Fabric store

Val Swedberg, fabric store owner and beloved Byerlys Sample Lady, dies at 96

After Valborg Swedberg died on September 23 at age 96, his daughter Cindi Konitzer had a favorite photo of her mother enlarged.

It shows Swedberg in a dress she almost certainly made herself, holding a coffee pot and smiling. “To me, that’s the epitome of who she was,” Konitzer said. “She loved people, and here she serves people and wants to make them happy.”

Her “social butterfly” mother rarely visited anyone without something she had made by hand, Konitzer said. “Even the car dealership where she bought her vehicles, she always gave them cakes. For doctors, cakes. It was just everyone.

The Swedish immigrant, known as Val, has developed a reputation for kindness and generosity throughout her long and varied career. As a young adult, Swedberg worked as a tram driver in Stockholm; in the United States, she practically ran two elementary school kitchens on her own and then, after starting a tailoring business in her basement, opened fabric stores in Chaska and Excelsior. In her 70s, Swedberg has moved from fashion to food, with a part-time job handing out samples at Byerlys in Chanhassen. She finally retired at age 90.

“She was very ambitious,” recalls Swedberg’s other daughter, Sue Wendt. “There were times when I would talk to her at 8 a.m. and she had already made loaves of bread and mopped the kitchen floor. She had a lot of energy. »

A friend commenting on Swedberg’s online obituary echoed that sentiment: “He was such a vital, living person that I guess I thought he would go on forever.”

Swedberg was born in Sundsvall, Sweden, where as a young child she rowed across a river alone to get to school. She met her husband, Einar, at a ball. (They would cross-country ski to meet for dates.)

The couple came to America in 1948 and eventually settled in Rockford, Illinois. After their daughters were born, Swedberg dressed them in handmade clothes. She frequently sewed five matching dresses of varying sizes: for herself, her daughters, and their two dolls.

After moving to Minnesota, Swedberg met his longtime friend Sharon Eklund at an elementary school in Victoria where Swedberg ran the kitchen and offered her a job. She brought Eklund with her when she opened Val’s Fabrics. Swedberg’s workshops offered alterations and classes (“the only thing we didn’t sew in those classes were bras — otherwise we did everything,” Eklund said). Swedberg even convinced her husband to model in ads promoting the boutique’s menswear expertise.

After Swedberg left the fabric business, a group of friends from the store, nicknamed “Val’s Gals”, met monthly for decades. “She never met a stranger because the stranger became a friend,” Eklund said.

As her peers retired, Swedberg combined her love of cooking and being around people in a sample-lady gig. Her expertise in preparing fish has earned her the nickname “Salmon Queen”, although she is also well known for her annual tradition of recruiting two vans full of Byerlys to attend a nearby church’s Lutefisk supper.

Swedberg was also “the best grandma,” Wendt said, recalling that when her son was in college, Swedberg made him homemade frozen dinners wrapped in foil, sometimes 30 to 40 meals in a single batch.

She passed on many beloved Swedish recipes – pancakes, meatballs, Christmas cookies, princess pie – to be remembered by her family and friends.

In addition to her daughters, Swedberg is survived by two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. A memorial service will be held Oct. 12 at 11:30 a.m. at the Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Chanhassen.

Rachel Hutton612-673-4569