Tonette "Toni" Swiggum, dance and skating instructor, dies at 80
By Nicole Norfleet
Star Tribune MARCH 20, 2019 — 9:48PM
Tonette "Toni" Swiggum taught young girls how to move nearly all her life.
From her early days as a dance instructor to her time leading the St. Louis Park Parkettes and synchronized skating teams that performed overseas, Swiggum was an energetic instructor who never appeared to get angry and always tried to make her students' experiences worthwhile.
Swiggum, 80, died March 14 after years of battling Alzheimer's disease. "She just led a life that influenced so many people and she had so many talents," said her husband, Bob.
Swiggum was born Feb. 18, 1939, in St. Cloud. Her father was athletic director at St. Cloud State University. While in middle school, Swiggum began teaching tap and ballet to children on the weekends.
At St. Cloud Tech High, Swiggum was a cheerleader and swimmer on the school team. While still in high school, Swiggum also met Bob, who would later become her husband of 58 years.
Swiggum attended Butler University to study dance and music for a year before transferring to St. Cloud State. During the summer of her college years, Swiggum would swim with the Aqua Follies synchronized swim group at the Minneapolis Aquatennial and festivities in Seattle.
After she got married in July 1960, Swiggum started teaching middle school physical education at West Junior High School in Richfield before starting a family.
In 1971, Swiggum was selected as the director and choreographer for the St. Louis Park Parkettes, which had grown from performing as the cheer squad at Park High basketball games and community events to dancing at the Lakers professional basketball games (until the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960) and dancing as the official cheerleaders for the recently formed Minnesota Vikings until 1984.
According to the Parkettes website, Swiggum was said to be "a pert, tiny wisp of energy who could pass for one of the Parkettes herself." The Parkettes mostly had a "girl next door" image at the Vikings games, performing during the game and for halftime shows and traveling for the Vikings' Super Bowl berths. The Parkettes also traveled around the world to places like Panama, Venezuela and Mexico. Swiggum directed the Parkettes for about 14 years before she became a professional ice-skating instructor at Braemar Arena in Edina. She would teach lessons at the arena for about 30 years.
In addition to teaching private lessons, Swiggum became the head coach of the Braemarettes (which was later known as Team Braemar), a precision ice-skating team made up of high school aged girls which went on to win numerous honors and would represent the United States in international competitions.
Her daughter Pam May, who had been on the team, worked as an instructor for the group as well and later become the head coach with Swiggum as her assistant.
"She always liked to give the kids opportunities and memories," May said. "It didn't matter how good they were, she gave everyone a chance."
Toni Swiggum had a lasting influence on her daughter Pam, who travels regularly in her job as a coach for the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team in New York.
"Just being a teacher more than anything, she just gave me the love to help children," May said.
Swiggum is survived by her husband, Bob; children Lisa Finkel, Pam May, Jay Swiggum, Nikki Cloutier and Mark Swiggum; brother Jim Colletti, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A celebration service will be held for Swiggum at 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, at the Cremation Society of Minnesota in Edina.
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