Swensons tour namesake building at UWS
The Swenson family left a lasting impression on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus Tuesday. After touring Swenson Hall, now under construction, three generations of Swensons pressed their hands into wet cement. Their hardened handprints ...
The Swenson family left a lasting impression on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus Tuesday. After touring Swenson Hall, now under construction, three generations of Swensons pressed their hands into wet cement. Their hardened handprints will be installed in a highly visible site in the 144,000-square-foot building.
"This is going to be gorgeous," said Sue Swenson, standing on the third floor of the building, looking out over the core of the campus.
A $5 million gift by Sue and her husband, Jim, was crucial in securing state money for the project, university spokesman Al Miller said.
Jim Swenson and Sue Locken grew up in Superior's North End, attending college at UWS in the mid-1950s when Quonset huts doubled as class buildings.
After working in the Twin Cities, the couple moved to California. In 1978, Jim Swenson founded Details Inc., a company that made printed circuit boards for big-name clients such as IBM and Motorola. When they sold the business in 1996, the Swensons set up a foundation to champion education.
"When we were so successful, I felt it was necessary to give back," Jim Swenson said.
With state budgets tipping upside-down everywhere, he said, private donations are essential to education.
"If schools are going to survive, we have to pick up the slack," he said.
The Swensons have contributed to building projects in Superior, Duluth and California, as well as providing 100 scholarships a year.
"They got so much in life," said their granddaughter, Allison Lentz. "They only want to give it back to others."
The $32 million Swenson Hall project is on schedule and on budget, said Dusty Johnson, building and grounds superintendent for UWS. The academic building is expected to welcome the first classes into its halls in fall 2011.
"We've been watching it go up," Sue Swenson said. "It's awesome."
Swenson Hall will provide office and class space to replace Sundquist and McCaskill halls, which will be torn down. The energy-efficient design of the building maximizes natural sunlight, joining the two wings of the building with a three-story light well and open lobby area. Not only will the site be wireless capable, Johnson said, computer and Internet services will be able to grow with technology.
"This is just a beginning," he said.
Jim and Sue Swenson smiled freely during the tour, stopping to snap pictures of their family in hardhats and exclaim over the details of the construction.
"It brings a smile to my face," said Lentz, 19, of her grandparents' contributions. "It makes me proud to be part of the family."
"It makes us feel real good to see what it is to give back," said her sister, Sarah, 18.
It's a lesson Jim Swenson hopes will set as firmly for his grandchildren as the handprints they left behind.
"I want them to understand someday it will be their turn to take over the foundation," he said. "To continue the work grandma and grandpa started."