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College mourns supporter Duane Swanson '61

March  09, 2011

"Duane faced health issues for many years…it was a long haul," said Kim Brunner, a long-time friend. "But he never resented the cards he was dealt. He was incredibly optimistic about everything. He was the most courageous man I ever met."

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Stadium, residence hall bear his name,
reflect his love for Augustana

Duane R. Swanson, a 1961 Augustana graduate and member of the Board of Trustees, died Tuesday, March 8, 2011, after a long and courageous battle with diabetes and other health challenges. He was 71.

"Duane Swanson was my friend and my mentor," said Steve Bahls, Augustana president. "He taught me to ask the tough questions, and he always reminded me that our first priority was providing a first-class education for our students. I know of few individuals who loved Augustana as much as Duane."

Swanson served on Augustana's Board of Trustees for seven years and provided major financial gifts to fund a residence hall and the college's baseball stadium, both of which bear his name. Swanson was the owner/chairman of the board of Raymond Building Supply Corporation in North Fort Myers, Fla.

"His generosity equaled his business acumen in a way I've never seen in anyone else," said Kim Brunner '71, a longtime friend and chair of Augustana's Board of Trustees. "He brought enormous business sense to the board, and he attributed his success to his experience at Augustana, especially professor (S. James) Galley. Duane was a risk-taker, very much an entrepreneur, very much a self-made man."

Swanson was one of the original funders of Augustana's S. James Galley Endowed Chair in Accounting, currently held by Dr. Pamela Druger. The chair was established in 1996 by gifts from friends and former students of the late S. James Galley, who taught in Augustana's accounting department for 34 years. Swanson recently enhanced the program.

Swanson's passion for baseball, which he shared with Brunner, spurred the two of them and their wives Donna Huber '75 Brunner and Cookie Swanson to fund the Swanson Stadium/Brunner Field for Vikings baseball. The stadium was completed in March 2004. When Swanson became aware of Augustana's looming student housing shortage in 2004, he stepped forward to offer a visionary solution. He proposed the creation of a first-class residential complex that combined the best in apartment-style living with key amenities to create the sense of community that is the hallmark of Augustana residential life. The three-story Duane R. Swanson Commons was completed in the summer of 2006.

"Duane was such an integral part of the Augustana community," said Lynn Jackson, Augustana's vice president of advancement. "From his work on our Board of Trustees to his significant contributions to the growth and development of our campus through the Duane R. Swanson Commons and Swanson Stadium, he was passionate about supporting his alma mater. His leadership will be greatly missed."

An entrepreneur at heart

After graduating from Augustana with a degree in accounting, Swanson went on to earn an MBA in accounting from Indiana University. Following his designation as a CPA, he worked as a staff accountant at Arthur Young & Co. in Cincinnati. Proving to be a visionary young leader, he was hired in 1967 as chief financial officer of Ward Manufacturing, a builder of recreational vehicles in Hamilton, Ohio.

Shortly after moving to Hamilton, he married Carolyn "Cookie" Swanson in 1969 and started a family of four children: Emily, Shelley, Duane Jr. and Mark. Two years later, Swanson became president of another recreational vehicle company in Minneapolis, Minn., but his desire to be an entrepreneur convinced him to make a life-changing decision.

He borrowed money to finance the purchase of Raymond Building Supply of Fort Myers in 1978. The risk paid off when the first year's profits equaled the total purchase price of the company. As the company's CEO, Swanson built Raymond Building Supply into the largest independent residential construction supplier in Florida. The company's website notes how the company's "involvement in non-profit service organizations is extremely important in our role as a corporate citizen." This mirrors Swanson's personal commitment to improving his community and the places that made a difference in his life.

In addition to Augustana, Swanson generously supported Florida Gulf Coast University, Bishop Verot High School and Fort Myers Little League, among other institutions and organizations. Because of his commitment to youth and the entrepreneurial spirit, Swanson was honored by Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida and named an outstanding Laureate for the 2007 Business Leadership Hall of Fame. In 2009, Augustana honored Swanson with an Outstanding Service Award for reflecting honor on the college through his exceptional community service.

"Duane faced health issues for many years... it was a long haul," said Brunner, retired chief legal officer and executive vice president for State Farm Insurance. "But he never resented the cards he was dealt. He was incredibly optimistic about everything. He was the most courageous man I ever met."

A service for Duane Swanson will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, March 14, at Alico Arena at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.