Max Swenson remembered for sense of humor, enthusiasm

By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Posted 6/16/15

Max G. Swenson was a selfless listener with a ribbing sense of humor, a social butterfly with an affinity for sports and undying enthusiasm for life.

He wasn't, however, a strong swimmer.

The …

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Max Swenson remembered for sense of humor, enthusiasm


Max G. Swenson was a selfless listener with a ribbing sense of humor, a social butterfly with an affinity for sports and undying enthusiasm for life.

He wasn't, however, a strong swimmer.

The 2014 Chimacum High School graduate drowned Sunday, June 14 while swimming in Sandy Shore Lake south of State Route 104 in East Jefferson County.

Swenson, 18, of Port Hadlock was discovered by divers and pronounced dead some three hours after witnesses on shore first heard him yelling and saw him disappear into the lake's murky waters at about 5:30 p.m., June 14.

Swenson, who would have turned 19 on June 20, had recently completed his freshman year Washington State University, where he was a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 23 at the Chimacum High School gymnasium.

“When I got out there and saw how far out they were looking for him, the first thing that came to my mind was 'Max, what were you thinking?'” said Randy Swenson, Max's father. “I don't know why he was so far out there. Max wasn't a strong swimmer and he shouldn't have been out that far.”

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived on the scene about 10 minutes after the initial 911 call and swam to the area where on-shore witnesses last saw Swenson.

A couple of witnesses had attempted to free dive to find Swenson before a uniformed deputy dove in to do the same, but low visibility in the water made initial searching unsuccessful.

A boat and several divers were summoned. Crews from Brinnon and Port Ludlow fire districts responded, as well as volunteer divers from Port Hadlock's Lobo Del Mar family, many members of which have extensive diving experience and often work with local sheriff and fire crews through Vessel Assist on salvage and rescue efforts.

“It wasn't great conditions,” said Eric Panzer, who arrived at the scene at about 8:30 p.m. with fellow diver Bart Buntin. “Sadly, I was the one to find him after about two minutes of looking. He was in 32 feet of water. It was dark, so I would not have had any luck without a flashlight. It was almost 60 degrees down there, which is warm. Three hours is a long time, but when it's real cold water, that can actually improve the chances of survival.”

Panzer said Swenson was found at least 200 feet from shore. He said witnesses reported Swenson had been swimming at the lake with a group of friends near the lake's road-access area, and had apparently set off to swim across the lake.

“In that situation, it's easy to take a breath and get a mouthful of water,” Panzer said. “The more you panic, the easier it is to take in more water.”

Sandy Shore Lake is a popular freshwater-trout fishing spot and swimming hole on land managed by Olympic Resource Management, a Pope Resources company. It is located south of State Route 104 and accessed via a gravel road. There is no dock or boat launch, and no other improved facilities.

Earlier that day, Max had returned home from working his summer job at the Chimacum Corner Farmstand when his father asked if he wanted to join him for a picnic. Max declined and soon after decided to go swimming with friends.

At about 6:15 p.m., Max's father learned his son had disappeared under the water when a friend of Max's came to the door. Mr. Swenson and Max's friend then drove to the lake.

“I think the word had spread pretty quickly because some of his friends had started to gather,” Randy Swenson said.

Mr. Swenson called Max's mother, Jacqueline Carpenter, several times before she called back just after 7:30 p.m.

“It was the worst phone call I've had in my lifetime,” said Carpenter. “I thought he was joking with me. He said Max drowned and I said that's not funny and he said why would I joke about something like that. We've been in a tailspin mentally and emotionally ever since.”

In his first year at WSU, Max joined a new fraternity. His father said Max was looking forward to his fraternity getting a house on the school's Greek Row.

“One reason he had joined the fraternity was for networking,” said Swenson, adding that Max enjoyed doing community service projects with his fraternity brothers. “Max was really working on that angle to increase his network for later in life.”

Max's fraternity brothers posted a video in his memory on Facebook along with a message.

“Max was always a easygoing, creative, and carefree person who kept his childhood friends closest to his heart,” the message read, in part. “He always reminded all those around him to embrace what it means to be young. He was always one who would drop anything he was doing to help out his friends. Max was always an insanely goofy guy who always did what made him and those around him laugh.”

It's no surprise to his father why Max had decided to pursue a sports management degree.

“He fell in love with sports at an early age,” said Swenson, who pointed out Max still wasn't the most athletic young man. “Last week Max said to me 'Why didn't you sign me up for Little League baseball?' Well, Max wore glasses from the age of 3, so I said 'Max, the last thing you needed was a fast ball coming at your face.'”

Max played varsity soccer during his junior and senior years. For his senior project, Max coached basketball for children through Jefferson County's Parks and Recreation league.

While in high school, Max could be found shooting hoops at H.J. Carroll Park or hiking on Mt. Townsend with friends. When he wasn't outside playing sports, he could be found playing video games.

Swenson said he and Max were always joking with each other and talking about sports.

“In many ways he was a very quiet, reserved person, but there was this other side of him,” Swenson said. “He and I would rib each other, kind of shucking and jiving, as we called it. We were even slightly competitive in all the things we'd do. We were always making little imaginary jokes.”

Carpenter, who has three other adult children, said Max was both a selfless, kind listener and a comedian.

“A lot of his disposition was quiet,” she said. “But he also reminded me of a cross between a Jim Carrey, a Rodney Dangerfield and a James Brown. He enjoyed creating laughter for others.”

Max is survived by both of his parents, as well as his three older siblings – Josiah Pauletti, 29, Justin Pauletti, 27, and Jasmine Simpson, 24.

“It has been extremely difficult to come to terms with,” Simpson said from her home in Edmonds. “It's still such a shock to me. He and I were really good buddies. It's kind of double loss for me because I lost my brother and my friend. I'm trying to celebrate his life and stay positive, but it's not easy.”

(The first version of this story appeared June 15 on


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