John G. “Jack” Swenson, 92, passed away peacefully Dec. 12, 2018, in Mandan. Although he was born Nov. 28, 1926 in Crookston, Minn., with the name John, his mother Ruth always called him Jack, and it stuck. The hospital receipt from St. Vincent's Hospital shows the charges for his birth as “Paid in Gold,” which he was always quick to point out.
At the age of 7, Jack’s family moved to a small farm in northern Minnesota near the village of Hines. It was there that he met his future bride, Mavis Lucille “Vicki” Smith, and at the age of 14, he told her that someday he planned to marry her. They were married on Jan. 26, 1945, in Hines.
As a youngster growing up on that isolated farm, Jack listened to the radio every day and marveled at the power of the words that he heard from broadcasters such as Edward R. Murrow. He decided then and there that he wanted to be a “foreign correspondent.” He got his start by finding a part-time job at the local paper, The Blackduck American.
Jack finished high school a year early. Armed with only his diploma, a shabby cardboard suitcase, and his American Legion Student of the Year award, he boarded the midnight train in Hines and headed to Minneapolis where he found a job at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and began his long and storied career in journalism and photography. Notable people he interviewed included several U.S. Presidents, as well as Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. One of his photographs was used on the cover of Life magazine in the 1960s.
In 1944, Jack moved to Fargo and joined the announcer staff at WDAY radio. As soon as he turned 18, he went into the U.S. Navy, serving at the Naval Separation Center in Boston. The Navy recognized his writing skills, and they posted him there to write personal stories for local newspapers about the sailors being discharged. It was part of his job to get to know each of them, a job he enjoyed very much. One day, a very recognizable name came across his desk: William Patrick Hitler. Patrick was none too fond of his uncle, the dictator of Germany, so he came to the United States and served honorably in the U.S. Navy. Jack literally ran to his commanding officer to tell the story. It led to a promotion.
When Jack was discharged, he and Mavis returned to Fargo and WDAY, then on to KVNJ where he worked until 1949. In 1950, they moved to Bismarck, where Jack became the news director at KFYR Radio. Television came to KFYR in 1953, and Jack became the first news anchor in Bismarck. In 1956, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Jack was a congressional aid for North Dakota Congressman Otto Krueger. When Krueger’s term ended, the family returned to North Dakota and Jack became the news director at KXMB-TV in Bismarck.
In 1963, Jack was offered the position of executive director of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. In 1972, he became executive director of the American Petroleum Institute’s 11-state central region in Chicago. In 1975, it was on to Denver to become executive vice president of the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association. He retired as president of RMOGA in 1987, and he and Mavis moved to their “golden pond” in Custer, S.D. He was inducted into the North Dakota Petroleum Council Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 2001, Jack and Mavis returned to Hines where he returned to work for the Blackduck American after an absence of nearly 60 years. Although semi-retired, he was happy to re-join his first love of newspaper work. He covered local stories and wrote his popular weekly column, Across the Lake.
In 2012, Jack and Mavis moved back to Bismarck where they enjoyed reconnecting with many of their lifelong friends.
Jack was preceded in death by his parents Gilbert and Ruth Swenson; his beloved Mavis; sister, Helen Heiland; brother, Rodney Swenson; and grandson, Webster Swenson. He is survived by his children, Janet Dove (Richard), Joanne Swenson (David Root), David Swenson (Jan) and Suzi Bauer (Fred); grandchildren, Nathan Sawaya, Stephanie Mitchell, Graham Swenson, Drake Bauer, Dawson Bauer; great-granddaughter, Phoebe Joy Mitchell; numerous nieces and nephews and his dear friends, Stan and Donna Sharkey and Carol and Dennis Page.
Honoring Jack’s wishes, services will be held at the same church Jack and Mavis were married at in Hines. They will be interred together at Blackduck Cemetery this spring. His family gives special thanks to the caring staff at Miller Pointe in Mandan and the physicians and nurses who showed him such gentle caring and affection in his final days.
Memorial donations may be made in Jack’s honor to the Blackduck Historical Society (www.blackduckhistoryart.org), the Humane Society, or your local animal shelter.