San Benito Lifestyle

Swank Farms memorializes new barn

Event center stands as a tribute to the spirit of Bonnie Swank.

Family and friends gathered at Swank Farms in Hollister on March 28 to celebrate the life of Bonnie Swank and dedicate a new barn to her memory. Swank died on Jan. 27 at age 68, just prior to its completion.

Built at an estimated cost of $1.5 million and five years in the making, the barn will be used as a year-round events center. A plaque outside reads “Bonnie’s Dream, for your dreams to come true.”

Photo by Robert Eliason.
Photo by Robert Eliason.

“I am looking out over all the smiling faces,” said husband Dick Swank, speaking to the attendees. “This is a hard day, but Bonnie’s dream has come true and it couldn’t be better. This building will live a lot longer than all of us and I want to thank everybody who made it possible.”

Families sat at socially distanced tables inside and outside of the barn. Bonnie’s mother, Marian Hanner, her sons Andrew and Joey Kistler, and her grandchildren were all present, as well as friends of the family, business associates, and people involved in the planning and building of the barn. 

Bonnie's mother, Marian Hanner, and Jan McCleery. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Bonnie’s mother, Marian Hanner, and Jan McCleery. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Intended for weddings, markets, and community events, the memorial was the first gathering of people at Swank Farms since last fall’s corn maze and You-Pick Sunflower Field.

Ron Brodie worked with Bonnie from the earliest stages of planning the barn and described the experience.

“Bonnie told me she wanted to build a barn and she asked me what I thought,” he said. “She said, ‘What do you think it is going to take to build it?’ And I told her, ‘I think it is going to take a lot of money but it is going to be a really great adventure.’ We started to create it and it was a wonderful experience working with her. Everything you see here is her creation.”

Second floor of Bonnie's Barn. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Second floor of Bonnie’s Barn. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Construction on the building halted after pandemic restrictions were in place, which were later lifted. Brodie said at one point the Swanks appealed the shutdown because the wood for the barn was in danger of being damaged by exposure to the elements.

While the barn was unfinished at the time of Bonnie’s death, she had the opportunity to stage a mock wedding at the site as an aid to the final stages of planning.

Photo of Bonnie and Dick Swank with grandchildren. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Photo of Bonnie and Dick Swank with grandchildren. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Hanner got her first view of the finished building at the March 28 memorial.

“Looking at it and thinking about her makes me tear up,” she said. “She was such a wonderful part of my life, with her and watching her kids grow up. It is a nice memorial to her. It is a beautiful job and is going to give the community a great place to gather.”

Longtime friend J. C. Myers, co-owner of Fresh Alliance Produce, attended with his family and offered his tribute to Bonnie’s spirit. 

“I watched the planning of this barn, this dream, as Bonnie and Dick were thinking it through for the last five years,” Myers said. “Bonnie had the energy and the creativity—sparks were always flying. I got to watch it come to fruition, and as I am looking around now, all I see is Bonnie. It is a beautiful thing.”

Two weddings are already booked for the site. Dick joked that the farm needed to book a wedding every weekend to pay for it. But his pride in the barn and in his wife’s vision could not be plainer.

“I don’t think we could have had a better memorial to Bonnie,” he said. “It is her, and she will live forever.”

At the entrance to the barn. Photo by Robert Eliason.
At the entrance to the barn. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Other related BenitoLink articles:

Bonnie Swank: In memoriam 

Swank Farms opens for fall fun


BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.

Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.