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Retirees Association

Donald Swanson

1927 - 2015

Don Swanson came to Wright State in 1971 when the university was only nine years old. He was an integral part of the Department of English until his retirement in 1998.  All who encountered him remembers him with great affection and respect. Dr. Henry Limouze, emeritus chair, writes, “Don Swanson was a colleague, scholar, teacher, reader, and friend.  We were lucky to have him, and he will be missed.”
His wide-ranging knowledge of nineteenth and twentieth-century English and American literature made him a core part of the department’s offerings, and he was instrumental in the department creating and developing its graduate program.  During the 1990s, he served as graduate director.  Dr. Henry Limouze notes, “I will always be grateful for this. Those who were faculty during that decade may remember curricular reform, planning, mission statements, assessment, ‘visioning,’ and more planning. The English department could seem like a whirligig that spun crazily while we strove to absorb the latest in higher education, or fought battles to defend the humanities, or just tried to keep up with our own scholarship and grading. But Don was the ‘still center’ of our department.  He had seen worse battles.  Don had served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, when unarmed cargo ships were routinely sunk by U-Boats.”
       His calmness and good humor combined with his depth and breadth of knowledge to make him an engaging and versatile teacher and conversationalist.  Dr. MaryBeth Pringle recalls that “Don's head was always off somewhere among the stars of literature and history. There was often a surprising story to hear or fact to learn when you encountered him.” From his graduate work at Rutgers, Don had tales to tell of meeting Dylan Thomas and befriending the poet John Malcom Brinnin. A visit to his office for graduate advising could include a from-memory recitation of Chaucer to demonstrate how the Prologue might have sounded, a tale from his days in the Merchant Marine that illuminated an aspect of Conrad’s work, or a kindly reminder that he would provide refreshments for the evening graduate seminar.
His wide-ranging curiosity and dedication to knowledge was on display during a sabbatical during which he investigated the genre of crime fiction.  Not content to simply read, he enrolled in the Dayton Police Academy’s Neighborhood Assistance Officer training course, which included ride-along beat work.  He followed this by then writing his own crime novel to see how the practice of crime writing could shed light on the genre.
       Don’s devotion to his wife, Willa, was much admired and remarked upon, and he is remembered above all for his gentle spirit and kindness.  A 1981 memo from Dr. MaryBeth Pringle speaks to his unassuming and generous nature.  A disabled student needed to be hospitalized, and Don volunteered to tutor him in the hospital rather than have him be unable to complete the class. Dr. Pringle wrote:  “I’ve known for years now that you’re a special kind of teaching professional.  This particular act of kindness doesn’t surprise me, but I’m moved by it all the same.”
       That best portion of a good man's life,
       His little, nameless, unremembered acts
       Of kindness and of love.
             William Wordsworth
       No doubt there were many more of these acts in Donald Swanson’s life, but the faculty, staff, and students of the Department of English were privileged to know of, and be the recipients of, many of them.