VERONA - Sandy Schwab passed away surrounded by her loving family at Agrace HospiceCare on Friday, June 4, 2021. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late April, and the disease progressed rapidly. Sandy touched the lives of so many in her short period on earth and will be greatly missed by all of them.
Sandy grew up in the U.P., where she developed a love for nature and the outdoors. She moved to Wisconsin to start her career.
After a successful career as a clinical research coordinator in the department of radiology at UW Hospital, she embarked in an active retirement that never slowed down. This included becoming a wildlife rehabilitator at Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center. While there, she developed an interest and expertise in Chimney Swifts and started the Chimney Swift Working Group with a few other enthusiasts. That group is dedicated to increasing awareness and habitat restoration of this interesting migratory insectivore.
Her other interests included spending time with her five wonderful grandchildren, followed by gardening around the home, bicycling, walking, traveling, camping, canoeing, and meeting new and interesting friends. Those include friends from book club, birdwatching, mahjong, yoga, fellow horse lovers, fellow musicians, and more.
Sandy will be greatly missed by so many, including her husband, Tom; daughters, Ali Fuller (Mike) and Jenna Hall (Matt); grandchildren, William, James, Jaxon, Davis, and Jocelyn; and stepdaughters, Maimoona Bowcock (Ryan) and Lauren Schwab (Jon). She will also be greatly missed by Sam, the wire fox terrier, her constant companion.
Sandy was a calming presence and possessed an aura of positivity and caring. Everyone who ever met Sandy will remember her sunny outlook, her kindness, love for animals, zest for life, desire to learn new things, sense of humor, and ability to connect with and make new friends while holding onto wonderful older friends. She was one of a kind.
She was preceded in death by her first husband, William Fuller; and parents, James and Francis Hofbauer.
A celebration of life will be held at HOLY WISDOM MONASTERY, 4200 County Road M, Middleton, WI, on Friday, June 25 from noon to 4 p.m. If so desired, donations may be made to the charity of your choice, the Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center, or the UW Carbone Cancer Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research in Sandy's name. Thank you.
Remember to live every day to its fullest.
Dear Tom and family,
I can't begin to tell you how shocked and saddened I am by Sandy's sudden passing.
I worked with Sandy on the chimney swift working group; she was the heart and soul of our group. My fondest memory of Sandy was how she and I had a running joke about how she would "bribe" me to come to the meetings with her homemade cookies and other delicious baked goods.
Thank you, Sandy, for being a kind, thoughtful, and gentle heart -- a ray of light -- in an increasingly difficult world.
Dear Tom and all the family and Sam. We were all blessed to have Sandy in our lives. Sam, when you have to go I'll bet Sandy will be watching for you. There are so many beautiful times spent with Tom and Sandy, hiking in Glacier, playing Irish music in the airport, camping, eating meat pies in Cape Breton, painting the porch roof on Washington Island, being docents at the lighthouse, sharing grandparent stories. Deep friendships are few and far between. I am thankful for ours and send love to all the family who I know will miss you Sandy, each moment as will I. .
I trained with and worked with Sandy and the birds at the wildlife center and had such a great time with her! I heard a lot about her family and grandkids that she loved so much. I know I would not have tried raptors without her encouragement and then got to partner up with her to take care of them. I’ll always remember Sandy talking about I think her dad or grandad was a butcher and then she’d fiercely chop up raptor food. Also how amazing to watch her net an owl or hawk. I asked her if her grandkids knew how bad a## their nana is! I am truly saddened that you will not be there on Wednesday mornings. I will miss you friend.
It’s a sad truth that you form most of your close relationships when you’re young. By middle and old age, you maintain your relationships with your family and old friends, but it’s rare that a new strong bond forms.
It feels inevitable that Sandy and I would have met eventually. We had so many of the same interests, and she lived in my husband’s great uncle’s house!
And we did finally meet just over 10 years ago. We were both new volunteers at the wildlife center. We were learning the ropes and becoming competent working with a variety of animals.
Then we received a nest full of young chimney swifts. We don’t see a lot of those at the center, and their care, environment and needs are unique. We bonded over our painstaking and not-very-successful attempts to feed them.
I walked away thinking, “well that was hard,” where Sandy walked away and embarked on a research project that ended up making her not only a passionate chimney swift advocate, but a respected expert on the species in the state of Wisconsin. That’s Sandy.
My friendship with Sandy grew from there. She’s about 10 years older than me, but that’s another benefit to later-in-life friendships, the decades don’t matter so much. We spent time together, volunteering at the center (there was our memorable encounter with the bobcat, but that’s another story I’d be happy to tell), long lunches after our shift, gardening, cross-country skiing and biking. We never did make our 2,000 miles in one year.
When we rode bikes, Sandy would start from Verona, I’d start from Madison and we would ride toward each other and meet on the Military Ridge trail. We’d start waving wildly from a quarter mile away. There were times that I waved wildly only to someone else, say, a surprised man with a long gray beard. I never told Sandy that.
We exchanged recipes and containers of soup, and called each other “soup sister.” She took care of our cat Gizmo when we were away and is known as “Aunt Sandy” at our house. Our husbands hit it off (yay!) so we enjoyed Friday Fish Frys together.
We faced life and death together in our volunteer work, and in our personal lives. We both lost beloved pets, Sandy’s Gilda and my Cleo. She referred to death as crossing the rainbow bridge. I was not familiar with that expression, but loved the visual.
The day she told me about her diagnosis, we talked on the phone for two hours, even though we would see each other later that day. When Sandy and Tom arrived at my house, I held both of their hands and looked them in the eye and said I was on their team and we were going to fight this together. I was still getting ready and strapping on my armor and she was already gone. The speed with which the disease took her was shocking, but I am grateful that she did not have to suffer any longer.
