Richard J. Swanson

by Jane Swanson-Nystrom

Covenant minister Richard J. Swanson died February 27, a day after his ninetieth birthday. He was born in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, to Swedish immigrants Victor and Lena Swanson, the youngest of five surviving children. When he was only four, his father was killed in a construction accident, and his oldest brother left high school to support his mother and siblings. At the center of the Swanson family’s life was the Ridgway Covenant Church, and it was there that Dick’s call to ministry was first sensed and affirmed. It was also there that he met Helen Brumberg, who would become his wife of sixty-five years and partner in ministry.

In high school Dick decided he wanted to go on to college and seminary, but the economic realities of that time and of his family meant that those plans had to be put aside. Following graduation, he went to work in a factory that made leather soles for shoes. He worked there for five years. In 1943 Dick was drafted by the U.S. Army. When it appeared he might be stationed in Seattle for the duration of the war, he and Helen decided to get married. A few weeks after the wedding, however, he received his orders to ship out to the South Pacific Theater. He served as a technical sergeant for two years in New Guinea and the Philippines.

After the war, Dick finally realized his dream and enrolled in North Park College and Seminary to prepare for the ministry. He served his internship at the Covenant church in Pittsburgh, while finishing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. When the church asked him to stay as permanent pastor, he continued his seminary training at Pittsburgh Xenia. At the urging of Dean Eric Hawkinson, Dick returned to Chicago for a few months to graduate with his seminary class in 1952 at North Park. He would later continue his studies at Harvard Divinity School and Andover Newton. He was ordained in 1953.

Dick went on to serve Covenant churches in Paxton, Ill.; Boston, Mass.; Galesburg, Ill.; and New Britain, Conn. Following his retirement in 1986, he served interim pastorates in East Bridgewater, Mass.; Arvada, Colo. (Arvada Covenant); Chicago (Ravenswood); St. Petersburg, Fla.; Attleboro, Mass.; North Easton, Mass.; and Kingston, R.I. He was active in leadership in the conferences where he ministered, and also served on the North Park University Board of Directors, and the denominational Board of Pensions.

Dick and Helen treasured the friendships they made and the experiences they had in each pastorate. For them, the work of ministry—if often challenging—was always life-giving and sacred. Dick approached his calling with humility, grace, and deep respect. He was a beloved pastor and an eloquent preacher. In later years especially, his gifts of peacemaking and healing were called upon in hurting congregations. A member of one of those churches said, upon hearing of his death, “His devotion to Jesus Christ eased the pain, erased any bitterness, then mended the pain with reminding all of us in a loving way who was in control of our lives.”

In retirement the Swansons lived in East Dennis, Massachusetts, and were members of Cape Cod Covenant Church. Dick enjoyed exploring back roads, painting landscapes of the Cape, visiting with friends, sharing a good joke, playing with grandchildren, and rooting for the Red Sox.

He is survived by his wife, Helen; two children and a son-in-law, Jim Swanson, Jane Swanson-Nystrom, and Doug Nystrom; and three grandchildren. Memorial services were held on March 20 at North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, and on April 17 at Cape Cod Covenant Church in Brewster, Massachusetts. Peace to his memory.