PORT BYRON — Just one day before a team of well-wishers was set to deliver a “dream vacation” to the Rev. Barbara Melaas-Swanson, the Lutheran minister died of cancer.
A six-person group of volunteers from the Dream Foundation was scheduled to visit the pastor’s home Thursday to deliver tickets and other gifts that would send her and her beloved family to Florida next week.
Melaas-Swanson, 51, died Wednesday at her home in Port Byron.
A mother of two, she and her husband, Wayne, have led Messiah Lutheran Church in Port Byron for 12 years. Their children are students in the Riverdale School District.
“She was like Mother Teresa to our church community. She meant so much to so many people,” said Ron Jacobs, who attends Messiah Lutheran and is the Riverdale schools superintendent.
Melaas-Swanson helped Liz Dragolovich find her way back to the Lutheran faith.
Dragolovich of Geneseo, Ill., is with Genentech Inc., a corporation that helps sponsor the Dream Foundation, based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Dragolovich and team leader Tom Rice, also with Genentech, had planned to visit the family’s home to give Melaas-Swanson package of gifts that included shirts, hats, tickets for Disney World, spending money and other goodies.
“It would have been beautiful if we could have delivered it to her,” Rice said.
Melaas-Swanson was “warm and accepting,” Dragolovich said. “She was the nicest person you’d ever meet.”
Melaas-Swanson also was an instructor at Augustana College in Rock Island. The Rev. Richard Priggie, a Lutheran minister and college chaplain, called her an asset to the school’s religion department.
“She was a fine scholar who approached scholarship from a pastor’s heart,” he said. For example, when teaching a class about religious symbols, Melaas-Swanson would take her students to Ascension Chapel on the campus.
Priggie called her a versatile teacher who was able to head up classes on Christian scripture as well as other world religions.
“She was able to do that in a fine, fine way,” he said.
Priggie described the devotion Melaas-Swanson showed her students, noting that in just the past few days, she was finishing the grading of 42 final papers from the past trimester.
“She was a counselor to all of us,” Jacobs said.
Visitation for Melaas-Swanson will be 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. today at Messiah Lutheran Church in Port Byron. Funeral services will be 10 a.m. Saturday at First Lutheran Church, Geneseo.