Whenever Duluth Denfeld Activities Director Tom Pearson needed a helping hand at school athletic events, he knew who to rely on.
Dick Swanson was an institution at Denfeld High School, teaching and coaching several sports for many years in West Duluth, and was always ready to help when needed.
“I hesitated to hire him as a ticket-taker at basketball games because he would sit there and talk to everybody as they came in,” Pearson recalled Tuesday. “The people would line up and talk to him, and others would be getting into the games without a ticket. He would get so distracted by the conversations he was having at the door, that I was losing money.”
Swanson died Sunday night at age 71 after battling liver and pancreatic cancer the past several months.
His funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Wade Stadium, next to Dick Swanson Fields. Those fields were dedicated with a sign that Swanson unveiled last week.
“He was Mr. Denfeld; he had maroon and gold in his veins,” said longtime Denfeld softball assistant coach Tim Utt, who collected funds at an alumni golf tournament to pay for three signs to be displayed at Dick Swanson Fields.
Swanson, who taught social studies from 1987-2010, won 341 games in 27 seasons as Hunters softball coach and posted a 301-240 record in 22 seasons as girls basketball coach. He won one section title in each sport and was selected to the Minnesota High School Girls Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
“It didn’t matter what kind of a team he had. If they were a marginal team or a team not blessed with a lot of talent, he would still have the most competitive game plan against you,” longtime Hermantown girls basketball coach Beth Clark said. “He was so smart with X's and O's. He and (assistant) Frank Huie were always so entertaining to coach against because they had a good sense of humor and knew the game. At the end of the day, there was mutual respect.”
Swanson graduated from Denfeld in 1966, Minnesota Duluth in 1971 and was inducted into the Hunter Hall of Fame in 2016. He also was a Denfeld football assistant coach for 18 years.
“He will be missed by the Denfeld community in general,” Pearson said. “Besides the teaching and the coaching, he was big in the Denfeld alumni association. When you asked Swanny to help you with something regarding Denfeld, Swanny was there to help you.”
Swanson’s experience was invaluable to activities directors like Pearson, who didn’t have to worry about sports like softball because Swanson had it covered.
“To be around that long, it was pretty much on cruise control,” Pearson said.
Swanson leaves behind plenty of anecdotes for fellow coaches and student-athletes as well. Most revolve around his quick, often sarcastic, wit.
“He was a riot out there (on the field),” Utt said.
Utt recalled one instance years ago when the umpire and coaches met at home plate before a softball game. The umpire told the Denfeld coaches, whose reputation for squawking at calls was well known, not to harass a new female umpire.
“ ‘I don’t want you to get on her case. If there’s a questionable call, we can talk about it and overrule her,’ ” Utt remembered the umpire saying. “Swanny said, ‘Why would you think we’re gonna chirp at her?’ I said, ‘Maybe we’ll ask her to overrule some of your bad calls.’ Swanny said, ‘I told you not to say anything. This guy doesn't like us already and you’re chirping at him and the game hasn’t even started.’ ”
Utt and Swanson were golfing partners even after Swanson’s cancer diagnosis in April. Utt had hoped to get back on the course together soon.
“It seemed like he was doing much better in the last few weeks,” Utt said. “He even talked about going golfing with us next week.”
Visitation for Swanson will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Wade Stadium, followed by the funeral. Due to state regulations regarding COVID-19, a limit of 250 people will be allowed into the ballpark. Proper social distancing and mask wearing are required.