The Orange County Press Club posthumously honored local renowned newsman Fred Swegles with the 2023 Sky Dunlap Award during the organization’s Excellence in Journalism Awards Gala on Thursday, June 15.
Swegles died last October following complications from a brain tumor at age 74. In his more than 50-year career as a photojournalist, Swegles reported for the Daily Sun-Post and Orange County Register before becoming a columnist with the San Clemente Times.
The lifetime achievement award, named for the Globe owner and publisher John William “Sky” Dunlap, honors the lifetime achievement and community service of an Orange County journalist.
“Fred Swegles is an institution in Orange County journalism,” Daniel Langhorne, president of the Orange County Press Club, said in a media release. “His tireless efforts over five decades to cover his beloved hometown of San Clemente are a testament to the impact one journalist can have on their readers.”
“Our board’s decision to honor Fred was unanimous and we sincerely wish it had arrived before his passing,” Langhorne continued.
During the OC Press Club gala, Managing Editor for Picket Fence Media and OC Press Club Board member Shawn Raymundo shared memories of working with Swegles at the SC Times.
Each week Swegles would join staff meetings, eager to share a song or his “next great column,” Raymundo said.
“He always had a notepad full of story ideas and he’d go through all of them,” Raymundo said. “These were always so well thought out story ideas, so detailed and he always explained each pitch with such passion.”
Raymundo added that Swegles embodied the spirit of journalism, “which at the heart of it, is storytelling.”
“He was passionate about telling a good story and digging into all of the facts and all of the details until the very end,” Raymundo said. “Fred was a writer, a storyteller, a talented photographer, even a songwriter, a historian with a wealth of knowledge and a resource for all of us, a proud San Clementean, but above all, he was an inspiration to many of us.”
Orange County Register coastal reporter Laylan Connelly remarked that when she came across Swegles at the beach or in the community, she knew she would learn something new from the legendary news writer.
“You’d see that glimmer in his eye and excitement in his voice and you’d learn something from that conversation you were about to have from him, and I think a lot of people felt that way when they were in Fred’s presence,” Connelly said.
“We had a shared love and passion for beach culture,” Connelly continued. “We’d often chat down at the sand, his big camera lens pointed out to the ocean capturing every up-and-coming surfer who he highlighted in the newspaper, knowing that putting them in the spotlight might nudge them towards greatness.”
Connelly added that just the previous day, at a junior lifeguards event, she came across a woman with a 10-year-old newspaper that had a story written by Swegles.
“How many others still have articles written by Fred through the years, precious words and images captured, capturing pivotal moments in his town’s history?” Connelly said. “Fred was the town’s living encyclopedia and historian and a scholar and a friend to the entire town of San Clemente.”
While accepting the Sky Dunlap Award on Swegles’ behalf, Mike Chamberlin, Swegles’ longtime friend and brother-in-law, stated, “Fred’s up there working on deadline for ‘The Heavenly Times’ tonight.”