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Citizen Swain

Citizen Swain: Tales from a Minnesota Life

TOM H. SWAIN
WITH LORI STURDEVANT
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt14jxvw1
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  • Book Info
    Citizen Swain
    Book Description:

    For an insider's take on the last eighty years in Minnesota history, sit down with Tom H. Swain's memoir. It is a personal look at the people and events that shaped the state's history, written by a civic and business leader-and a true public servant-with a genuine knack for telling a story. From business to athletics, politics to education, Swain is a key player. He's been a mayor, a University of Minnesota vice president, a chief of staff to former Minnesota governor Elmer L. Andersen, and a member and chair of numerous nonprofit and civic boards. InCitizen Swain: Tales from a Minnesota Life, he brings his vibrant presence and meaningful contributions to life eloquently, giving readers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of institutions and their leaders.

    Swain was more than a witness to state history. He helped make it happen. Readers learn what it was like to be a part of Governor Andersen's administration-including details about the dramatic vote recount that ended his term. Swain's dedication to education and sports shine through as he speaks of his service at the University of Minnesota. Over the years in positions ranging from ticket manager in the athletic department to vice president, Swain got to know Gopher coach Bernie Bierman and three University of Minnesota presidents-Nils Hasselmo, Mark Yudof, and Robert Bruininks. Twenty-three years at the St. Paul Companies gave him profound insight into the state's oldest corporation.

    Whether he's describing the hard work behind the scenes of the massive civic celebration of the state's centennial or growing up in 1930s and 1940s Minneapolis, Swain's passion for making Minnesota a better place comes through in these remembrances, told with warmth, respect, and not a small amount of wit.Citizen Swainwill be an inspiration to anyone seeking to make positive change through active citizenship.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4488-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. FOREWORD: A Life of Service
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Lori Sturdevant

    “Tom swain is like hur.” That’s what one of Minnesota’s Lutheran leaders, the Reverend David Preus, said when I told him that I was compiling the many stories Tom Swain often tells about his long life and work in Minnesota public affairs.

    “Tom is like her?” I responded quizzically. What long-serving, story-telling Minnesota woman did he have in mind?

    “No, Hur—H-u-r,” the good cleric clarified. Preus related the story from Exodus 17 of the great battle between the ancient Israelites and the Amalekites. Moses, his brother Aaron, and his chief of staff / executive vice president / senior adviser...

  4. CHAPTER 1 “Miss Pep”
    (pp. 1-10)

    Minneapolitans love to sing. One could say that I owe my existence to that fact. My mother would never have come to Minneapolis or met my father were it otherwise.

    Marion Lucille Holliday was born on June 22, 1894, and was called Lucille or Lucy so exclusively that I was not aware her first name was Marion until I was grown. She was raised in comfort as a doctor’s daughter in Traverse City, Michigan, until her father, Dr. Albert Holliday, died when she was twelve. In addition to his only daughter, he left a widow, Charlotte Shaw Holliday, and two...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Student Days
    (pp. 11-21)

    Most of my childhood was spent in what is today called the Page neighborhood. It takes its name from Page Elementary School, which in turn was named for Walter Hines Page, a journalist and diplomat who never set foot in Minnesota. He had been the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain during the run-up to World War I and played a major role in getting my dad’s generation into that battle.

    I didn’t know all that when I attended Page Elementary. I just knew that at Page School learning happened in portable buildings that could be moved—and actually were. The...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Staff Sergeant Swain
    (pp. 22-32)

    “Gimme me hat. Me’s goin’ out.” That was how the guy in the sack next to mine greeted me as I prepared for my first night of basic training in a second-floor barracks at Sheppard Air Field in February 1943. Sheppard was in Wichita Falls, Texas, on the south bank of the Red River that forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma. As I handed my barracks mate the hat he sought, one fact hit home: I was no longer at the University of Minnesota. I had entered a very different environment.

    My unfamiliarity with the ways of the U.S....

