mind too much. After all, this guy was so special I will think you will enjoy being reminded of all the things that made Gary Schweinle special. RA

November 25, 2008
Written by Rick Archer

I wrote something to share with you all tonight. But I am only going to read it to you on one condition. If I start crying or you start crying, I may have to pause for a moment or two. If that is okay with you, then I will begin.

Two short months ago, we all lost a great friend when Gary Schweinle was taken from us. In my opinion, the freak accident that caused Gary's death was an enormous tragedy. Untimely death is always the greatest tragedy.

I can't speak for everyone here in this room, but by and large Tragedy doesn't touch our lives very often. Thank goodness.

But when Tragedy does strike, it creates tremendous pain for the living.

Tragedy is a part of life we don't like to talk about very much, but we all know it's there. Tragedy could hit at a moment's notice... car accident, robbery at gunpoint, plane crash, earthquake, fire, or god forbid even a terrorist attack. One moment we are happy; the next moment we are gone. And our friends are forced to pick up the pieces.

Gary Schweinle was certainly no stranger to Tragedy. In 2001, Gary lost his first wife Lynn to a freak car accident in 2001. A barbecue pit of all things came loose from its trailer hitch. It flew out of control from the other side of the road and hit Lynn's car broadside, killing her instantly. That was an enormous tragedy for Gary and for his daughters.

Gary and his four daughters Heather, Valarie, Amanda, and Kimberly were devastated. Gary had lost his wife and his four daughters had lost their mother. Now it fell upon Gary to pick up the pieces. How is a father supposed to instantly know how to fill their mother's role? And who was supposed to take care of Gary in his own hour of need? Where was he going to find the strength? Gary was just as devastated as the girls were.

Overwhelmed by intense pain and burdened by the responsibility of raising these four girls alone, Gary found solace in just about the strangest place imaginable: SSQQ Dance Studio.

I am now going to read an excerpt from an article I wrote about Gary. At his funeral, a woman named Kathleen Rose told a remarkable story. Here it is:

"As Kathleen Rose went up to the front to speak at Gary's funeral, I (rick archer) was curious to hear what Kathleen had to say. Kathleen's story completely blew me away. This is what she told us:

Kathleen spoke of meeting Gary for the first time at SSQQ. Apparently they started dance classes at the same time back in 2002. Gary was in Kathleen's Twostep class which I believe was being taught by MG Anseman.

As you know, it is an ssqq tradition to do a pattern and change partners as we rotate around in a circle.

When Kathleen and Gary were paired up, Kathleen struck up a conversation. After reading his name tag, Kathleen asked, "So where are you from, Gary?" Kathleen was stunned to discover that Gary had come all the way from Anahuac. Isn't that kind of a long drive, Gary? Oops... time to switch partners.

The next time Gary came around, Kathleen asked why Gary had driven so far for something as trivial as a dance class. "Because my wife was killed in a head-on collision, my daughters cry all the time, so do I, but I have to pick up pieces somehow!" Kathleen's eyes bulged at that disclosure. Oops, time to switch partners again.

Five minutes later, Gary rotated back. Kathleen was still in shock from Gary's previous remark. She asked why Gary had told her such personal information. "Heck, I gotta tell someone. I can't stand it! I'm miserable!"

For two entire hours during the dance class, Gary told Kathleen his terrible life story in one and two minute segments as they rotated through partners.

Have you ever heard a more absurd anecdote? I swear my mouth dropped at this strange tale and tears welled up in my eyes. This poor man must have been in so much pain! Meanwhile the quiet help from a total stranger like Kathleen allowed him to share his grief. I don't know if Freud ever recommended therapy in a dance class, but that was the day that Kathleen made a huge difference by asking simple questions and caring about the answers. Some of the best therapists are just good listeners.

I will share that Gary told me on several different occasions that the studio helped him recover his sanity. Gary claimed that the time he spent here at ssqq allowed him to get on with his life. Those are very strong words. I would always smile and accept that Gary was sincere, but to myself I thought he must be exaggerating the importance.

