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Jean Sweeney Open Space Park Fund

Jean Sweeney's Obituary

Jean Sweeney Obituary

Jean Sweeney Passes Away

Written for Alameda Sun: Published: Monday, 05 December 2011 02:31 View Sun Article Here


Courtesy Sweeney Family

Jean Spencer Sweeney of Alameda died on Nov. 25, 2011. Sweeney was born in 1939 on the Northern Shoshoni Indian Reservation, near Owyhee, Nev. She was the second of five children. Her father, Charles Spencer, was a Bureau of Indian Affairs Reservation Superintendent.

She grew up on several Indian reservations including Fort Washakie, Wyo., Fort Yates, N. Dak. and Browning, Mont. She spent many carefree days horseback riding on the reservation. In high school she was known for her energy and outgoing personality. After completing 11th grade, she told her father she was not happy with the education she was getting in the public schools, so went to boarding school at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah, for her last year of high school.

While at University of Idaho in 1959, she met and married Jim Sweeney, a law student, and they honeymooned at the forest service lookout at Lake Coeur d'Alene, Ida. She earned a degree in elementary education in 1961. Jim became a lawyer for the Navy and they lived in Polson, Mont., Queens, NY, Coronado, Calif., Portsmouth, RI, Alameda, Seattle, then finally settled back in Alameda in 1980. She raised two daughters.

Sweeney was an elementary school teacher in Portsmouth, substituted in the public schools in Alameda for several years and also worked as a Montessori teacher in Alameda and San Leandro. When the Alameda Naval Air Station was still active she was a Navy Relief Society case worker who assisted Navy families in financial matters. In her later years, she was a member of the Alameda Rotary Club, the Humane Society of Alameda, the Alameda Historical Society, Veterans' Memorial Building Restoration Fund, and the Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board. She served on the city's Northern Waterfront Fund, helped write portions of the Alameda General Plan, and was on the board of the Alameda Community Fund. She researched, drafted and submitted the application which resulted in the Alameda Veterans' Memorial Building being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Her tireless work, sound opinions and can-do attitude made her an asset in many civic efforts.

She is best known for her work in obtaining the Alameda Belt Line property. Her extensive research revealed that the city could buy back the property from the railroad at its original low price. After seven years in the courts, the Alameda County Superior Court upheld her findings. She also spearheaded an initiative to have the Belt Line property zoning changed to open space. The Alameda City Council issued a proclamation that the open space eventually created from the Alameda Belt Line be named the "Jean Sweeney Open Space Preserve;" Nov 1 was Jean Sweeny Day in the city.

Outside of her civic interests, Sweeney had a passion for many activities such as hiking, backpacking, art, symphony, opera, theater, sailing, tennis and genealogy. She took some adventurous trips such as sailing on the Bounty ship for one leg of its reenactment journey across the South Pacific. She also participated in a cattle drive through California and Nevada. Sweeney was a friend to many, quietly helping out others. Whether it was grocery shopping for someone unable to do so or taking a sick person into her home, she was selfless in her compassion for others.

Sweeney is survived by her loving husband, Jim; daughters Kathleen Fahley of Renton, Washington, and Christine Ahrens of Los Alamos, New Mexico; grandchildren Michael and Shauna Fahley and Peter, Daniel, Connor and Tyler Ahrens; siblings Betty Keller, Chuck Spencer, Helen Spencer and Tom Spencer; nephews Nick Keller, David Keller and David Spencer and niece Michelle Reichers. Other survivers include sons-in-law Stephen Fahley and James Ahrens and sisters-in-law Linda Spencer and Alice Spencer.

A memorial service was held at the Alameda Elks Lodge, 2255 Santa Clara Ave., 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11. The family requestd donations could be made in her name to pancreatic cancer research at University of California San Francisco (www.makeagift.ucsf.edu/hospitals) or Heifer International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting world hunger through self-reliance (www.heifer.org).

In summary, Sweeney was truly a renaissance woman: teacher, researcher, activist, environmentalist, historian, philanthropist, adventurer, caregiver, mother, wife and friend.

(some updates have been made to Alameda Sun text)

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Published on:  Dec. 22, 2013