Longtime custodian of Orange County agriculture and butterfly enthusiast.
A "dyed-in-the-wool" Floridian . . . that's how Henry Swanson described himself. Florida born and raised . . . Swanson could never imagine living anywhere other than this beloved state. Born in West Palm Beach, raised in Eustis, educated in Gainesville, and settling in Winter Park . . . Swanson is 100% Floridian.
His love of agriculture developed as a child when he became involved in the 4-H activities in Lake County. Inspired by the County Agricultural Agent at that time, Swanson knew that he wanted to follow that same career path and he eventually become a County Agent as well. After attaining both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in agriculture, he started his career as an Assistant County Agent in charge of the Boy’s 4-H Club in Orange County. Over time, his role and titles changed, but the goals remained the same: Promoting the well-being of agriculture in Orange County and educating the public and politicians alike - at the county, state and federal levels - about Central Florida agriculture.
Swanson served Orange County for 30 years as an Orange County Extension Agent before he retired. One issue he felt passionately about was the danger of urban development and the resulting effects on the essential aquifers, urging that orange groves and farm lands be retained in order to re-charge the aquifers. He issued warnings of future water shortages and sinkhole development. He became known as the “Voice of Caution” and issued early warnings about the changes that would take place due to the explosive development and growth in Central Florida and an accompanying shift away from agriculture.
In April 1976 . . . just two years before his retirement, Swanson experienced something that changed his life. It was the arrival of a butterfly in his backyard that landed on his grandson’s head. Nine months later, another encounter with a similar butterfly led him to a decades-long fascination with these little creatures. He began to “train” the butterflies by offering them diluted honey on an out-stretched finger. These occurrences were daily events during the butterflies' mating season (from October through June), the butterflies arriving between 4:30pm - 5:30pm. Swanson started keeping a log of these butterfly visits, recording the date and time of the visits as well as their behavior and the weather conditions. He watched them age, their color changes, and the condition of their wings. These cherished interactions lasted until April 21, 2000, when Swanson left his long-time Winter Park home on Norfolk Avenue and moved to a retirement community. Swanson was inspired by these delicate visitors and felt that they became a source of wonderment and inspiration.
Swanson's experiences with butterflies can be read in two books that he penned: Butterfly Revelations, and 20 Years of Butterfly Revelations. Locally, he became known as "Mr. Butterfly."
This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.