Dick Swantz, 84, a former long-time school superintendent in La Crosse and community advocate, passed away Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.
Dick believed in being a good parent, the well being of all children and a life as a public servant. His lifelong accomplishments reflect a life of activism centered on his beliefs. He was a man of faith, lover of fresh oysters, and a fervent Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan. Those who worked with him, as well as knew him as friend, found him a quiet, respectful man who listened to all views; whose actions reflected truth, integrity and focus on the greatest good for all. His work and his life leave a legacy of making a difference.
Dick was preceded in death by his parents, Arthur and Anna (Schuck) Swantz; and daughters, Angela and Lucina. Dick is survived by his wife of 60 years, Judith (Ferdinand); three sons, Ben, Ted, Tony (Connie); three granddaughters, Lauren (David), Sarah (Kyle) and Audrey; four great-grandsons, Luke, Landon, Nolan and Eliot; and his sisters, Anne Marie Brunet and Ione Pagel.
He was superintendent of schools from 1977 to 1998, the longest serving superintendent in the La Crosse district. After retiring from the district, he became a local activist and got into politics. Swantz was elected to the La Crosse city council in 2007 and later would become council president.
The following biography was written when he was inducted into the Logan Wall of Fame in 2015. It perhaps best captures the true essence of the man. “Dick was born in Fond du Lac, Wis., June 2, 1935. After graduating from Fond du Lac Senior High in 1953, Dick served in the U.S. Army as a military police officer and then matriculated at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, earning a degree in history education in 1958. Dick and his wife, Judith, spent the next 19 years in McHenry, Ill., where Dick was a history teacher, then an elementary school principal, a high school principal and finally the superintendent of schools.
In 1977, Dick, along with his wife and three sons, made a major career and life decision and moved to La Crosse, where Dick became the longest serving superintendent in School District of La Crosse history (1977 to 1998). During his tenure as superintendent, Dick presided over the construction of new Logan High School, which was finished in 1979. In a time when there was a perception of “two” La Crosses—the “poor” North Side and the “rich” South Side—the new school and Dick’s leadership were transformational events in city and educational history. With Mr. Swantz at the helm, Logan and the North Side were no longer second-class citizens. Instead of looking to avoid Logan, people were purposefully choosing to move into homes in the Logan boundary. In Dick’s own words, the construction of Logan became “a springboard for equality.”
It is no accident that Dick is still a beloved figure among veteran teachers in the School District of La Crosse, often greeted in appearances at district functions with a standing ovation. His tenure as superintendent is fondly remembered as a time of high student achievement and strong support for public education. In recognition of his service, Dick was named the 1995 Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year. In 1998, Viterbo University awarded Dick an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters-a plaudit that is especially cherished by him.
Upon his retirement from the School District of La Crosse, Dick reinvented himself by diving into local activism and then into local politics. From the Rotary Club to the La Crosse Community Foundation and numerous other organizations in between, Dick spent countless hours focused on making La Crosse a better place to live. In 2007, Dick ran for La Crosse City Council and became an elected public servant for the first time in his life. As a Council member and later Council president, Dick has been a key figure in reinvigorating the economy and neighborhoods of La Crosse.
In La Crosse history, figures such as Mayor Frank Powell may have been more colorful, but Richard “Dick” Swantz is arguably among the most influential people to ever live in the city. Dick Swantz has been a leader in La Crosse for nearly 30 years, first in education and then in politics. His contributions to Logan High School and civic life in the 7 Rivers Region will be felt for generations to come.”
The Swantz family wishes to thank Dr. David Momont, Gundersen Health System, and Bethany St. Joseph Care Center.
Visitations will be held at The Gathering Place, 133 Mason St, Onalaska. Visitations will be from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 28, and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Oct. 29. The memorial service will follow 11 a.m. to noon. Coulee Region Cremation Group is assisting the family.
The family requests memorials for Dick are given to the La Crosse Public Education Foundation (The Swantz Endowment Fund).