La Crosse Community leaders honor the legacy of Dick Swantz

Dick Swantz has a full resume of accomplishments over the 40 years he spent working in and for the city of La Crosse.

But those close to him say he wasn’t concerned with recognition, but the best for La Crosse’s children.

To see the legacy Dick Swantz left on La Crosse, you only need to look at the buildings he helped build.

“His legacy of work lives on in the school district,” said Superintendent of the La Crosse School District Randy Nelson.

Swantz took the position of La Crosse superintendent back in 1977. He brought drastic changes, redistricting high schools so a more diverse set of students were in each school.

“There are well-known people in this town that, heaven forbid have their student go to Logan, and would move so their kid could stay in the Central High School boundaries,” recalled friend of Swantz, Bill Hoel.

Swantz helped Logan High thrive, with students from the north and south sides of the city.

“Not only was it better for La Crosse, clearly everybody admits that now, but it got Dick Swantz, even though he didn’t seek it, state and national recognition,” added Hoel.

After 22 years as superintendent, it was difficult for him to retire.

“He could have said, ‘I’m cashing it in,’ but was called to the duty of local government,” recalled Tom Thompson, former president of the District Wide Parent Committee.

After leaving education, he helped raise funds, and construct the Hmong Cultural Center.

“He made a lot of significant calls, and raised over a million dollars for that building,” said Sheila Garrity, Former Executive Director of the La Crosse Community Foundation.

“We worked close together. Going around begging money to build that building, and his fingerprints are all over it,” recalled former Mayor of La Crosse John Medinger.

Those fingerprints, can be found all over city hall as well, as city council president.

“He really taught a lot of city council people how to function on a respectful debate level,” said Hoel.

“When there is adversity, you need to have the ability to bring all parties together, and he was amazing at that,”said Thompson.

All the work Swantz put towards these buildings, was driven by one thing.

“You bring up a child’s name, the work of children, and a big smile would come across his face,” remembered Thompson.

“What was never mistakable about Dick was that he stood for the children,” said Nelson.

“He would quote the Masai Tribe, and the Masai Tribe when they approach another village would say ‘how are the children?” and Dick would use that in his greetings. And with Dick we can say the children are well,” said Garrity.

In addition to president of the city’s city council, Swantz also volunteered at the Rotary Club of La Crosse along with several other organizations.

Swantz was also a key component to downtown La Crosse’s renovation while on common council.

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