  7. CHAPTER 4 Back to Campus
    (pp. 33-37)

    Three years is a long time to be away from home. When the three years were 1943 to 1946, when the whole world changed and I suppose I did too, the home to which I returned was both familiar and foreign. My mother had moved from Forty-Fifth Street and Nicollet Avenue to 4605 Blaisdell Avenue S., mostly to get away from clanging streetcars. She was no longer a displaced homemaker struggling to raise teenaged sons; she was a moderately successful businesswoman and mother of four grown sons, three of whom had served and helped her financially during the war. (My...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Mac
    (pp. 38-42)

    Arlene mcwilliams garniss—“Mac”—and I corresponded regularly after her husband Don went missing in mid-1944. These weren’t love letters—not consciously so on my part, anyway. Judging from her casual responses and her mention of other suitors, she wasn’t thinking about me romantically either. But we confided in each other with increasing ease, and our friendship deepened. When I returned from the Pacific I was particularly eager to see her and little Jo Anne, who was almost two years old. They were living with Arlene’s sister Marilyn and mother, Bertha Merritt McWilliams, at 3708 Pillsbury Avenue S. in Minneapolis....

  9. CHAPTER 6 Holman Field
    (pp. 43-44)

    I enjoyed being the academic adviser for the University of Minnesota Athletic Department, but as a new husband and father in 1947, I was open to another position, especially if it paid more than the modest salary I made helping athletes with their academic woes. One offer came from Les Schroeder, who had been the university’s ticket manager when I worked in that office as a student employee in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He had moved across town to St. Paul’s Holman Air Field and become the state commissioner of aeronautics. He said he wanted me as his...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Ticket Man
    (pp. 45-52)

    When the university of minnesota Athletic Department called me in February 1948 to offer me the ticket manager’s job—Les Schroeder’s old job—I jumped at it. I’d worked in that office as a student. Now, at age twenty-six, I’d be the boss, in charge of a twelve-member staff that dispensed the hottest athletic tickets in town. In 1948, Minnesota’s only professional sport was the basketball Lakers, and they were a brand-new team in the infant National Basketball Association that in those years might as well have been called the Midwest League. By comparison, Gopher sports had a huge following....

  11. CHAPTER 8 Come to St. Paul
    (pp. 53-58)

    Taking a job in st. paul wasn’t exactly a move to a foreign land. But one hundred years of archrivalry and demographic differences resulted in the Twin Cities being quite distinct from one another in the 1950s. My new job as St. Paul Association of Commerce’s Convention Bureau manager didn’t require me to move to St. Paul. In fact, my counterpart in Minneapolis, Julius Perlt, lived in St. Paul. “You’re taking the heat off me to move, Tom,” he told me after learning I lived in south Minneapolis.

    But after the birth of our son Tom in December 1953, we...

  12. CHAPTER 9 A Royal Kiss
    (pp. 59-63)

    The st. paul jaycees brought me in contact with Peter Popovich, a bright, gregarious attorney and state legislator. A native of Crosby and Chisholm on Minnesota’s Iron Range, Popovich was just seven months older than I was. He would go on to be the founding chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the 1950s, he was an ambitious municipal-bond lawyer with a fun-loving nature unspoiled by a hardscrabble youth and a frightening battle with polio as a young adult. It also partially masked his serious-minded interest in public policy and...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Floyd and Judy at the Centennial
    (pp. 64-75)

    Asking the 1957 legislature for $1.7 million was “the apogee of optimism,” according toMinneapolis StarandTribuneeditor Bill Steven, whom Don Padilla and I courted in hopes of securing favorable coverage of our efforts. Steven was right. The total state appropriation earmarked for the Centennial Commission was $1.1 million. That sounds meager today, but it was enough for us to function.

    The 1955 legislation establishing the commission came with very little money—barely enough to hire me. But that bill contained a couple of specific directives concerning statues, which evidently were on legislators’ minds that year. Congress had...

  14. CHAPTER 11 The Wager
    (pp. 76-78)

    Physical fitness was on americans’ minds in 1956–57 as President Eisenhower created the first President’s Council on Youth Fitness. One of Minnesota’s sports heroes, Bud Wilkinson, was involved and would head this program a few years later under President Kennedy. Wilkinson had been the Golden Gophers’ star quarterback during Minnesota’s national championship years in the 1930s. In the 1950s, he was head football coach at the University of Oklahoma, building its football program into a powerhouse and gaining plenty of fame for himself.

