John and Maria Swann were the 18th residents of Comanche Trace. Seeking solace from the Houston suburbs after a career in oil and gas, the Swanns had several criteria that had to be met for their retirement location. Having traveled the world extensively, they knew exactly what they liked and what they didn’t. After a brief search, Comanche Trace was chosen, and the Swanns have never looked back. In fact, they have created a life full of adventure, travel, golf, and cars. And they’re just getting started.
Born in a tiny town just north of London, John knew immediately that he wanted to see the world. “My dad was in the shoe business. The town I grew up in was famous for boots and shoes, and sadly today, there isn’t a shoe factory there. We certainly weren’t wealthy, but we lived in a small village and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough when I got out of high school. It was a nice place but I wanted to see a bigger world.”
And his ticket out of his small town: rocks. “I was into rocks early on. Some of the oldest rocks in the world were in my area and it wasn’t unusual to find fossils and mammoth teeth and all sorts of stuff as kids. I had a Geography teacher who was so passionate about geology, and she really turned me on to it and earth sciences. So another kid and I at school asked if we could start a geology class at school. We had a class of 2 and the Biology teacher taught us.” And that same study of rocks and geology followed Swann into college. “I went to college in South Wales where I majored in geology and oceanography. I had no idea where I was going with that, other than I enjoyed them. In fact, at one point, two of us thought about just heading to the Southwest of England and opening a rock shop and that would be our career. Luckily, that didn’t pan out,” Swann laughs.
Upon graduation, Swann was ready to enter the workforce. Upon doing so, his dream of travel had begun. “When I left college, I took a job in the oil business not knowing what that was going to be about. I was offered a job in South Africa working in the gold fields. They had to get final approval from Cape Town to do the final paperwork so I had a few days to consider. Then I was offered a job in Singapore and they gave me 2 days to decide. I delayed as long as I could and I eventually took the Singapore job. The deciding factor was I was working in a factory and I asked these guys that worked with me what I should I do. And this old fella says ‘Singapore is a great place’. And I asked him ‘You’ve been?’ He politely said, ‘Yes, I was in their POW camps for 3 years’. I figured that if he could say something positive about the place after being a POW, then it must really be great."
Upon arriving in Singapore, Swann hit the ground running. “The job in Singapore was just doing geology all over Southeast Asia. And I will tell you that I exceeded my life goals right there because it was just so much fun. I was a consultant for an oil business and I would go out to work the oil rigs. Back then it would take 3 days sometimes to reach our destination and many places I was the first white guy they had seen since the Dutch had been there. But I was mainly analyzing the rocks that the rigs would bring up looking for traces of oil and gas.” And during his 4 years in Singapore, Swann met his wife, Maria. “Maria was between exams and she was working in a restaurant that I frequented.” After their marriage, it became time for them to move away, a decision that was both hard and easy on Maria. “It was tough leaving my family but I always wanted to travel. When I was in school I had 23 pen-pals and I always knew I wanted to see the world. In 1974 we moved away.”
And the two continued on to more exotic locations. With development on the North Sea in full swing, the young Swanns were sent to Scotland, and eventually to London. “The North Sea was starting to be developed, so they moved us to Dundee, Scotland for Conoco. We had a small work base there. It was cold and windy to say the least. We had our daughter Kristina there. Eventually we moved down to London to work at the Headquarters. The job was great but the commute was terrible. It was just awful. But I was fortunate enough to be given a job to help out by being an aide to a VP at Conoco. He was a great guy and it wasn’t long after that that we were headed to Norway via a promotion. We were put onto the international circuit. Sometimes it amazed me that people would pay me to do the work because it was just so much fun. Our son Adam was born in London so we were in Norway with two little kids. It was very cold but it was a great place for kids!”
With a young family they were proposed another move. It would be at the world headquarters in Houston. Having never been, the Swanns sought advice. “Everybody told me I had to take the job because it would be working at the world HQ. All the Americans were saying ‘You’ll hate Houston’. We agreed to go there for 18 months. And we really never left.” Maria adds, “We moved from the cold weather and when we arrived in Houston it was 82 degrees. I was happy right from the start!”
The oil business is constantly fraught with market turbulence, and Swann was acutely aware of this. “From 82 to 02 there was always the specter of when the next downturn was coming. When we first got to Houston, I was still on international projects, but in 84 or 85 I switched over to domestic projects. The US oil business had cut back so deeply that they didn’t have many folks with as much experience as I had. We just loved the US, and with my family in Europe, and Maria’s family in Singapore, it seemed like a natural thing to be somewhere different to make it fair on each of us. And with that, we decided that Houston would be home.”
