BANGOR, Maine — Clara Swan weighed 1½ pounds when she was born.
The doctor who delivered the girl said she would not live a day.
He advised the first-time parents to put her in a shoe box. It could serve as a cradle and a coffin.
Swan celebrated her 100th birthday Saturday at Husson University. About 500 people, all of them younger than she is, attended a reception in her honor held in the Darling Atrium.
“My parents put me in that shoe box and they put me in the [wood-fueled] oven,” she said. “They tended to me day and night. When it got too hot for me inside, they’d put me up on the shelf above the stove.
“Then, when I got big and learned to walk, they had to tie me down,” Swan said as hundreds of well-wishers waited in line to greet her in the Atrium. “I kept trying to run off down the road.”
During the Depression, her family moved to Brewer. After graduating from high school, she went to see Chesley H. Husson, the head of the Maine School of Commerce, located in downtown Bangor.
“I earned my tuition grading papers and when I graduated, I owed the school $30,” Swan said Saturday.
She returned to the school six years later as a teacher. For the next 34 years she served the students of Husson in every way possible, according to Husson President Robert Clark.
On her way to becoming vice president, Swan served as director of the Secretarial Studies department, assistant principal, academic dean, registrar, corporate officer and assistant to the president. She also coached women’s basketball for 19 years.
“She was pretty much running the school when I was there,” Robert Duprey, 69, of Presque Isle, and a 1966 Husson graduate, said Saturday. “She was a student advocate before anyone came up with that term.”
Duprey, who taught business education at Caribou High School for more than 30 years, said he made several trips to Miss Swan’s office while a student.
“I’d cut a class once too often and a professor would drop me from a class,” he said. “So, I’d go see Miss Swan and tell her my story. She’d write a note to the professor and I get back in. We thought she liked boys more than she liked girls, but I just think that was because we got in trouble more often.”
Duprey said he and Swan share a birth date — April 28.
“She always reminds me that it’s not the same year,” he said.
Duprey’s experience was not unique, according to Clark. It is one of the reasons Husson continues to honor Swan.
“Clara has shown incredible dedication to the alumni and students of Husson University and to the greater community, and we are humbled and grateful that she is sharing this special day with us,” Clark said.
Swan said if she had not been at Husson on Saturday, she would have been home watching a Red Sox game.
“They’re 100 years old too,” she said.
Swan was valedictorian at Brewer High School in 1930 and at Husson College, then known as the Maine School of Commerce, in 1933.
In 1939, after teaching business classes at Mexico High School and Foxcroft Academy, she returned to Husson where she worked for 34 years, according to a previously published report.
Swan, whose duties at Husson included teaching physical education two mornings a week at the YMCA in downtown Bangor, said 10 years ago that calisthenics, balance beam exercises, tumbling, basketball and softball comprised most of the activities.
On her 90th birthday, Husson named its new fitness center after her. Even though Swan has never used any of the machines in the building, she still promotes physical fitness. Swan teaches an exercise class Friday mornings at the Roe Village in Hampden where she lives. She also attends every women’s basketball game at Husson.
Swan has been inducted into the Bangor Daily News Sports Hall of Fame, the Husson College Sports Hall of Fame and Maine Sports Legends Hall of Honors. She received the Maine High School Coaching Association Award in 1992 and was named outstanding business education teacher in the state by the University of Maine.
Beyond her work with the college, Swan has been a tireless volunteer with a number of area organizations. Among those organizations are RSVP, St. Joseph Hospital, Altrusa International, Epsilon Delta Alumnae, the Husson Alumni Board, Edith Dyer Library and the Eastern Area Agency on Aging.
On Saturday, May 5, she will be honored at commencement with the President’s Medal of Honor.