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Profile: Grinding 'em out was just one of his many lifetime pursuits

He is a fifth generation Duluthian and proud of it. His local ancestry stems from Edwin H. Hall, who settled in Duluth after walking from St. Paul on snowshoes in 1855. It took six days, and his legacy would fill a book.

He is a fifth generation Duluthian and proud of it. His local ancestry stems from Edwin H. Hall, who settled in Duluth after walking from St. Paul on snowshoes in 1855. It took six days, and his legacy would fill a book.
Dr. Robert L. Swanstrom Sr. has continued the family tradition as an active participant in Duluth's civic life.
Bob (known to everyone as Swanny) was born on Nov. 28, 1919, in Duluth's St. Mary's Hospital. His older brother Jack is deceased. Another brother Tom lives in Duluth, and a third brother Berway lives in Coolidge, Ariz.
As a boy, Swanny was interested especially in sports. His early years were spent in the Central Hillside before moving to Lester Park at age 5. He remains today a member of the LOL (Lake Avenue Loafers), a social group with historic and ethnic magnetism. This diverse and wonderful bunch of guys made a positive difference in Duluth.
Swanny's dad, John W. Swanstrom, known as "Picky," was a switchman for the Northern Pacific Railroad. His mom, Hilma, a World War II four-star mother, was a West Duluth girl with family ties to the Old Elim Lutheran Church on 56th Avenue West and Elinor Street. When she married John, she became a Methodist.
The family lived at 5707 Otsego Street, and there was a large pasture behind the family lot. Because of the accessibility of the land, the Swanstroms had a cow and some chickens, as many of the neighbors did. Another benefit was the ability to play football, baseball and hockey, and to romp in the winter snow deposits.
The family attended Lester Park Methodist Church, and Swanny became active in Boy Scouts. His scoutmaster was Virgil Vincent, who was a World War I drill instructor for the U.S. Army. There was no fooling around for sure. Swanny became an Eagle Scout.
One of Swanny's fondest memories was the one week he spent during summer vacation at his grandma's cabin on Pike Lake. His grandpa, William Swanstrom, was a grain inspector for the state. Pike Lake was mostly cabins and woods and was just recovering from the devastating 1918 fire.
Swanny attended East Junior High School where his favorite subject, he confessed, depended on the teacher. He caddied at the Northland Country Club. That money was turned over to his mom, who kept 90 percent of it and let Swanny keep the remaining 10 percent. Mom used the 90 percent to buy Swanny's school clothing.
At East Junior High, he played basketball and was elected president of the Isaac Walton League Club. This honor was bestowed on Swanny because of his basketball coach, the memorable Nordal Anderson. Under Nordal's tutelage, the kids planted trees along Skyline Boulevard and Hawk Ridge. Nordal became Swanny's mentor.
Nordal and three other teachers took junior high boys, including Swanny, on many trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Nordal invited members of three championship basketball teams from other areas of the state to join the BWCA trips, and Swanny supervised those "green horns."
Mom wanted Swanny to take dancing lessons, but he balked after one lesson. His mom relented, but made him go to the dance instructor and get the $10 fee back.
At Duluth Central, he lettered in football, basketball and track. In fact, he was the blocking back (right halfback) on Central's great 1938 championship football team featuring among other stars, Ray Ignatius and Ray Wero, who later was the principal at Hermantown High.
Swanny was captain of both the football and basketball teams in his senior year and class president all three years, graduating in 1939. He weighed 148 pounds as a senior quarterback, was a guard on the basketball team and a pole-vaulter in track.
During his junior and senior high years, he worked summers for the Northern Pacific as a gandy dancer (laying railroad track). In the winter, he pushed around 200-pound ice chunks for the railroad refrigerated cars. He also worked during the Christmas season at the depot mailroom in addition to shoveling snow off the track switches. Later, he worked as a clerk at the McGregor-Soderstrom men's clothing store in downtown Duluth during college Christmas breaks.
Mr. Phillips, the assistant principal at Duluth Central, called a puzzled Swanny into his office one day and inquired about his college plans. Being able to pay for college was iffy due to the Great Depression. He was informed that Dr. R. Moat, First Methodist pastor, wanted to talk to him, and an appointment was set up. During that interview, Swanny was offered a full scholarship to Hamline University in St. Paul with no strings attached.
The sponsor of the scholarship wanted to remain anonymous, but 18 years later Swanny learned it was Elizabeth Congdon who paid scholarships for 10 deserving students annually.
He spent the next two years at Hamline and was class president both years. He also played basketball and football. Upon completing his predental studies, he was admitted to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Dr. Earl Ward, the family dentist in Duluth, and his associate Dr. Ted Carlson were Swanny's inspirations.
Swanny first met Mary Kathryn Kohlbry at East Junior High. It was a casual acquaintance. They dated once in senior high, but didn't see each other again until they became reacquainted at the university. There a romance flourished, and they were married on June 16, 1945, at the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duluth.
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They have three children. Robert Jr. teaches at Hermantown Elementary. James R. operates his dad's former dental practice. He is married to the former Barbara Anderson, and they have three children. Susan, who lives in Cloquet, is married to Glenn Hagberg and they have three children.
The military, early in 1942, established a dental and medical program at the university. When Swanny graduated in 1945, he was immediately inducted into the Navy and sent to officers' school.
At war's end, he returned to Duluth, starting his dental practice with Dr. Helmer Luglan in the former Phoenix Building, before going on his own with offices in the Medical Arts Building.
A few years later, he and Mary Kathryn had started their family when the long arm of the Navy reached out. It was payback time. The Korean War was on and the military needed dentists. He was recalled and eventually sent to Heidelberg, Germany, for 22 months. The family went with Swanny to Germany. When they returned to Duluth in 1954, he re-established his dental practice and ultimately retired in 1965.
Swanny continued to be active. He coached hockey at Congdon Park and started a Boy Scout troop in Fredenberg. He and Mary also raised three foster children.
Swanny was cited by the Minnesota Dental Association in 1987 with its "Guest of Honor Award" given annually to one dentist in the state for outstanding achievements in dentistry and as a community volunteer.
He served as the first president of the Greater Downtown Council. He also served on the Downtown Development Board of Directors. He was honored as Duluth's Hall of Fame recipient in 1992. He served as a member of the Duluth Economic Development Steering Committee and the advisory committee for the St. Louis County Community Action Committee.
He was president of the Northeastern District Dental Society and was both vice president and a trustee of the Minnesota Dental Association. He was active in the Northland Chapter of the American Red Cross for 16 years. Swanny was on the Board of Elders of the Lakeview Covenant Church and remains active in the church.
Swanny and Mary Kathryn winter at Paradise Park in Peoria, Ariz. They serve on the Paradise Worship Committee and are active in the Paradise Care Group. When in Duluth, Swanny is a sales associate for Lil Stocke Realty.
Perhaps the most unique quality in Swanny is his low-key approach to community service. He quietly gets things done without fanfare, and even though, at an early age, he had no real interest in dancing, he has matched the beat of this community in many ways for many years.

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