Editor’s note: The Evanston RoundTable is pleased to present “They Do,” a glimpse into the love stories and commitment celebrations of local readers and their relatives. Getting married? We want to hear all about your love story and share it with the community. This is a free service of storytelling by the RoundTable.
Long before their first aquatic encounter in the winter of 2015, Tommy Keefe knew who Evan Swenson was. In the tight-knit North Shore swimming community, the 5-foot-11-inch All-American athlete from the University of Southern California was something of a celebrity. “She was a state champion,” Keefe said, “and she was fast. When you’re that good, everyone knows who you are.”
Keefe, who swam for Iona University in New York, was home for the holidays and working out with a local swim club at Northwestern University when he spotted Swenson in the pool. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Evan!’ So I jumped in her lane trying to figure out a way to talk to her,” Keefe recalled.
For the first half of the practice, Keefe was swimming distractedly, struggling to think of a way to introduce himself. In the end, Swenson made the first overture, but it wasn’t quite the meet-cute he’d envisioned: “She taps on my shoulder mid-practice, and I think, ‘Here’s my shot,’ and then she says, ‘I’m so sorry, but I’m trying to get the best from this workout. Do you mind if I go in front of you?’”
After practice, a flustered Keefe said the only thing he could think to say to Swenson was, “Is swimming at USC hard?” She confirmed that it was. He admits it wasn’t his finest hour conversationally.
It wasn’t until two years later that Keefe got a second chance at romance with Swenson. At the time he was living in New York working as an IT recruiter and Swenson was living in Los Angeles working in media relations for Fox Sports West. While visiting his parents, Amy and Kevin, in Libertyville for the Christmas holidays, Keefe noticed on Instagram that Swenson was back in Evanston staying with her mom, Pamela. He invited the former swim star to meet for drinks and was thrilled when she quickly agreed. “That was my Hail Mary shot,” he said.
Swenson said she was happy for the invitation, but never thought anything would come of the date due to their enormous geographic divide. “I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I was living in L.A. and never really coming home. I thought Tommy was super nice and great and my friends had talked highly of him, so I was like, sure, this will be fun.”
Keefe, by contrast, began to get the jitters as their meeting time approached and even considered canceling. “I actually almost didn’t go on the first date. I was like, ‘I’m going to blow it. I’m going to make a fool of myself.’ It was an entire family event to get me to the train. My sisters and my brother actually drove me so I wouldn’t bail.”
Keefe and Swenson met in Chicago at Pippin’s Tavern, an establishment not necessarily known for its refined ambience. “I remember walking in, and the special on the board was cheesy tater tots, and I was like, ‘Oh no!’ But the conversation was so great that it really didn’t matter where we were at that point,” Keefe said.
Swenson remembers being utterly charmed by Keefe that night. The stories and laughter never stopped. “Tommy almost missed his train back to Libertyville because we were talking so much,” she said.
Swenson returned to L.A. and Keefe to New York, but the smitten duo spoke every day and stayed connected through FaceTime. When a job opportunity arose a few months later in New York, Swenson didn’t hesitate to take it. Keefe was delighted to host her in his Greenwich, Connecticut, apartment above a bustling Greek diner. As the weeks passed, plans for her to look for her own place began to feel less urgent.
The two settled happily into their routines, but during the pandemic they both realized they’d like to be closer to family. In February 2021, they returned to the Midwest. Keefe joined the family business, Brilliance Honda in Crystal Lake. Swenson, who worked remotely, continued to serve as an account manager for Cast Iron Media. They found a sunny apartment in downtown Arlington Heights, and Keefe began plotting his next move.
“Once we made the decision to move home, it was full steam ahead for me,” said Keefe, “but Evan just had no idea.” Keefe quietly commissioned a custom-designed engagement ring and organized a brunch at his parents’ house so the two families could meet. The surprise proposal occurred on June 27, 2021, just before the party commenced. As they strolled along a meandering path in his parents’ backyard, Keefe paused at the gazebo and went down on one knee. “I gave a speech I was thinking about forever,” he said.
Swenson recalls the force of her happiness in that moment. “I literally jumped. He’s down on one knee and I’m jumping and twirling around.” After her acceptance, hidden guests emerged from the Keefe’s party room to extend their congratulations. Swenson said seeing her brothers, Ian and Christian, who had traveled from out of state, was an especially wonderful surprise.
The two were wed on Oct. 9 at Brix on the Fox in Carpentersville, Ill., before 155 guests. Swenson, who lost her beloved father, Todd, to pancreatic cancer in 2017, was accompanied down the aisle by her two brothers. Susannah Mulhern was maid of honor. Jimmy Keefe, the groom’s brother, was best man. Pat McCann, Keefe’s great-uncle, officiated.
For their honeymoon, the couple traveled to the Riviera Maya where they enjoyed the warm Mexican sunshine, margaritas and plenty of pool time together.
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