How can a dance studio make that kind of difference? I barely knew who Gary was back when he started. I certainly could not recall anything I had said or done to help him through the awful misery of his first wife's death. Furthermore, by the time I came to know him, Gary had already bounced back into the saddle. And yet here he was trying to give me credit. Credit for what? I was plainly mystified. For all those years, I can't honestly say I ever believed or understood what Gary meant until this very moment when Kathleen shared her story of the Circle of Kindness.

Kathleen's poignant story helped me see what Gary had been trying to explain to me all these years. I imagine there are twenty other stories floating somewhere around the studio where the kindness of other strangers just like Kathleen also helped Gary on his road to recovery. Everybody did their small part to cast a blanket of warmth around this troubled, lonely man.

It was hardly a coordinated effort, but it was an effective. I doubt seriously that one person knew what the next person was doing. But over time each person in their own way helped Gary overcome his pain and regain his happiness.

One year later Gary was back on his feet again. No more wounded bear. Gary didn't need SSQQ anymore. He knew enough dancing to meet girls in the Western clubs. With his pain behind him, Gary was ready to enjoy life again. This would the Time to move on to something else, right? No.

Gary never left SSQQ. Quite the contrary. Gary decided it was his turn to help other people just like Kathleen had helped him. For the next six years, Gary wrapped a major part of his life around this studio and sought to help this program in any way he could.

Of all the friends he had made, MG was one of the closest. Why not help MG teach the Texas Twostep? Gary chose to drive 100 miles roundtrip every Sunday to help MG teach his class. That's two hours every Sunday (one hour one way, one hour back). While Gary was at the studio he would spend two hours helping MG. Maybe Gary would even stay for the second Sunday class as well and help there too.

Gary Schweinle would spend four hours each Sunday at SSQQ doing whatever he could to help other people. Four hours of teaching and two hours of driving of his free time every Sunday just to help other people he didn't even know! The man probably never had a college course in social work in his life, but so what? Gary was a born social worker. Heck, you don't need training. You just get out there and help! Gary gave up his Sunday afternoon every week for five years simply because he wanted to contribute.

Most of the time, Gary's contribution was no greater than showing someone their footwork in dance class or offering some encouragement not to give up too fast. Simple acts of kindness do not always have to be dramatic.

But sometimes a simple act of kindness can be more profound than any of us realize at the time. Gary once told me of a serious moment when his own kind words helped a woman here at the studio change her mind about committing suicide.

Gary said that one night at the studio at the end of Practice Night, the place was pretty much deserted. As Gary walked through the studio, he saw a woman getting ready to leave. Gary had never seen her before in his life. However Gary was instantly worried for her. This woman had the most terrible, awful sad look on her face! Gary stopped the woman and struck up a conversation.

I am unsure how long the conversation lasted, but Gary said the conversation became very personal. It became obvious the woman was in a lot of pain and really needed a friend. Gary did everything in his power to cheer her up.

A week later, this same woman came up to Gary at the studio. She smiled and clasped both of his hands. She then told Gary thank you. The woman said she was pretty sure that she was going to commit suicide that night when she got home, but the talk with Gary had helped her change her mind. She said that Gary had saved her life.

As Gary told me this story, he was embarrassed. He squirmed in his seat. The poor man was probably worried that I was going to laugh at him for telling such a sensitive story. Far from it. I was in total awe of this man. His story gave me goose bumps. Gary was a simple man, not someone given to eloquence. But he had such a great spirit about him! Gary got his greatest satisfaction from contributing to people's lives, be they friends or strangers.

The story about the distraught woman is not the kind of story you pass around. And it is definitely not the kind of story I would have included in any newsletter. But I have included it now because it shows what a huge heart this man had.

Gary was willing to help in any way he was asked to. In this way, Gary has become an inspiration to all of us. Besides the fact that the man was funny and friendly, his depth of character touched every single person he came into contact with here at the studio. It can't be difficult to see why we all love and admire this guy so much.

In addition to his devotion to helping people, we also admired Gary for his storybook romance to his dance studio sweetheart Tracy Kirkland.

True love doesn't come very often in this lifetime. True love is so rare that when you find it, you cherish it and you protect it with a passion. People know that when you lose someone you truly love, you may never get another chance.