From there, John spent the better part of the next 20 years working within the halls of Conoco’s World Headquarters. While his time spent in the jungles of Singapore or the rigs of the North Sea was over, the knowledge gained there was key to his career and his unique set of skills. “I was the Skills Manager for Conoco Worldwide. I managed their geosciences staff worldwide and was always trying to manage the careers of geologists all over the world and we had something like 500 geoscientists worldwide. I would try to develop their careers and make sure they had the training they needed and made sure that they progressed. Looking for oil is all about getting a new idea that works. So people have to have all sorts of models in their heads depending on where they are. I was in the North Sea and was then in North Dakota, and things work differently in each area. And that’s what I tried to help them with.”
Then, in 2002, the Swanns retired. While it wasn’t entirely expected, they knew that they wanted to make the most of retirement, and got started quickly. “We weren’t planning on retiring not quite that quick. Conoco and Phillips merged, and we took advantage of that to retire early. I read in a magazine that something like 75% of people say when I retire I’m going to the mountains or the beach or wherever and only 15% of them actually do. So we said we’re not going to be in that 15%. We put our house on the market the day we retired. It sold that day. We had no idea where we were going. Conoco used to own Purple Sage Ranch in Bandera, and I would come to Bandera and I thought it was beautiful. The night we sold the house we woke up at 3am and thought ‘what are we gonna do’. We thought about getting an RV and just exploring the US for 2 years. Or we thought about buying a home somewhere. We knew we liked it here in the Hill Country because of the climate. And we love golf. We wanted to live somewhere that had real people that were active. We wanted tennis. We wanted a good quality house that was small. That’s a lot to be looking for. A small house means lower cost sometimes, but we wanted a fine quality home. We saw an ad on the interstate leaving Houston that said LIVE HAPPY – COMANCHE TRACE. And it was the only place that fit our criteria. We certainly didn’t want to be in the big city anymore. When we got here there was only one home that fit our home criteria and with that, we moved in.”
Being relatively young retirees, the Swanns weren’t necessarily interested in slowing down. Instead, they wanted a community that was thriving and provided them the opportunity enjoy life in the Hill Country like none other. John explains, “I was only 54 when we retired, and we didn’t want to be in a retirement community because we weren’t that old yet. This has just been perfect.”
And in their new community, the Swanns have brought their passions with them. “We belong to the BMW car club and John is the Kerrville area rep for the Tejas Chapter of the BMW Car Club of America. Each year we've lived here we've organized car club events, and Comanche Trace has been the host location for our gatherings. We've had over 50 BMW's lined up on the golf-cart paths, the driving range, and the street outside the house for photo-opportunities, and our events have always included dinner and sunset views from the CT club-house. Just last week we hosted 70 car-club enthusiasts for a weekend of driving and gourmet eating.”
He continues, “The roads around Kerrville are some of the finest driving-roads in the nation. People often travel many miles to enjoy highways 335,336, and 337, which are less than an hour from our back-door. Now how cool is that? We've had car-club visitors from California and Oregon who came to Kerrville just to tryout those roads. The great thing is we always do one or two pre-drives of our club events, to make sure the roads are in good shape and to work on final details at the restaurants - and we often invite our Comanche Trace topless (convertible car enthusiast) neighbors to join us on these drives. Speaking of our topless car group, The Comanche Trace topless group is also gathering steam. Whenever the weather looks good, topless roadtrips are quickly organized (usually taking the long-way-round to one of the areas great restaurants). Texas wild-flower and fall-foliage seasons provide the perfect excuse for another road-trip. The number of soft-top cars in the neighborhood has grown noticeably.”
Having lived and traveled to many exotic locations, the Swanns make sure that they continue seeing the world. Both for simple pleasure, and also to see their families who remain back in Britain and Singapore. “We make two or three big trips each year. A visit to Maria's folks in Singapore will always involve side-trips to places like Bali, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, or even Australia and New Zealand. The last time we visited Australia we declined the direct 17- hour flight, and instead opted for the 31-hour route through Moscow and Singapore. Whatever it takes, to visit family. And avoid LAX.” Swann laughs.
“A visit to England is usually combined with a side-trip to Europe or Scandinavia. And often involves purchasing a European-Delivery car. It’s an opportunity to drive at triple digit speeds legally and we must be one of the few families to drive the famous Nurburgring racetrack in a Volvo sedan loaded with suit-cases!”
Avid golfers, car enthusiasts, world travelers, adventurers, and residents of Comanche Trace. While they remain active and enthusiastic about all that life has to offer, they also take time to look back and appreciate all they’ve been through together. Swann explains, “As late as college, one of my goals was that I just wanted a job that paid 1000£ a year, and I figured I would have everything I needed. That’s the equivalent to $40 a week. I figured that would be great. After 3 months I had exceeded that, so everything since then has been a wild ride. And we are so happy with where we are now.”