    The considerable attention this presidential initiative was getting, and the critique that came with it about...

  15. CHAPTER 12 Showboat
    (pp. 79-82)

    It was inevitable in the 1950s: any civic celebration had to have a beauty queen. The women’s movement that would call such notions into question was still more than a decade away. The Centennial Commission decided early on that we needed a Miss Centennial Minnesota.

    That’s how I found myself in Austin, Minnesota, as a judge of the 1956 Miss Minnesota pageant. I was there to build connections that would benefit the centennial observance soon after. The 1957 pageant winner would carry the title “Miss Centennial Minnesota” and have special responsibilities for appearances at centennial events in 1958, both in...

  16. CHAPTER 13 Skål, Vikings—and Stay, Twins
    (pp. 83-88)

    As the centennial celebration wound down, I had several tempting job offers. Arlene and I decided that with children heading toward college in a few years, my next job should be in the private sector, with stable income and opportunity for growth. But I had loved the centennial project and relished the idea of starting something new. That’s why I agreed to become the first executive director of the Minnesota Insurance Information Center, a new industry-established consumer education project to which nearly every insurance company domiciled in the state contributed. It was another chance to build something from scratch.

    I...

  17. CHAPTER 14 Elmer for Governor
    (pp. 89-98)

    Among the job offers i turned down when I agreed to be executive director of the Minnesota Insurance Information Center was a tempting one from former state Sen. Elmer L. Andersen. His offer: come to work as my special assistant at H. B. Fuller Co. and help prepare a campaign for governor in 1960.

    I’d worked with Andersen enough on the centennial statue committee to think highly of him. Elmer was twelve years my senior. He’d been owner and president of H. B. Fuller, a St. Paul–based industrial adhesives company, since 1941, building it from a tiny one-factory operation...

  18. CHAPTER 15 Right Hand to the Governor
    (pp. 99-108)

    When elmer asked me to be chief of staff in the governor’s office—officially “executive secretary” in those years—I didn’t hesitate to say yes. By that point, I was all in. If you support somebody for elective office and that person asks you to do something to advance his mission, you ought to do it. Elmer made the decision easier by seeing to it that I would not make a financial sacrifice to work for him. His own salary as governor in 1961 was only $19,000.

    My job was to bring more efficiency to the governor’s office. One of...

  19. CHAPTER 16 Recount
    (pp. 109-117)

    I wasn’t involved in Elmer’s 1962 reelection campaign—at least not as a paid staff member. My role as commissioner of business development precluded me from taking an official position in the campaign. But I followed it closely, of course, and served as a sounding board and dispenser of advice to both the candidate and his aides.

    That was close enough for me to feel jitters as the polls tightened and anger as Elmer’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Karl Rolvaag, and his DFL allies distorted Elmer’s record. In those years, Minnesota’s governor and lieutenant governor ran independently. Rolvaag, the son of...

  20. CHAPTER 17 Insurance Man
    (pp. 118-124)

    I joined st. paul fire and marine insurance to replace the firm’s retiring public relations director. That was the first of a series of positions I held at the firm that would take the name The St. Paul Companies in 1968. It was my professional home for twenty-three years, longer than I spent working anywhere else.

    Ron Hubbs was part of the cement that attached me to The St. Paul Companies. He was a wonderful man, gracious and even-tempered, who succeeded Archie Jackson as CEO shortly after I arrived. He took corporate leadership very seriously and genuinely valued the work...

  21. CHAPTER 18 Minnesota’s Favorite Son
    (pp. 125-128)

    I didn’t leave politics completely behind when I left state service. I had become an active Republican during my years with Elmer. I was involved with the Republican Workshop, and for a time spent one night per week as a facilitator of its meetings. It was a national organization aimed at selling the Republican Party. One Minnesotan, Mary Hoffman, became its national president.

    Another active member was Mamie Green, an African American woman then in her sixties who lived in St. Paul. Mamie recruited me to meet with a St. Paul African American group at her home to try to...

