James I. Swenson attributes his outstanding success to the education that he received, and he and his wife, Susan, have given back generously to UMD. In October of 1999, the Swenson Family Foundation donated $10 million to UMD, the largest single gift the campus has ever received. Of that $10 million, $7.5 million is committed to the Swenson Science Building, and $2.5 million is designated for chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology academic scholarships. In addition, since 1993 the Swenson family Foundation has each year supported up to 32 UMD academic scholarships.
Jim Swenson is an energetic, creative man whose roots lie deep in the Northland. He was born in Superior and is the eldest of five brothers. Upon his mother's death in 1955, Jim and his dad worked hard to keep the family together despite some very hard times. His father worked long hours running Eddie's Bakery, and the youngest brother in the family was only two years old.
Jim worked several jobs, including a paper route which he held for nine years through high school. He began college at UWS and then transferred to UMD and enrolled in the chemistry department where he termed his learning experiences "outstanding".
Working in the UMD chemistry lab doing peat research, Swenson says he received much individual attention, outstanding career counseling and "a real feel for industry and research." Those are things he wishes to help pass on to future generations of students at UMD.
He graduated from UMD in 1959 with a B.A. in chemistry; that degree, he says, made possible his tremendous success. He and Susan Locken were married that same summer.
After returning from the military, he proceeded to work for eight different large corporations including Honeywell, Univac, and Century Data. "I did not feel comfortable in the large corporate structure," he says.
With four employees and a $15,000 second mortgage on his house, Swenson began his own company...a very small printed circuit shop. His goal, he said, was "to bring high technology printed circuits out of research and into industry."
They created the "inner layer details" for printed circuit boards, and thus arose the name of his company, Details Inc. It became the fastest quick-turn-around engineering prototype circuit board shop in the United States whose client list included Compaq, IBM, Apple, Motorola and the like. When Details Inc. was sold in 1997 it had 480 employees, and Jim Swenson knew them all personally.
Jim and Susan Swenson live in California, but they visit their native Northland frequently. Now Jim Swenson wants the Swenson Family Foundation to help others because of the help extended to him in his early years as a college student at UMD. "The value and gratification to me is enormous," he says.