Former Chancellor Robert S. Swanson was remembered Saturday as a humble man of deep commitment to many causes, including where he spent much of his life, University of Wisconsin-Stout.
A memorial service was held at Harvey Hall Theatre on campus. The location was fitting: He spent many hours at the theater as a student in the late 1940s as he formed a lifelong bond with the school.
Swanson, 88, died Jan. 27 in Rochester, Minn., of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
He was chancellor from 1972-88 and part of the school for more than 40 years, including as a student, professor and dean.
Swanson was eulogized as a man who loved his country, his family, the Menomonie community and UW-Stout and its students.
“It was a life well-lived,” said Marcy Mackey, his daughter, as she recounted his days as a youth near Superior, his World War II service, his love for inventing, woodworking, teaching, storytelling, desserts and many other things.
The theater’s stage was adorned with symbols of his life — his official university portrait, a folded U.S. flag on a handsome wood stand Swanson built, one of his saws, a fishing rod and creel and a copy of the textbook he wrote as a young professor, “Plastics Technology.”
Nearly a dozen people helped tell the story of his life. He was remembered as a visionary leader during the years the school became part of the UW System but also as a down-to-earth man who built his own house in Menomonie and was known to most people simply as Bob.
“Bob was born to be a university chancellor, and fortunately it was here at UW-Stout,” said Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, who succeeded Swanson, calling him an “extraordinary man” and “the most gracious and civil person I ever met.”
“He developed and maintained close relationships with students, particularly international students, and he simply never forgot who they were or their names,” Sorensen said. “Truly he was devoted to students, their education and their well-being.”
Sorensen said his job as chancellor was made easier by the progress the school made during Swanson’s years as chancellor.
“We are a strong university because of his vision, dedication and commitment to the special mission focus. He will be missed and well-remembered,” Sorensen said.
Scott Cabot, a UW-Stout student in the late 1970s, said Swanson trusted, believed in and deeply cared about students “but he was no pushover. Teaching was like breathing for him. He was a natural.”
David Williams, former vice chancellor for University Advancement who was emcee for the service, recalled Swanson as committed to the university and the Menomonie area.
“He touched so many lives in this community and at the university he loved so much,” Williams said.
Four years after retiring as chancellor, in 1992, Swanson was named Menomonie Citizen of the Year by the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce.
The service included a reading of a citation passed by the state Legislature honoring Swanson’s life.
Flags on campus were flown at half-staff Saturday, and the James Huff Stout Bell in Bowman Hall rang a funeral toll at the end of the memorial service.
For more information on Swanson’s life and career, click here.