In one of our long talks after her diagnosis, Sandy must have been in the Kubler-Ross anger phase and was lamenting that she did not deserve this. She lived a good life, exercised, at healthy foods and was a good person. I agreed with all of that and added, “and you are someone who truly loves life and appreciates every moment.”
To my surprise, she replied that she wasn’t always that way. That she had worked hard and made a conscious decision to love life. That was a very big aha to me.
During her lovely celebration of life, I was think about what Sandy would want for all of us on that day.
She would not have liked being the center of attention. I’m sure she would enjoy hearing the nice things people are saying, but she would expect more. She would want to know that she had left a legacy and changed our lives for the better.
So here are some of the top things that I learned from Sandy Schwab:
Listen without fixing. When I had a problem, Sandy always gently stood by my side and supported me while I figured it out.
Be sincere - nothing got under Sandy’s skin more than false displays of sincerity. She simply didn’t have time for it.
This may sound inconsistent, but with being sincere, but Sandy taught me to smile even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll feel better. No one knows why exactly, it just works.
Stand up for those who have no voice - from people to chimney swifts, she was fearless.
Make a conscious decision to love life. Sandy has given us a gift - a very big reminder that we are only here for a short time. She would want us to make the most of it. To love each other fiercely with sincerity.
A friend recently gave me a weathergram to remember Sandy. It is meant to hang outside and let nature “weather” it. It’s a quote by Robert Lewis Stevenson that says, “Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in time of sorrow.”
Thank you, Sandy.
Your Soup Making, Bike Riding, Trail Walking, Gardening, Animal Loving friend -
I am sorry for your tragic loss, Tom. I hope you will soon be basking in good memories of Sandy. My sincere condolences to you and the family.
Sandy, I'm going to miss you. I'm going to miss your bright and happy face, your wonderful laugh, and your boundless enthusiasm for birds. I can't tell you how many times I looked up to you at the Wildlife Center, even though I was a staff person. I thought of you more as a mentor throughout this last decade of my career rather than a volunteer who randomly came to help. You knew so much about songbirds, especially swifts, and I relied on your help often to train other people - showing them your expertise on how to care for them. It's amazing what you can learn from other people, and I learned so much from you. You were always so patient and thorough, and you were creative in finding ways to improve the process. Every person you worked with had nothing but positive things to say about you. It's your type of dedication and love for wildlife that keeps me going, knowing that there are always going to be good people out there in the world who want to help animals, just like you. Thank you for every bird that you fed, rehabilitated or released, for every person that you taught, and for every project you completed to help wildlife in our community. Thank you for every piece of cloth that you sewed, whether it was a cage cover or a bird net, or for every chimney swift transport to a different wildlife center in Wisconsin, or for every reuniting attempt that you tried. You're one of my favorite people in this world, especially as a volunteer even though I can't pick favorites, and I'm glad that I was even able to call you family for a short time. I hope you are in peace, not in pain, and somewhere where birds fly free.
I'll finish by sharing my favorite memory of working with you at the Wildlife Center. One day, someone called about some chimney swifts that had gotten into their living room. It was an adult and one of the babies, but the rest of the babies were still in the nest. They had no idea where they came from, but it was pretty obvious to us that they must have come from the chimney for the rest of the babies were chattering. They didn't know what to do with them, so they were brought in for an evaluation. They were healthy, but they weren't able to get back to where they came from. I couldn't think of anyone else to call except for you, Sandy, and thought heck - let's try to reunite these birds, even though I've never tried something like that myself. You were there within an hour, willing to help me with my makeshift, bent broom and listen to my crazy reuniting strategy, and you were willing to go with me to the person's house to try putting this adult and it's little one back. It was a success in the end, after much troubleshooting and assessing, and you were even willing to stick around the whole rest of the day to make sure that the mom came back and forth to enter that chimney. It worked and I still can't believe it. I also can't think of anyone more dedicated to have done something like that with me, and I feel lucky to have been there on that day with someone like you. I'll never forget it, and so, your memory will continue on in the spirit of every swift I see.
Sandy, I can hardly believe you’re gone, it’s a surreal feeling that I won’t see you anymore, we were new friends but we were good friends, thank you for being my friend. I’ll l always have the memories of our adventures in India, I miss you very much , Rest in peace my dear friend.❤️🙏🏻❤️ Karen
Dear Ali and Jenna,
I couldn't believe when I read about your mother's death in the paper. I had no idea she was ill and I just talked to her in the early spring after a zoom meeting. She was always such a special parent when I had the two of you in school. So supportive of teachers. Her calm, soft-spoken manner was always appreciated. I am so very sorry for your loss. The Verona community will miss her presence. She was always involved in community developments. Sending hugs, prayers and thoughts your way. God bless.
Sandy was a beautiful person and all of us in her LitSee Book Club will miss her greatly. We will continue to recognize your presence as we lift our hand painted wine glasses up to include you. Hugs Dear Friend....
I am a friend of Sandy's from the UW. We began as work colleagues and quickly became friends. She was always there to help and support, working through difficult situations together and celebrating our achievements. Her positive attitude helped all of us make the best of every moment. This strong, vibrant, powerful soul has left this world to take on a new life. Until we meet again dear friend, peace to you.
I got to know Sandy when she and I were volunteers at the Dane County Wildlife Center. Sandy had a smile and kind words for everyone and was willing to help new volunteers learn the ropes. She would always stop by the reception area when I was there to share stories and laughs. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her. I am so very sorry that Sandy's live was cut so short. My thoughts are with her family and friends.
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Middleton, Wisconsin 53562