Robert "Bob" Swanson passed away peacefully at the age of 88 on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, at home in Rochester, Minn., in the presence of family and under hospice care due to complications of Alzheimer's Disease.
Bob is survived by his wife of almost 65 years, Margaret "Penny" Swanson; sister, Ruth Nurmi of Philadelphia, Pa.; daughter, Marcy Mackey, Rochester; sons, Ron, Maple Grove, Minn., Steve (Diane), Rochester, and Curt (Laura), Ames, Iowa; grandchildren, Tegan and Spencer Swanson, Dylan (Paula) Mackey, Kaytee (Craig) Horan, Graham Mackey, Nikita and Sawyer Swanson; and the Mackey great-grandchildren, Van, Parker, Victoria,Brandon, Elle and Izzie; and the Horan great-grandchildren, Aubrey and Hayden. Bob has two grandsons, Dylan and Graham Mackey, currently serving in the U.S. military, who he was so proud of and would ask that you keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Hugo and Ruth Swanson; sister, Shirley Jax; and brother-in-law, Richard Pennington.
Bob was born on Oct. 3, 1924, in Superior, and attended the Pattison Elementary School and Superior Central High School during the Depression. While in high school he was an award-winning member of the debate team and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, receiving the Boy Scout lifesaving award for his actions on Island Lake, Solon Springs, in the summer of 1938.
Upon graduation from high school, Bob enrolled at the "Stout Institute" in the fall of 1942 with thoughts of following in the footsteps of his father to become a high school industrial arts teacher. On Dec. 7, 1942 (the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor) Bob, along with all male Stout Students, congregated at Menomonie's Army Recruiting office with the intention of "joining the Army." After some consideration, the local Army recruiter instructed all of them to return to school until completion of the second semester. As such, Bob was inducted into the Army in June of 1943, completed basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala., AIT at Camp Gruber, Okla., and OCS at UND in Fargo. He boarded a troop ship in New York harbor in October of 1944 and disembarked in Marseilles, France, on Thanksgiving day of 1944. Bob was immediately assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division (The "Rainbow Division") as a member of an antitank company and began a trek across France and into Belgium and Germany, right into the "Battle of the Bulge.”
For his service during this time, Bob was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge and numerous campaign ribbons. He was in Munich, Germany, when the war in Europe ended and his Division was then sent to Austria as the Army of Occupation and to train for the invasion of Japan. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki made that unnecessary, Bob was discharged and he spent the summer doing carpentry work with his father in Superior.
In the fall of 1946, Bob returned to "Stout State College" to finish his undergraduate degree and complete work on a master’s degree. While in grad school, Bob was hired as a faculty member. During this time he was elected president of the Stout Student Association (SSA) and was a founding member of the Sig Tau Gamma Fraternity on campus. It was also during this time that he met and married the love of his life, Margaret "Penny" Pennington. He and Penny were employed as "dorm parents" at a men's dorm, Lynwood Hall, located just a half a block east of Harvey Hall on Wilson Avenue in Menomonie. This provided them with an almost unlimited supply of "babysitters" for their infant son, Ronny, so they could "rock the night away" at Sig Tau and all campus dances held at the Natatorium/Student Union then located just across Second Street from Bowman Hall.
Along with his Dad, an accomplished carpenter, Bob built the family home in Oakwood Heights on the east side of Menomonie which he tended to add to and remodel every other year well into the ‘90s. Bob also served as the public address announcer for Stout football games at Nelson Field from about 1956 until 1972.
In the early years at Stout, Bob taught "General Shop," "Hand" and "Machine" woodworking classes and instituted the first curriculum on a new material called plastics. His interest in and proficiency in mathematics led him to develop a class in the discipline of "statistics.” These insights influenced numerous future "shop teachers" across the country. He was the author of a textbook on plastics technology and invented and marketed a lab/classroom plastics thermoforming machine that is still in use today.
In 1953, Bob knew that in order to realize his dream and goals he would have to further his education. And with the help of then Stout President Verne C. Fryklund and Menomonie businessman Claire Talen, not to mention FDR's "GI Bill of Rights," he headed off to the University of Minnesota as a full-time student. And while living in a boarding house in "Dinkytown," his then ever-expanding family remained in Menomonie, and he obtained his Ph.D. while teaching three-fourths time at Stout.
Upon his return to Menomonie he continued to teach in the industrial arts field becoming department chair of what was then referred to as the Woodworking Department; and with the help of his mentor and dear friend, John Jarvis, advanced through the ranks to become Stout's Assistant Dean and later Dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology.
In 1968, the then Chancellor of UW-Stout and his former U of M advisor, William "Bud" Micheels, appointed him as Dean of Stout's Graduate School. He served in this capacity until the fall of 1972 when the Wisconsin Board of Regents appointed Bob as Chancellor of UW-Stout. Through Bob’s guidance and leadership, the university was led out of the "turbulent ‘60s" and toward the vision that Senator James Huff Stout had presented for public education in the state of Wisconsin.
Over the years as a member of the Menomonie and Dunn County community Bob participated in and led many local initiatives on health, education and community service including: serving as Cubmaster of Pack 23, advisor to the Chippewa Valley Council and recipient of the "Silver Beaver Award for the Boy Scouts of America, member and president of the Menomonie School Board; and in one of the proudest moments of his life, he served as president of the Menomonie Rotary Club where he pushed through the initiative to "allow" women to be members of Rotary. For many years he was a member of the Menomonie Local of the Carpenters Union and actively served as a member of several professional organizations, including the American Vocational Association (AVA) and the American Industrial Arts Association (AIAA), including a stint as president of that organization. Bob served as a member of the Board of Directors at the 1st Bank and Trust in Menomonie for more than 10 years. Bob and Penny were invited to the inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1961 in recognition of their service to the Menomonie community.
Upon his retirement in 1988, Bob and Penny enjoyed travel through Europe, Asia, northern Wisconsin and the eastern seaboard. They attended numerous reunions of Bob's WWII experiences and enjoyed time with their UW-Stout roommates, known as "the laddies," hooked a "wiley" trout or two on Rock Cut Creek and and spent time with kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Bob continued to work on the house and to pursue his interest in fine cabinet making.
In 2007 the Stout Learning Center (library) was named in Bob's honor. In 2009 Bob and Penny left Menomonie and settled in Rochester to be closer to family.
There will be a private family memorial in Rochester and burial service at Evergreen Cemetery in Menomonie in the spring with an American Legion Honor Guard; and plans are being finalized for a celebration of Bob's life to be held in the near future in Menomonie on the UW-Stout campus for all his friends and acquaintances.
The Swanson brothers, Ron, Steve and Curt, would like to express a loving and heartfelt note of appreciation to sister Marcy for being such a loving caregiver to Dad in the final years of his life: “Thanks, Sis!”
The Swanson family would like to thank the Mahn Family Funeral and Cremation Services, Heartland Hospice and the Salvation Army Caring Partners, all of Rochester, for their assistance.
Please direct all memorials in Bob's name to The Stout University Foundation, Alzheimer's Association or charity of the donor's choice.