James I. Swenson attributes much of his outstanding success to the education he received at UMD. And he and his wife, Susan, have given back generously--with gifts totaling over $21 million.
In 1999, the Swenson Family Foundation donated $10 million to UMD, the largest single gift the campus had ever received. Of that $10 million, $7.5 million was committed to construction of the James I. Swenson Science Building (opened Fall 2005), and $2.5 million was designated for chemistry and biochemistry academic scholarships. Since then, the Swenson Family Foundation has supported numerous additional programs and activities at UMD and has awarded over 200 scholarships and undergraduate research fellowships to UMD students.
On September 21, 2007, generous, new donations by the Swensons were announced by Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin and College of Science and Engineering Dean James P. Riehl. Those gifts include $7.7 million for science and research scholarships, along with $3 million toward the construction of a new civil engineering building planned for the UMD campus.
Jim Swenson is an energetic, creative man whose roots lie deep in the Northland. He was born in Superior, Wisconsin 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. He 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. degree in chemistry. That degree, he says, made possible his tremendous success. He and his high school sweetheart, Susan Locken, were married that same summer.
After returning from the military, he proceeded to work for eight different large corporations including Honeywell and Univac. "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.