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Portrait of a Rotarian: Richard D. “Dick” Swanson

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Vol. 12, No. 44, May 15, 2000

 Portrait of a Rotarian: Richard D. “Dick” Swanson

Dick Swanson
Dick Swanson

Born in Everett, Washington, Dick and his family moved to Issaquah when he was a year old. Growing up, he remembers when Issaquah had 672 souls, and Bellevue just 850. In high school, his fond memory was his basketball career, when the Issaquah team beat the unbeaten Bellevue squad, 32-31 … the last game of 1947. Dick wore number #3 and was co-captain for Issaquah, while another fellow named Dick Swanson who also wore #3 was co-captain for Bellevue. Dick’s mother, who is now 95, was one of 16 students to graduate from Issaquah High school. She’s the only living member of her class.

Dick began working for his eventual father-in-law, owner of Alpine Dairy. “This was the largest dairy operation at that time, which later sold to Darigold. It boasted a fleet of 100 trucks for retail, wholesale, and home delivery.”

Dick started out “icing trucks. I’d shovel shaved ice into sacks and then load them into the milk trucks to keep the milk cold. I worked until 10 p .m. each night and lasted six weeks, when they offered me a chance to drive truck. I was still going to school, but I knew all the routes, so I always had a job during vacations.”

Swanson went to Central Washington University for two years before transferring to the UW. He was reading in the Saturday Evening Post about the value of orthodontics and it whetted his appetite for dentistry.

By the time Dick graduated from dental school in 1955, he had been married to his childhood sweetheart, Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) for three years. “We were first grade sweethearts.” The marriage has produced five children, “two attorneys, one dentist, and two mothers.” The Swansons have 11 grandchildren, 6 boys and 5 girls. “Every one of my kids are better parents than I was,” says Dick proudly.

A two-year stint with the Air Force in France in 1956-58 was “a wonderful time … we lived in a chateau, the kids learned French, and Joan and the kids went skiing at every opportunity.”

Back in the Seattle area in 1958, Dick started work at a dental office in the Medical-Dental building in downtown Seattle. An unfortunate accident on the Mercer Island Bridge, however, convinced him to move his work to Bellevue in 1960. His first office was across from the Cadillac dealer; next was across from the hospital; and since 1970, on 116th. Dick and his son Chris are planning a new office in a new tower being built at Overlake Hospital. They’ll be the only dentists in the multi-floor facility. “It’s 3,000 square feet, and we’ll be in when the building opens in August. I plan to slow down and keep busy.”

Along the way, Dick served as President of the Seattle-King County Dental Society in 1972. What he likes best to do, though, is sing, golf, and fish  – but maybe not in that order. “Every year, a group of us heads north to Kamloops, B.C., for a five-day fishing trip. We visit eight different lakes, rowing all over, and fish all day. We’ve been doing this for 30 years. Our family has purchased a condo at Kahler Glenn, a condominium near Fish Lake, about 20 minutes east of Stevens Pass. The kids can ski, Joan can do cross country, and there’s a golf course at the site.” (Dick was a charter member of Sahalee Golf Course beginning in 1969.)”

Perhaps Dick’s signature hobby is singing. He  has been a member of Northwest Sound Barbershop Chorus for 25 years. He has sung both in chorus and in quartet regimes. He is presently a member of the “No Name Quartet,” which is working to enter some competitions in the early summer. This week, there are 325 barber shoppers on board the new cruise ship, the Norwegian Sky. They’ll be singing and competing, then entertaining on their way to Alaska and back.

Dick’s family attends St. Louise Catholic Church in Bellevue, where he is working to put together a quartet to sing at church events and services.

For the past 16 years, Dick has been fighting a rare form of cancer, which takes him to the Bahamas twice a year for 3 weeks at a time. He’s been doing this for 10 years as part of a treatment for the disease. “I have an opportunity to do make-ups while visiting this island paradise.”

Dick joined Rotary to contribute to his community. “I haven’t put back what I expected and I regret that I couldn’t do more.” Dick has been a regular attender and has participated in the annual activities of the Club. He joined in March of 1986, two months after the Club had its first meeting. After 45 years in dentistry, serving as Chairman of the State Dental Board for eight years, and teaching at the UW, plus all the times he’s readily entertained his Rotary Club with song, Dick Swanson has given back in the best spirit of Rotary.


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