Dolores Swartworth, longtime Northside activist and resident of Fineview, died on May 24. In her 88 years, she was a dedicated volunteer, community activist, and spiritual inspiration.

By Amanda Andrews

Photos courtesy of the Northside Leadership Conference

It was finally here. Time for the ribbon-cutting event: a celebration for all of those invested in the Nunnery Hill housing development on Meadville Street in the Northside’s Fineview neighborhood. Leading up to it, longtime Fineview resident Dolores Swartworth had been so excited to unveil the project that she promised Executive Director of the Northside Leadership Conference (NSLC), Mark Fatla, that she’d be “so happy when this is done I’ll want to dance my tail off,” Fatla remembered. He held her to it. On the day of the ribbon-cutting, despite being nearly in her 80s, Swartworth danced in her clogs on a plywood plank.

That was around 10 years ago. Swartworth was 88 years old when she unexpectedly died on May 24.

Fatla described Swartworth as a “little dynamo… a tiny thing.” And yet, through her work, she made her presence known in the Northside community.

Swartworth with Janet Mundy, fellow Fineview resident and Block Watch Captain.

“I’ve always said that the Northside is different. We don’t hide our characters on the back porch, we put them on the front porch,” said Fatla. “Dolores insisted on being on the front porch, and she was a character.”

Full of life and a drive to help others, she spent her 88 years in Fineview actively making changes. She was part of a “neighborhood with many dedicated volunteers,” according to Patricia Buck, 2013 NSLC Lifetime Achievement Awardee and collaborator with the Fineview Citizens Council (FCC.)

“She was a good woman,” said Buck. “She kept her eyes open…[and] worked with other volunteers in Fineview.”

Swartworth was born on August 9, 1930 in Fineview. She grew up with a large family and went on to have 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren of her own:

“Dolores was your prototypical Northside housewife until she became a community activist and city-wide figure,” said Fatla.

Involved in a great number of organizations, Swartworth served on the Democratic Committee in her ward, was a member of the NeighborWorks Board of Directors and the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) for over 20 years, was a founding member of FCC, and volunteered with the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education, Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), Northside Health Improvement Partnership (NSHIP), and the Boy Scouts of America for 50 years.

Her constant service went beyond community activism. She was a member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court Allegheny #664 and was named its regent within the last year. A passionate member of St. Peter’s Church on the Northside, Swartworth was a lecturer at Sunday mass and attended funerals for the deceased whether or not she actually knew them personally with a group of other parishioners called the Arimathians.
“St. Peter’s Church was her life. She did everything she could for that church,” said Rose McMahon, one of Swartworth’s daughters.

A Secretary of the Catholic Daughters, Christine Bell, was a personal friend of Swartworth’s.

“I know a lot of elderly people, but I have never known a person who was so positive and upbeat as Dolores,” said Bell. “She was a tremendous spiritual inspiration to me and the Catholic community.”

In her lifetime, Swartworth’s efforts were highly recognized. She received the PCRG Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, an Outstanding Leadership Award in 2004, the Dorothy Richardson Award in 2010, and both a Lifetime Achievement Award from NSLC and a Proclamation from Allegheny County Council in 2011.

When the last of the Nunnery Hill houses in Fineview were complete, Swartworth fulfilled her promise to “dance her tail off.”

In her spare time, Swartworth exercised the tap dancing skills she learned when she was 16. She tap danced into her 80s with the Saint Theresa Dancers, a group of seniors that danced in local nursing homes. She even contributed to the first 16-page issue of The Northside Chronicle.

Nothing can encapsulate Swartworth, however, more than her own words:

“I think I was put on this earth to serve other people. I think that’s why the Lord put me here. And as long as he’s on my side and he lets me do it, I will volunteer. I’ll volunteer anywhere.”