90-year-old with heart of gold volunteers at hospital

By Elizabeth Sias

Ken Swanson counts his blessings every day.

The 90-year-old has been volunteering for almost three years at Cambridge Medical Center as a front desk greeter, where he provides information and helps people find different locations in the hospital.

“I like helping people,” he said. “Sometimes people in a wheelchair will come in and I help them. That makes me feel pretty good at almost 91 years old and I’m able to help people.”

Ken Swanson is a 90-year-old volunteer at Cambridge Medical Center. He sits at the front desk as a greeter, providing information and helping people find locations in the hospital. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

When he’s not busy helping people, Swanson spends some of his time at his home in the East Terrace apartments, a cooperative he and the residents own.

They enjoy coffee on Wednesday mornings, play games a couple nights a week and do woodwork in the basement wood shop. Some of the items they make include picture frames and birdhouse kits for disabled Industries, Inc. employees to assemble.

The Braham native is able to drive himself not only  to and from the hospital when he volunteers, but also around the community and even down to the cities and occasionally up to Duluth, a favorite vacation spot.

He said he has no secrets to a healthy, long life; his mother lived to 103 and her sister until 106, so he guesses it’s in the genes.

“My dad died at 70, but I’m kind of following in my mother’s footsteps,” he said.

And he’ll continue following in her footsteps of living a long life when he celebrates his 91st birthday on June 7.

Growing up on a farm with two brothers and a sister, Swan had his fair share of work helping with the harvest and milking the cows.

He graduated from Braham High School in 1939 and met his wife Ruth a year later. To this day, Swanson remembers the exact date he and Ruth met: Sept. 14, 1940. They were both roller skating at a roller rink in Rush City and Ruth caught his eye immediately.

He enlisted in the Army before they married, however, and from 1942 to 1945, Swanson served as a combat engineer in the Pacific during World War II. He was responsible for building roads and bridges and transporting people.

When he came home from service, he and Ruth got married on Oct. 6, 1945. He began his career as an electrician and the two lived in Cambridge for four years before moving to their longtime home of Fridley. They had two sons and two daughters who all live in Minnesota.

After spending nearly 20 years as an electrician, Swanson worked at Rainbow Foods and became a bus driver for the Mounds View school district.

Ken and Ruth Swanson were married 57 years and three weeks when Ruth passed away from cancer at the age of 80.

It was then he decided to volunteer at Unity Hospital in Fridley.

“She spent so much time in the hospital so I figured after she was gone if I could do something to help somebody, I wanted to do that,” Swanson said.

For four years he volunteered as a runner, which involved taking people from their rooms out to their cars when they were discharged, transporting patients in the hospital from one place to another and delivery various items.

He moved back to Cambridge about three years ago and began volunteering at Cambridge Medical Center, where many staff members, patients and visitors know him by name as the greeter just inside the front doors.

“It makes me feel good,” Swanson said. “I thank God every day for my ability to be up and around with the health that I have.”