Gary was one of the lucky ones. After his first wife died so tragically, he found that true love a second time with Tracy. Their love for each other gave the rest of us so much joy. I can't get the vision out of my mind just how happy they were on our Cruise Trip to Italy last summer. Gary and Tracy shared their honeymoon with us. Every night at dinner these two lovebirds sat at the table next to us. All night long I would hear Gary telling stories, drinking wine, laughing and being happier than any man on earth at that moment in time.

And gosh, the things they laughed about! You can't go to any museum in Rome or Athens without being confronted with some of the most graphic nud.ity imaginable. Gary was always surrounded by several women in our group. The expressions on the women's faces as they carefully studied these works of art caused Gary never-ending mirth. Then came the day when they came across some spot decorated with graphic pictures of men and women ... you know what I am talking about. That night at dinner I think Gary cried himself silly with laughter talking about the women's reactions.

And all the time while Gary laughed, Marla and I smiled at each other. We were so happy for Tracy and Gary. Their joy touched us so much.

Gary smiled from head to toe throughout that trip. He beamed with happiness. Gary was totally fulfilled. Watching Tracy and Gary together was a beautiful vision that I will cherish as long as I live.

And now Gary has been taken from all of us.

When I first learned of Gary's death, I thought about Kim and her three sisters. Oh no, this is déjà vu all over again. First their mother, now their father!

My heart goes out to those poor daughters. I would have to say these four girls are certainly no strangers to tragedy. Both of their parents died tragic deaths on two separate occasions. As young as these girls are, they certainly have seen far too much tragedy.

And my next thought went out to what effect Gary's loss would have on the studio. I mean, one hundred people from the studio came to the wedding just two months earlier. Gary's loss would hurt so many people. What about our Family here at SSQQ? We had lost a great friend.

Until now, SSQQ has been fortunate to largely avoid the dark specter of tragedy. But why did it have to be Gary? Why did Gary have to be the one we lost? Who can overlook the irony that our Circle of Kindness here at SSQQ had helped this man recover from his first tragedy only to lose him to another? It didn't seem right.

But most of all our hearts went out to Gary's sweetheart Tracy. For crying out loud, when he died, Gary was still enjoying his honeymoon! How ironic is it that I published his wedding story and his obituary in the same month of September?

This is the guy who was SSQQ's Cinderella Story. His entire romance was played out before our eyes. Gary met his future wife Tracy at SSQQ. Gary proposed to his wife Tracy on an SSQQ Cruise Trip. Gary had 100 friends from SSQQ at his July wedding. Gary and Tracy took their honeymoon on the SSQQ Cruise Trip to Italy just two months before his death.

Just Two months to celebrate a storybook romance. Now that isn't right, is it?

How rare is true love? How hard is it to find a person that you know you wish to share the rest of your life with? We all know how difficult it is to find love. So when it happens to two people we really care about, we all rejoice. The romance between Gary and Tracy was so special that it touched every one of us. Their joy became our joy. Every person at SSQQ who knew Gary and Tracy basked in the glow of their happiness together.

Then came the gut punch when we discovered our favorite fairy tale romance had ended after only two short months. Now that isn't right, is it? According to fairy tales, Gary and Tracy should have been allowed to live happily ever after. Yeah, happily ever after for two whole months. That isn't right at all.

Of all the countless people who have graced this studio with their presence, out of all these people, there was one man, one single man, who believed in this studio more than anyone else. This man was Gary Schweinle. Why should we have to lose our hero?

As for me, I can't turn sidewise without being reminded of Gary every single day of the week. Whenever I see a hat, I think of Gary. Whenever I hear of a new hurricane, I think of Gary. Whenever I look at SSQQ Halloween costumes, I think of Gary. Whenever I think about SSQQ cruise trips, I think of Gary. Whenever I add names to the SSQQ list of weddings, I think of Gary. Whenever someone asks if they can volunteer for a class here at SSQQ, I think of Gary.

The spirit of Gary Schweinle permeates every single corner of this studio. Of all the thousands of people who have passed through this studio, why did this tragedy have to take the single most popular student in the long history of SSQQ?

And that is why we call it tragedy. It is a Tragedy when we lose someone who is valuable. It is a Tragedy when we lose someone whose main purpose is the desire to contribute. It is a Tragedy when we lose someone who spreads warmth wherever they go. It is a Tragedy when a leader is taken from us.