  22. CHAPTER 19 St. Paul School Independence
    (pp. 129-131)

    I had been with st. paul fire and marine Insurance Co. for less than a year when St. Paul League of Women Voters president and future city council member Ruby Hunt approached CEO Ron Hubbs. She wanted his blessing to ask me to cochair a campaign to convert St. Paul into an independent school district. The other cochair she had in mind was Howard Guthmann, a civic-minded tax accountant and Jaycee leader. Howard is my tax guy. I knew he’d do a fine job and that I would enjoy working with him.

    Hubbs told her that The St. Paul Companies’...

  23. CHAPTER 20 Missing in Action
    (pp. 132-141)

    You know the old bromide, “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice”? Don’t try telling that to the Swains. We don’t believe it—not after 1968.

    Arlene’s husband and my friend Don Garniss was lost in 1944 when his B-24 plane went down off the coast of France. Because no one saw what happened, he was officially “missing in action.” After one year, he was declared “killed in action.” That settled the matter under the law and allowed Arlene to pursue a new life.

    My stepdaughter Jo Anne never knew her father. Still, when Don’s plane fell, Jo Anne’s life...

  24. CHAPTER 21 DARE
    (pp. 142-145)

    In august 1968, as our family worried about Jo Anne’s husband Patrick, lost over North Vietnam, Americans watched with dismay as protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago devolved into mayhem and violence. A subsequent fact-finding commission termed the episode “a police riot.” Mayor Richard Daley gave orders for the police to crack down hard on those who came to Chicago to object to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The result was a national embarrassment that likely contributed to Hubert Humphrey’s defeat in that year’s presidential election. By unfair extension, it also eroded Americans’ respect for their own local police...

  25. CHAPTER 22 “Don’t Leave Home without It”
    (pp. 146-147)

    In the early 1980s, St. Paul Fire and Marine owned Western Life Insurance. I was invited to address a national sales meeting of Western agents at a southern Colorado resort. That seemed like a fine excuse for Arlene and me to take a few days and explore a part of the country we did not know well. Before the meeting, we headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    On our last night there, our hotel concierge recommended a small Hispanic-owned restaurant in a converted monastery. Off we went. We were seated in a room with only four tables, each of them...

  26. CHAPTER 23 Insurance Encore
    (pp. 148-150)

    As a republican, I didn’t have a close relationship with DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich. But since he was governor for ten years—longer than any other Minnesotan—most Minnesotans who were active in public affairs had some familiarity with him. I didn’t realize how close he considered our acquaintance until I had an unexpected call at the office one day.

    “Hi, it’s Rudy,” the caller said.

    It took me a beat or two to realize that this was the governor calling and to respond appropriately.

    It was 1989, and Perpich’s longtime commerce commissioner, Mike Hatch, was resigning from that post....

  27. CHAPTER 24 Health Reformer
    (pp. 151-157)

    Distress was rising in 1992 over the cost and quality of the nation’s health care system, and characteristically, Minnesota was ahead of other states in trying to solve the problem. Collaboration between DFL Sen. Linda Berglin and Republican Sen. Duane Benson in the 1992 Legislature led to the creation of a state-subsidized insurance program for the working poor, MinnesotaCare. Their bill also established a twenty-six-member Minnesota Health Care Commission and gave it a daunting assignment: recommend a strategy for reforming the practice of medicine in order to put the brakes on rising costs. Its goal was a seemingly modest 10...

  28. CHAPTER 25 Gopher Tales
    (pp. 158-169)

    In 1976, I became the national president of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. That organization’s executive director since 1948 was Ed Haislet, a former boxing coach with a punchy personality to match. He would tell university presidents that he reported to our association’s executive committee, and he would tell the committee that he reported to the president. In his mind, he was a free agent, operating with one strong notion: alumni were to be served by the institution. They were to be regarded as great friends whose needs and wishes were to be accommodated. In Haislet’s view, the university...

  29. CHAPTER 26 Questions
    (pp. 170-172)

    My habit is to ask a lot of questions in just about every setting. It’s my way of showing interest in people, keeping a conversation lively and substantive, and eliciting information that can aid decision making. Sometimes my question is just “Help me understand … ” or “Say more, please.” Often that’s all it takes to get to the heart of matters. On various volunteer boards and committees, I may not have been the biggest donor or the most prominent name, but maybe I contributed by helping the group become better informed.

