A Lifetime of Service
Adele Swenson of Fargo, formerly of Kindred, passed away on March 19, 2017 at the age of 95. The Fargo Forum, in a profile in 2012 by Tammy Swift called hers a “Charmed Life”. A similar article in the Grand Forks Herald summed her life as, “A life less ordinary: Kindred native grows up to meet Eleanor Roosevelt, lead national medical society”. An article in Area Women Magazine by Carolyn Lillehaugen called hers “A Lifetime of Service.” Adele had a lot of stories to tell and many of her stories have been assembled by her family on a special website, www.Adele Swenson.com.
Born in 1922 to Henry and Inga Swenson on a farm in Kindred, North Dakota, Irene Harriett Adele, along with sister Katherine, struggled through the difficult times but were successful in maintaining their farm through the depression and the drought. Graduating top in her high school class, Adele was awarded a full scholarship to Jamestown College and, with expense money from helping as a nanny and part time secretarial duties, she started as a freshman in 1940. In December of her sophomore year, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and many of the male students quit college and joined the military and Adele’s life changed dramatically. Following graduating with a teaching degree, and with no brothers to serve in the military, Adele and a friend heeded the government’s call for help, passed the civil service exam and took the train to Washington, DC to start a 12 month commitment “to do her part” as a “government girl”.
Never having been more than 100 miles from home, Adele had no concept of city life or experiences with other cultures but she developed a list of “TINKs”, Things I Never Knew. Arriving by train at the huge and busy Union Station, packed with military and non-military people arriving and departing, they reported to the Navy Department booth where each woman received housing and work assignments. Adele’s first assignment was working in the secretarial pool in the temporary office buildings left over from World War I located on each side of the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. It was her job to transcribe the tape recordings of court martial proceedings to become part of a permanent record.
After an evaluation period, she was reassigned to what now would be called Human Resources or Industrial Psychology, gathering and analyzing data that lead to the creation of improved training programs and personnel policies. It was during this time that she worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt designing programs for returning veterans to gain the skills necessary for establishing businesses of their own. She also worked with Mrs. Roosevelt to develop a pilot program to help young women working in government jobs during the war to attend college in the evenings to enhance their education and experience in social and cultural activities.
Adele enjoyed her time in Washington particularly the post war celebrations of VE Day (Victory in Europe), VJ Day (Victory in Japan), General Eisenhower’s triumphant victory parade as well as the sad occasion of standing on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue as President Roosevelt’s funeral procession passed by.
With her 12-month commitment completed, Adele returned to North Dakota for a more “normal” life, initially teaching high school Hope, Page and Enderlin, North Dakota and later enrolling in the University of Minnesota to study economics and finance. She moved into business by joining the executive staff at Brown and Bigelow, a printing and marketing products company in St. Paul where she worked for 13 years. Her life changed again, when she accepted leadership positions with the Girls Scouts working for a total of 10 years in St. Paul and in Rochester, Minnesota where she was presented with the highest national honor the Girl Scouts can bestow, the Thanks Badge.
It was in Rochester where she became acquainted with a radiologist at Mayo Clinic who was a member of the Board of Directors for the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), an association of radiologists, radiation oncologists and medical physicists. The RSNA was changing its management structure from having a physician secretary handling the day to day management to having a full time professional Executive Secretary. Competing against three men, Adele was appointed to the position in 1971.
Over the next fifteen years, believing the mission of the RSNA was education, she changed the organization from an invitation only structure to one that was open to all members in the field, growing the membership to over 25,000 and hosting the world’s largest medical meeting at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Recognizing the lack of research being done in radiology, Adele was instrumental in founding the RSNA’s Research and Education Foundation. The multimillion R&E Fund now provides funding annually for research and scholarships.
At her retirement in 1985, the RSNA prepared a 117-page booklet titled, “RSNA Remembered: Reminiscing with Adele”, chronicling the advancements and achievements the Society enjoyed during her tenure and also presented her the Distinguished Service Award, or Gold Medal. She was also instrumental in creating the American Association of Women in Radiology and received the Gold Medal for her service to that organization as well.
Following her retirement, Adele moved to Cold Spring, Minnesota to a house by a lake where she created a consulting company to help other organizations grow. In 1993 Adele moved to Fargo to be closer to her family. She continued her service on the Board of Directors of the RSNA R&E Foundation for eight years having a Research Grant named in her honor. She then turned her attention to other service related activities. She served as a Regent for the University of Mary in Bismarck where she was awarded their Harold Shaeffer Leadership Award. She helped Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo with marketing and fundraising and then consulting with the staff of Waterford, later Touchmark Retirement Living, in their communications and activities. She was instrumental in creating the Heritage Garden in the courtyard at Touchmark including donating a large floral sculpture. Always the planner and organizer, she also generously hosted several “Tacos in a Bag” picnics for the residents at Touchmark.
A fall on Christmas Day forced a move to Bethany where she was rehabbing when she passed away. She is preceded in death by her father, Henry Swenson, mother Inga Myhre Swenson and her sister, Katherine Hedland. She is survived by a niece, Ilene (Don) Rohde of Kindred, two nephews, Vern (Marilyn) Hedland of Fargo and Merle (Kathleen) Hedland of Naperville, Illinois, six grand nieces and nephews and many great grand nieces and nephews.
Funeral Services are planned for Friday, April 7, 2017 at Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo, North Dakota starting at 11 am. Interment will be at the Kindred Cemetery in Kindred, North Dakota. Arrangements by Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo. In lieu of flowers, friends should consider a donation to their favorite charity in Adele’s name.