Of Love, War, and Cookies

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

By Kevin Moe

Burt ’50 BSB, and Helen ’51 BS, Swanson have a deep affinity for the Carlson School. In 2007 they created a lasting reminder of the relationship: the Burt and Helen Swanson Family Scholarship for undergraduate students. However, their appreciation goes way beyond the education they received here. To them, the school represents much more—it is a tale of love, war, and cookies.

The story begins with Burt coming home from a 13-month deployment in World War II, anxious to continue his education. “The makeup of the school of business was quite different than today,” he says. ”There were about 900 to 1,000 students and only about 40 of them were women.”

Despite the long odds, he met the love of his life, Helen, when he applied for chairmanship of the Business Board, which oversaw extracurricular activities such as Business Day. “I had to explain to the board why I would be a good chairman,” he says. “That’s where I met my wife—she was the sophomore student representative on the board.”

Burt won the job, and one of his responsibilities was to help organize the next Business Day. The event featured conferring the title of Miss B-Day. “The contestants were sponsored by the various women’s organizations,” says Burt. “My wife was one of them. She didn’t win the title, but she was in the group and that’s how I got to know her.”

Soon they were an item.

A slight change in plans

When Burt graduated in 1950 (he also received the Tomato Can Loving Cup award that year), he received gold bars as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Fifteen days later, the Korean War broke out, but it seemed far away. Burt continued on with his life, working in a summer management training program at Donaldson’s and marrying Helen in September. “While we were on our honeymoon, I was called into active duty,” he says. “I had a week to wind up my affairs, quit my job, sell my car, and get out to California and report.”

His major in marketing and merchandising and a minor in accounting helped him land a position as an executive officer of a quartermaster company in Kobe, Japan, which helped run a general depot that received, stored, and shipped supplies to U.S. forces in Korea. After the war, Burt went to law school on the G.I. Bill. Until his retirement in 1995, he practiced law for 40 years, the last 30 in business law. “That’s where my business school training really helped me,” he says. “I understood how to talk to business people, knew what their problems were, and how to read a cash projection and a balance sheet. I owe a lot to the school.”

Helen taught for several years and worked at an advertising firm in Minneapolis after finishing her degree in business education. She is thankful for the education she received, as well as for the friendships she forged, particularly in the Phi Delta business sorority. “We met every Monday, had dinner at Mrs. Bryant’s Tea Room, and would walk over to another home to hold our meetings,” she says, adding that she still meets with her friends a few times a year for dinner and bridge. They also have an annual Christmas cookie exchange, now in its 53rd year.

Lasting contributions

The business school experience continues to be an important part of the Swanson’s lives; one of their sons, Tim, earned his MBA from the Carlson School in 1983 and is now a bank president. Through their scholarship fund, Burt and Helen ensure that students of all means and backgrounds can have the same positive experiences they did. The Burt and Helen Swanson Family Scholarship is given to incoming freshmen, with preference to students who have shown an interest in how the free enterprise system works, or demonstrated evidence of leadership and/or entrepreneurial experience. “We wanted to make a lasting contribution to the business school,” Burt says. “We are thankful for so much.”