Anna Mae Swenson

The soloist: 104-year-old Anna Mae Swenson from Rhinebeck



Photograph by Jennifer May

One-hundred-four-year-old Anna Mae Swenson made her debut as a vocalist at the tender age of three. Over the next 101 years, her clear soprano gave the lifelong Dutchess County resident opportunities to perform at various events and church services — including the famous 1939 British monarchs’ visit to Hyde Park. “The Roosevelts wanted to be royal so they wore long dresses and formal clothes, but the royals wanted to be American so they wore short dresses and were less formal,” she remembers. But her singing was only a hobby as Swenson, who was married and widowed twice, forged a 46-year career in a Poughkeepsie bank. “I had a tough time as a woman there,” she says, noting that when she returned after her retirement a young female employee “told me I was a legend and that she wouldn’t have her job if I hadn’t fought for the gals.” Following her retirement, Swenson set out and saw the world. “I sold 10 acres of land and away I went to Europe, Morocco, Russia, and the whole Orient.” Swenson, who now resides in a Rhinebeck assisted-living home, tries to ride 10 miles a day on her exercise bike, on which she has logged 75,000 miles since she turned 80. She credits her positive attitude as the secret to her long life. “I tell people when something happens you can be defeated or you can stand up to it,” she says. “And then people here tell me, ‘When I grow up I want to be just like you.’ They’re all 89 years old.”

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