In December 20008 the St. Louis Park Historical Society was sorry to note the passing of one of our best friends, Donald Nels Swenson.
Don’s St. Louis Park roots run deep. In 1923 his father Nels Swenson, along with partner Carl Redeen, opened the Swenson Redeen Meat Market and Grocery in the Walker Building on Walker Street. In those days, housewives called in their order and the groceries were delivered to their door. The store was a great improvement from having to take the streetcar to Minneapolis for groceries.
In 1927 Don’s parents moved to St. Louis Park and Don was born on January 2, 1928. He graduated from Park High in 1945, served in the Army, and returned to the University of Minnesota to finish his education. He worked for many years in the area of human resources and served as Vice President of Personnel for Massey Ferguson, Inc.
Don played a key role in the life of the St. Louis Park Historical Society. Although he had not lived in the Park for many years, in 1998 he decided to write a book of memoirs by people who had grown up in the Park during the Depression. He called the book Something in the Water, a sly reference to the City’s experiences with the Creosote Plant. From his home in Arizona, he contacted many of his classmates and children of businessmen like his father to get first hand accounts of how life in the Park was like in the 1930s and early ‘40s.
He needed additional reference material, however, and turned to the SLP Historical Society. Unfortunately, with the death of founder Marie Hartmann in 1996, the Society was floundering and the collection of documents was in disarray. Through Don’s persistence, a major sort was done in the summer of 2000. Don used those documents to supplement his book. Without Don’s push, those materials may have not seen the light of day for several more years. (They are now safely stored at our office.)
Don self-published his book, and made copies available to the Historical Society to sell. After recouping the cost of copying, proceeds were donated to the Society. Copies of the book are still available. This is an important resource, especially since the chapters are not included on the Society’s website.
At the same time he was writing his book, Don also wrote a series of articles on St. Louis Park history for the Sun Sailor.
Don remained in contact with the Society and made regular visits to his old home town. On one of those trips he recorded his memories of his early family history for the Society’s Oral History series.
After a brief bout with pancreatic cancer, Don passed away on October 14, 2008, at age 80. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Connie, and his sons Craig and Joel. He is also survived by his brother Clayton Swenson, a recipient of Park’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Don’s legacy is his book Something in the Water. The book is available by sending a check for $20 to our mailing address: 3700 Monterey Drive, St. Louis Park 55416.
THE DON SWENSON FUND
In a typical act of generosity, Don and his family have requested that memorial bequests be made to the Historical Society. With the funds we have installed plaques around the City on historic buildings in his memory.
One of our most historic buildings is the Walker Building, built in 1892 (take the road directly in front of the Central building and follow it west to the former “Brick Block,” sort of a ghost town downtown.) The Walker Building was the site of the Swenson-Redeen Grocery and Meat Market, owned by Don’s father, Nels Swenson. The store was located in the Walker building from 1923 – 1948. (In 1948 it moved across Walker Street to the Hamilton Building, the other component of the “Brick Block,” which burned down in 1958.)
Two plaques have been installed on the Walker Building: one for the building itself, and one for Swenson-Redeen Grocery. Another plaque has been installed on the Milwaukee Road Historic Depot.