'Things come out of my head'
John Swenson was a town of Kinnickinnic farmer for decades, but many people will recall that his named appeared often on the Journal's editorial pages.
Swenson, who died last week at age 83, was a prolific letter writer as well as a self-published author.
His four books were "My Navy Experience: 1943-1946;" "Just Looking out the Back Door;" "Stuff;" and "The Crew." Copies of each can be checked out at the River Falls Public Library.
Mary Murphy served briefly with Swenson when they were elected to the Kinnickinnic Town Board.
"John was a good teacher and mentor," she said. "I admired his sense of public duty and how he understood the importance of participating in the democratic process.
"We all know he was full of interesting opinions and he researched them quite well. He will be missed as a good citizen in our community."
Swenson's writing was salty, practical, cranky, philosophical, provocative and, yes, not always easy to follow or agree with.
Agree or disagree didn't matter. Daughter Toni Christiansen, a Westside first grade teacher, said her dad "wanted to get people to think."
"That was his goal," she said. "He would even take the opposite point of view from what he sometimes believed, just for the sake of discussion."
Here are John Swenson letter excerpts that appeared over time in the Journal:
Swenson's son Bob, a town of Pleasant Valley dairy farmer, was another who didn't always agree with his father. But he admitted his dad soaked up so much information that he was impossible to out-debate.
"He'd often stop by, sit at the kitchen table and expound on some topic," Bob said. "Then a week later he'd call and ask if I'd read his letter in the paper. I'd tell him I didn't have to because I already knew what it was about from his talk."
John Swenson told the Journal in September 1993 that letter writing was healthier and wiser for a man of his advanced age.
"Long ago I used to be able to sit and argue," he said. "I was never violently argumentative, but now I can't think as fast. So I do it with written words -- and they came slow."
Slow or not, the words and ideas accumulated. In his book "Stuff," with chapters like "Highway Beauty," "Fat Cats," "Easter Chicken," "Growth, Is it a Sin?" and "Functionally Illiterate," Swenson explains the writing urge:
"Things come out of my head, and I cannot help myself so I write them down...The recommended reading place is in the bathroom. The pages in this book were specially designed for dual purpose -- use and recycling. If at some point you don't agree with me, you can use a page to make a statement of your own."
"Stuff" was dedicated "to my lovely wife, Ardis F. Nestrud Swenson." At the time of John Swenson's death last week, the couple was married for 62 years and five months.
Ardis -- or "Ardie" as she's called -- said John was the "love of my life who would do anything for me."
While in theory she edited her husband's letters and books, Ardie said John didn't like her to change much.
"I was more a period-and-comma person," she said. "But I was really astounded by some of the things he wrote. He was smart."
In "My Navy Experience," John Swenson chronicled being the new recruit after enlisting at age 17 and later getting a "dear john" letter. He was to be on major invasions in the Pacific, including at Iwo Jima.
From "Just Looking out the Back Door":
Swenson's most unusual book is "The Crew," marketed as science fiction though Swenson suggests the story is factual:
The narrative begins when Swenson and his wife bump into an airport stranger while returning from a vacation in Las Vegas.
The man excuses himself to make an urgent phone call, never returns but hands them an envelope with a baggage claim that leads to a brown leather suitcase. Inside is a cryptic set of notes about a human crew's experiences with an alien, telepathic species and a corridor used for rapid spacetime travel.
While the extraterrestrials, called Runwaonians, differ from humanity, there are passages that imply intriguing links: "They are members of the intergalactic intelligence of the universe...The Earth and all inhabitable planets have been visited in ancient times by beings from the skies. They've stayed a while, intermarried, gave birth and went away leaving a genetic trace that all tribes of the galaxies possess.
"(Runwaonians) live, learn, work, propagate, practice a religion, grow old and die, embracing the belief that mortal life is just a stopping place till they return to their God and giver of all life in the universe."
See more photos in the Feb. 25 print edition of the River Falls Journal.