    One of those panels was created by the...

  30. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  31. CHAPTER 27 Still a Republican
    (pp. 173-178)

    In 1978 I was an early backer of Dave Durenberger—for governor. Durenberger might be considered part of the Elmer Andersen wing of the Republican Party. He’s an attorney and former U.S. Army intelligence officer who was chief of staff for Gov. Harold LeVander from 1967 to 1970 and then went to work for Elmer at H. B. Fuller Co., where he held a number of positions, including legal counsel. I’m not sure when I became aware of him, but I’m sure Elmer figures in our connection.

    It irked me when party leaders decided that retiring U.S. Rep. Al Quie,...

  32. CHAPTER 28 Show ’Em the Money
    (pp. 179-181)

    Determining the rightful compensation for elected officials has always been a matter of political delicacy in Minnesota. The state constitution acknowledges as much, specifying that any pay raise for legislators enacted in one session cannot go into effect until after the next election, giving a new Legislature the chance to repeal it. That gives voters de facto veto power over pay raises. But it also means that legislators have skimped on compensation for themselves and by extension governors, other executive branch officials, and judges. That might be good politics in the short term, but it’s a bad way to run...

  33. CHAPTER 29 Mr. Mayor
    (pp. 182-187)

    Lilydale, the small community just across the Mississippi River and the Interstate 35E bridge from St. Paul, became our home in 1981 and the focus of my public service in later years. Arlene chose the location after we’d spent ten years in Stillwater. She wanted to be closer to grandchildren and city activities. The townhouse she selected suited us well and was our home for thirty-three years, longer than we lived anywhere else.

    In 1996, new Lilydale Mayor Ed Mullarky, whom I knew to be a Republican of moderate mindset like my own, asked me to chair the Lilydale Planning...

  34. CHAPTER 30 Things Change
    (pp. 188-191)

    I shuddered when I came across a joke I used to tell when I gave speeches in the 1950s. It’s one I would never tell today except to make this point: I’ve been party to a great societal change in respect and regard for women.

    The bad joke: A boy complains to his father, “Mommy backed out of the garage and ran over my bike.” Dad responds, “That will teach you to leave your bike on the front porch.”

    In my lifetime, women have gone from newly getting the right to vote—and seldom driving a car—to running major...

  35. CHAPTER 31 Millie’s Ashes
    (pp. 192-193)

    I always admired arlene’s oldest sister, Mildred Jeffrey. Arlene, the youngest of the McWilliams sisters, sometimes faulted Millie for insufficient attention to the McWilliams family. That criticism may have been warranted, but Millie had an excuse. She was busy reforming the world. She spent her whole life working for social and economic justice for disadvantaged and working people. As a student at the University of Minnesota in the 1920s—long before such things were in vogue—she was involved with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the YWCA hosting interracial dances and trying to racially integrate local...

  36. CHAPTER 32 All in the Family
    (pp. 194-198)

    After thirty-three years, Arlene and I consider Lilydale home. But for our four children, the Swain family home will always be the three-story house on Riverwood Place in St. Paul where they grew up. We left that house for Stillwater in 1971 because Arlene insisted, “We are not going to spend our old age in a three-story house.” Grown though they were, Jo Anne, Barbara, and Mary protested the decision. They thought we’d taken away their birthright. Jo Anne, who was teaching in St. Paul in 1971, and Mary, then a senior at the University of Minnesota, went to the...

  37. CHAPTER 33 On Leadership
    (pp. 199-204)

    I’ve mostly been a number-two person—a team player, facilitator, implementer, organizer, get-it-done guy supporting the superb bosses for whom I’ve worked. They were among Minnesota’s best—Peter Popovich, Elmer Andersen, Ron Hubbs, Carl Drake, Nils Hasselmo, Mark Yudof, Bob Bruininks. I was a good fit for a secondary role. I’m not a dominant personality or a charismatic figure. I’ve made myself available, and opportunities to be of service have come my way.

    I’m keen on seeking consensus. That’s an essential skill for effective participation in democracy. When one cares about a cause, one ought to work to build support...

  38. Chronology
    (pp. 205-210)
  39. Index
    (pp. 211-224)
  40. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)