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Through his camera lens, Jack Swenningsen captured Florida's charm for decades

ST. PETERSBURG — For decades, Jack Swenningsen traveled Florida and captured the state's charms with his camera, taking photos of the beaches and smiling sunbathers that graced the pages of advertising brochures and magazines.

In St. Petersburg, he photographed the Million Dollar Pier and created the iconic "Mr. Sun" logo. The round, smiling face is still a fixture of the city.

"We've always kidded Jack that he's responsible for all the traffic in St. Petersburg," said Lenny Feldmann, Mr. Swenningsen's longtime friend. "People came down here because they saw his wonderful pictures."

Mr. Swenningsen, a longtime advertising photographer and accordionist, died Saturday after complications from a fall in his St. Petersburg bungalow last week. He was 100.

His daughter, Jaclyn Swenningsen, was by his side. She lived next to her father's home and looked after him after her mother died in 2013.

"He was gone in 48 hours," she said. "I think he was ready, and I really think it was meant to be."

Mr. Swenningsen was born in Denmark in 1916, and immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was a child. He lived in New York City and married his wife, Amelia, before he was drafted during World War II into the Army infantry and sent to northeast Italy in 1945.

When he returned, Mr. Swenningsen, his wife, and their two children moved from Brooklyn to St. Petersburg in 1948 and settled in a bungalow, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He spent the next several decades traveling the state with his camera. Among his photographs are black-and-white pictures of couples fishing on canoes or water skiing. He made the 6-foot wide "Mr. Sun" logo out of plywood and featured it in his photos of St. Petersburg. His daughter often modeled in his photos as well.

Besides photography, Mr. Swenningsen was also an avid accordion player. He loved remote-control airplanes. Jaclyn remembers that at one point, he taught his cat several dog tricks.

"He just was a man of wonderful hobbies," she said. "Papa was a little bit of a character."

Feldmann met Mr. Swenningsen when they both joined the Tampa Bay Harmonica Club in the late 1980s. Feldmann, he later learned, was born a day before Mr. Swenningson's son, who died in his 30s, years earlier.

"We developed a very close bond . . . he became my second father," said Feldmann . Feldmann and Mr. Swenningsen traveled the country and played shows together for years.

Mr. Swenningsen and his wife, Amelia, loved to travel, taking trips to Europe, Alaska, and the Smoky Mountains. After 72 years of marriage, Amelia died in 2013.

For his 100th birthday last September, he gathered with loved ones at downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus. Several friends showed up with accordions and played.

"He was very happy, smiling. He was up and about. He drank a nice glass of beer," said Feldmann, who lives in New York.

Mr. Swenningsen will be cremated and honored by family and friends at a small memorial.

"He had a great run, I tell you," Feldmann said. "Not too many of us get that long of a life."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.

Through his camera lens, Jack Swenningsen captured Florida's charm for decades 06/04/17 [Last modified: Sunday, June 4, 2017 10:35am]
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