montrew dunham award recipient

Bruce Swanson to be Honored as 2023 DGHS Montrew Dunham Award Recipient

(by Joyce Tumea)

“A Care Bear come-to-life” could well describe Downers Grove resident Bruce Swanson, the Downers Grove Historical Society’s (DGHS) choice for the 2023 Montrew Dunham Award (MDA). “Caring” certainly has to be one of the first words to come to mind when one thinks of Swanson. Head of the DGHS Award Committee, Swanson had no idea of the plotting going on behind his back when the committee was deciding to bestow this award on him. Nor would he have considered himself a worthy candidate, because humility is another of his many virtues.

Amy Gassen, DGHS President, stated that “Bruce has taken his love for Downers Grove and his passion for its history and used that to make our community an even better place. Perhaps more so than anyone else, he personifies the character and culture that the Historical Society tries to embody.”

The DGHS Award Committee – Liz Chalberg, Deb Howard, Andi Kinsella and Joyce Tumea – agreed, and were unanimous in their choice of Swanson to receive this year’s MDA. That award annually recognizes and honors a special Downers Grove resident for his or her significant contributions to the Village of Downers Grove – contributions which have earned that person a place in village history.

Ongoing contributions Swanson makes are handouts to those in need. If he were to be asked, “what’s in your pocket,” he would answer “envelopes.” More important is what’s in the actual envelopes. Each one that Swanson hands out to a person in need could be called “an envelope of hope.” That’s because each contains some cash, but also has an inspirational saying, or cheerful poem or humorous cartoon inside– anything that might help cheer as well as actually help a down on his/or her luck person.  Such gestures have always been a part of Swanson’s history.


Bruce Swanson was born May 7, 1942. He grew up in Hinsdale and attended Hinsdale High School. Following his high school graduation in 1960, he went on to study at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he majored in education, graduating in ’64 with a teacher’s degree. He then took summer school courses at Indiana University and evening classes there and at Purdue University, earning his master’s degree in education in 1966.


His first post with District 58 involved his teaching 5th and 6th grade at Lincoln School. While there, he also made good use of the stage and directed quite a few student productions. His interest in theater has lasted; he is a loyal Grove Players audience member, attending community theater productions being performed on the same stage where he directed his student actors.

He later only taught 6th grade, first at Kingsley, followed by stints at Hillcrest, Whittier, Kingsley, and then Whittier again.

Lois Sterba, also of Downers and a DGHS committee member, said she “first met Bruce when he was my son’s 6th grade teacher.” One of his practices that impressed her was his having his students “write letters to themselves at the end of the year, predicting what they’d be doing ten years later. He kept them and sent them back to the students when the ten years were up,” she stated. These letters were his way of having students reflect on their goals and progress towards achieving them, Sterba explained.

AWARDS he helped create:

During his teaching career, Swanson began his practice of bringing people together and honoring those who deserved special recognition. For example, he collaborated with fellow teacher Lois Kopis, and with John Haine, another member of the Grove Foundation, in creating a Good Citizenship Award. Fifth grade teachers were approached and asked to identify someone worthy from among their students. The idea was that children should be recognized for laudable qualities other than just scholarly ones. The special attention was meant to boost that child’s self esteem and confidence.

Parents were present for the award ceremony, which involved the student receiving an award certificate and a book from Anderson’s Bookshop, along with having his or her photo taken.

Another award Swanson and Kopis created was “Helping Children Grow.” This also involved recognition for qualities other than scholarship. A non-English-speaking student won the award one year. When Haines presented the award to the student, first in English and then in the child’s native language of Chinese, the child’s mother was so touched by that consideration that she was moved to tears, Swanson commented.

Swanson finally retired from teaching in 1994 after a 30-year career. “My real claim to fame related to my teaching,” Swanson explained, “was my having taught Outdoor Ed at Camp Edwards for 50 years, even after my retirement.”


During his teaching career, Swanson also found time to date and marry his first wife, Stephanie Crawford, in 1965. They had one daughter, Janet. Stephanie unfortunately died in 1979. In 1995, sixteen years after Stephanie’s death, Swanson remarried. He and Linda, an artist, have been together for 28 years now.


While still teaching, Swanson found time to participate in community affairs. Following his retirement, he became even more involved. Over the years, he was a member of the Jaycees until it disbanded; while a member, he helped memorialize Downers Grove’s Missing in Action Viet Nam War Marine, Tim Bodden. He has also been a member of the Grove Foundation for about twenty-eight years, and is a current member of several churches and, of course, the Downers Grove Historical Society.

As a member of these other groups, he has helped raise money for the organizations’ philan-thropic activities and various charities. His favorite way of doing so involves his passion for golf; he has held numerous golf tournaments as fundraisers for worthy causes, as well as just for recreation and fun.

HONORING PEOPLE/Historical Society:

Giving well-deserved recognition to others for their good qualities and achievements goes beyond his part in creating the two already-mentioned awards for students while he was teaching.

Swanson has been an active member of the Downers Grove Historical Society (DGHS), since around 2013, after learning about it from noted (now deceased) historians Montrew Dunham and Joan Read.  As a DGHS board member, he is currently chair of the Recognition Committee that annually gives out the Montrew Dunham, Historian of the Year, Founder of the Year, and Historic Site Awards. He was not, of course, initially privy to the Recognition Committee’s  decision to bestow an award on him, let alone the Montrew Dunham one.

Swanson, also the force behind the DGHS’s reinstating Founders’ Day and the special activities that are part of it, such as the bike ride, originally became interested in history as a child. This was due mainly to the influence of his father, an American Airline pilot and his role model. “He taught me a lot of history, and would have me watch movies with him about WWII and other historical events,” Swanson commented. “We also visited places of historical significance like Civil War sites. I also had a wonderful history teacher at Hinsdale High School who not only explained what happened, but why,” he stated.