Ironically, Gary came to SSQQ to try to recover from a Tragedy. And now he leaves us thanks to a Tragedy.

I will conclude now with a recent letter written to me by Gary's wife Tracy.

"Dear Rick and Marla, just got your recent newsletter,

Your story in the newsletter made me realize how often in life we take things for granted. I have been painfully aware of that fact ever since I lost Gary. Even though Gary and I were the "perfectly obnoxiously couple in love" as dubbed by our SSQQ family, I STILL wish I had told Gary how much I loved him more often. When your loved one is gone, you realize that you NEVER really tell them how much you love them as much as you should have. (And I told him I loved him a lot).

It just never seems like it was enough after they are gone.

Rick, that's why I need to tell you how much your newsletter (and the studio) means to all of us.
When Gary and I first started dating, he was actually on time.....I know that is hard for a lot of people to believe. Of course, I usually wasn't ready, so Gary would sit down at my computer and start reading the SSQQ newsletter.

Gary would holler to me what was going on at the studio, and before long, I was looking over his shoulder, with one boot on, and holding the other boot, reading it along with him. Of course, we were always late, but it wasn't always because of Gary. We simply blamed it on the newsletter.

Gary ALWAYS called SSQQ his extended family, and I felt that way too. Don't you remember all those years ago when I first started, and used to dance "right into the mirrors"? I was a mess, but I loved my time here.

All the friends that I have came from the studio. Let me repeat that: "All the friends that I have came from the studio."

When I first got divorced, I had absolutely no family here other than my children. My fellow SSQQ dance students became my Family, as the same thing happened for Gary.

Now I am proud to say that my family and his family have intermingled. I am blessed to have twice as many family members as I did before.

Rick, Gary and I have always thought of you as "The Godfather" of our family. (That was Gary's nickname for you) And Gary always loved to give you credit for his extended family. I know he wishes that he had told you that himself, he always said, "I need to let Rick know how much he has meant to me" when he talked about himself after his first wife died. But, I am finding out that when we are happy and everything is going right, that we don't let the people in our life know what they mean to us. It is the same way with the dance studio.

Losing Gary has really knocked the wind out of my sails. I have cried every day for the last 68 days, more than I have cried collectively my whole life. I didn't think that a person COULD cry that long, but I have found out it is possible. But, I have never experienced this kind of loss before......we were still on our honeymoon, for God's sake. You're not supposed to lose your husband on your honeymoon??!! We didn't even have time to start irritating each other yet!!!

Even though the outcome has been tragic, I still believe that it far outweighs the alternative. Because of SSQQ, I have had the "BEST" 4 years of my life with Gary. That's right; Gary gave me the Best Four Years of my life.

Without your studio, Otherwise, I would never have met Gary. And think of all the other people that have met each other because of your studio. If knowing now, that I would lose Gary in such a short period of time ... would I change anything? NO WAY..... It was SOOOOOO worth it. I loved him more than life itself, and I still do. I'll bet all the people from SSQQ that have met their special someone feel the same way.

I KNOW that there are FAR MANY MORE PEOPLE THAT LOVE YOU AND MARLA than you know. We are all just lazy, and forget that we NEED to let the people that we love and admire know just how we feel, and most of the time we don't until it is too late.

So please, from Gary and me, just know that we have always appreciated everything that you do for us. SSQQ just isn't a dance studio, it is FAMILY. I know we aren't the only people that feel that way. You and Marla are the patriarch and matriarch, and you should feel very proud to be the head of this HUGE family.

You and Marla are people that have flocked to me. It is because of your support, and the support of the SSQQ community, that I can go on in this horribleness.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, (and I know Gary's as well) . You and Marla mean an awful lot to ALL of us, even if we don't always show it.

Tracy Kirkland Schweinle"

Well, everyone that's the end of Tracy's letter, but we can't ever let this be the end of our memory of Gary Schweinle.

Gary will always be the man I think of when I wonder why the heck I ever put up with all the nonsense I complain about all the time. Why? Because this man inspires me. Thank you, Gary, for reminding me of the importance of helping other people.

Gary, my friend, my buddy, the guy that I called Mr. Hat, will always be my hero. He is the guy who taught me the importance of giving. RA

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