Robert S. Swanson, an alumnus who rose through the teaching ranks and helped redefine University of Wisconsin-Stout during 16 years as chancellor, has died.
Swanson, 88, passed away Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, in Rochester, Minn., of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, according to family members.
He is survived by his wife of almost 65 years, Margaret “Penny,” and four children: daughter, Marcy Mackey, of Rochester, Minn., and sons, Ron, of Maple Grove, Minn., Steve, of Rochester, Minn., and Curt, of Ames, Iowa, as well as a sister, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A private family memorial will be held in Rochester, Minn., but a “celebration of Bob’s life,” will be held at a later date at UW-Stout, family members said.
Except for four years when he served during World War II, Swanson dedicated his adult life to UW-Stout. He spent more than 40 years at the school, including as an undergraduate and graduate student in the late 1940s; professor and administrator from 1950 to 1972; and as the school’s sixth leader from 1972 to 1988.
A resident of Menomonie throughout those years, his leadership created a vibrant and strong institution and prepared it for major growth in the following 25 years.
“Chancellor Swanson brought UW-Stout into the modern age of higher education,” said Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, who succeeded Swanson in 1988. “He left his mark all over this campus and this community, and he will be sorely missed.”
During his years as chancellor, Swanson oversaw major academic, enrollment and physical changes on campus, while reaffirming and also redefining the institution’s historic focus on applied learning. He did it with a strong work ethic and congenial nature.
“During all these years, it has been my good fortune to work and learn from hundreds of faculty and staff and thousands of students,” he told faculty and staff in a surprise September 1987 announcement that he would be retiring the following spring.
Swanson was a product of the school’s well-known industrial arts education program. During his tenure, two undergraduate majors, several master’s programs and six minors were added, especially in new areas focused on serving industry, business and the human services field.
When he was chancellor, the physical campus expanded from 113 to 118 acres with six new buildings, including the library, Heritage Hall, Applied Arts and Memorial Student Center. Several buildings were renovated and expanded, including a $4.4 million addition to Johnson Fieldhouse.
In November 2007 the library was renamed in Swanson’s honor, and he attended and spoke at a special ceremony. Today the building is known as Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center.
Despite state-imposed enrollment caps in the 1970s and 1980s, UW-Stout grew under Swanson from 5,245 students in 1972 to 7,500 in 1987, one of the biggest enrollment jumps during that time in the UW System. Enrollment in fall 2012 exceeded 9,200.
Swanson became chancellor the year after the 1971 merger of the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin State University System that created the UW System. A year later, Stout State University was renamed UW-Stout.
The school’s mission, to train students for professional careers by blending theory and practice, always was crystal clear to Swanson, and he had no intention of altering that mission.
"Let it be known that we do concern ourselves with the preparation of people to earn a living upon graduation. And let us further admit, with pride, that we do this because we specialize in fields which have need for our graduates, and because we do prepare people well to do their jobs," he said when he became chancellor.
Swanson, a Superior native, came to UW-Stout in 1942 but shortly thereafter entered the service. He served in an anti-tank company with the Army’s 42nd Infantry Division in France and Germany and rose to the rank of sergeant.
He re-enrolled at what then was Stout Institute in 1946. He was Stout Student Association president in 1949. He taught part-time as a student and was hired to teach full time in 1950 after earning his graduate degree in industrial arts. He earned a doctorate degree in 1955 from the University of Minnesota.
Swanson eventually became a department chair, assistant dean, dean and then, in 1966, dean of the Graduate School. As chancellor, he succeeded William “Bud” Micheels. He even found time early in his career to announce UW-Stout football games from the press box.
Swanson was active in the Menomonie community as chancellor and into retirement. In 1992 he was named Menomonie Citizen of the Year by the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce.
He remembers being told by his high school industrial arts teacher in 1942 that if he did a good job at Stout Institute he would never leave. “He seems to have been right,” Swanson said.
A website has been established with more on Swanson’s history.
The family asks that all memorials in Swanson's name go to the Stout University Foundation, Alzheimer's Association or a charity of the donor's choice. The foundation has established a site online to make gifts in Swanson's memory to UW-Stout.