Yet another way he honors people and makes them a part of the town’s history is by purchasing library bricks and having them engraved. The brick area near the front of the library, facing Curtiss Street, is full of bricks which citizens have bought and use to pay tribute to someone. Swanson has bought dozens of these bricks and had them inscribed with the names of worthy people he has wanted to publicly honor. 


Swanson has always been active, enjoying sports and the outdoors from early on. He ran track and cross country and played tennis at Hinsdale High School, was in the Ski Club at Drake University, and used to go camping and bike riding regularly.

His main sport, though, is golf. He not only plays it, he has taught it through the College of DuPage as part of the Older Adult Institute. As a member of several churches and various previously mentioned organizations, such as the Jaycees and the Grove Foundation, he has  organized and run numerous golf tournaments over the years both for fun and as fundraisers for worthy causes.

These golf tournaments have been held on a variety of courses. He ran tournaments in Minnesota for relatives, beginning in 1975, and some at the Ken Loch course in Lombard, among other places.

At one point, he decided to discontinue holding tournaments at Ken Loch, but “new organizers got involved and created a tournament in my honor,” Swanson explained. “They named it ‘The Bruce Swanson Classic.’”

His fraternity also honored him. At their convention in Atlanta, Georgia, one year, they called to tell him they were presenting him with a plaque for hosting the longest running golf tournament any alumni had organized.

It all began, he explained, in 1978 when he “got a keg of beer” and “invited friends to what became the first “Pine Hollow Open” at the Downers Grove (Belmont) Golf Club. Swanson stated that, after 45 years, “that is the longest running golf tournament in town.”

Swanson, who attends three different churches – Gloria Dei, the First United Methodist Church, and Christ Church of Oak Brook, where he met his second wife, Linda – naturally got fellow churchgoers involved in playing golf. With help from another church member, Sharon Carlson, he established the “Gloria Dei Open” tournament at Twin Lakes Country Club. The tournament was notable for a couple of reasons; it allowed women to play with the men, instead of separately as was the norm back then, and it lasted for 31 years.

Bruce and another man took over running the Christ Church of Oak Brook tournament, which raised money for prostate cancer, and ran it for fifteen years. He often ran tournaments for worthy causes and civic-minded groups, like the DuPage Retired Teacher Association, and the DG Jaycees. The year he was president of Math Men, he tied the group’s campout at a conference in Michigan to a golf tournament. That, and his bringing in Dizzy Trout from the White Sox, “filled the event with a crowd,” he stated.


Swanson’s friend Deb Howard stated that Swanson “quietly fiscally donates to three churches and various organizations.” He also “has been chair of the Scholarship Committee at his church” for a very long time. The committee reviews college student applications and gives the worthiest candidates a check and a certificate. Each winner’s chosen college or university receives a handwritten letter from Swanson, extolling the respective student’s worthiness. These students are also recognized at a church service.

Howard also commented that one of Swanson’s strengths is “bringing people together in some way for various purposes, whether to raise money for charitable organizations or to build relationships and camaraderie.”

Liz Chalberg, former DG Historical Society president, concurred. “It is apparent from Bruce’s widespread and long-term involvement in promoting golf outings and tournaments,” Chalberg stated, “that as far as ‘getting people together’ goes, golf is one of Bruce’s most important vehicles for this.”

“In addition,” Chalberg commented, “Bruce makes things happen. I think of him as an Idea Man, and many times his ideas are about gathering people together or recognizing others’ accomplishments.” The previously mentioned school awards are just one example of this.

Swanson looks out for his fellow man in many ways. His pockets always contain envelopes, and the envelopes hold copies of inspirational or humorous poems or cartoons and sayings, along with some cash. When Swanson is stopped in traffic, for instance, and sees someone asking for a handout, he is sure to give one, via an “envelope of hope.” “He never passes up an opportunity to help someone in need,” Chalberg confirmed.


The poems he includes in his envelopes are to cheer the recipient as much as the cash does. Swanson loves poetry. Fellow Methodist, friend, and DGHS board member Andi Kinsella of Downers has known this aspect of Swanson for many years. Her first introduction to him was when she was on the staff of her church and she, along with the rest of the staff, “would frequently receive a cute, anonymous handwritten note, poem, or quotation,” she commented. She and others eventually learned that these ways of helping others to “have a good day” were from Swanson.


One thing that anyone who meets Swanson soon learns is that, in addition to history, golf, and charitable activities, he also has a fondness for bears, and has wooden ones strategically placed both inside and outside his house, on his property which he calls Pine Hollow. It seems he was in Osco one day and saw a giant stuffed brown bear, which he decided he had to have. It sits in a place of honor in his house, but does get moved around periodically. That huge, stuffed one was the start of his collection of and interest in bears.

Friends joked about combining his fondness for bears, golf and poetry by saying he needed a poem about a golfing bear – and they then composed one for him, which is two pages long. He sends out missives to friends and acquaintances that he calls “bear news,” he commented.  Naturally he is both a Cubs and Bears fan.


Another of his interests is using his yard as a sanctuary for wildlife. He has landscaped his property in a way that qualified it as a designated wildlife habitat, and he has a certificate to that effect.

Swanson, a blessing to all who know him, as well as to strangers he meets on the street, is a credit to the Historical Society and his community. He will be appropriately honored for his virtues and accomplishments, first with a mayoral proclamation at the Tues., Oct. 3rd council meeting, and then with the DGHS’s Montrew Dunham Award.

For more information on the event and to RSVP, visit the event page.

Bruce Swanson
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