Ruth W. Swenson

Honored by:Clayton A. Swenson and the Botany Department
Brick location:PAVER:22 and PAVER:3  map

Honored by Clayton A. Swenson

Ruth Bowman's early home was in the anthracite-mining community of West Pittston, PA (where she was born in 1924 and lived until leaving high school), with summers on the beaches of Long Island Sound responsible for an early and lasting love of the ocean. After appointments at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Princeton University, and the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D. C. (including a year in Switzerland), she and her husband William C. Wildman came to Ames in 1962 where he was a Professor in the Department of Chemistry. There is a gap in her professional experience between 1950 and 1967, a period during which she was taking care of two sons, Bill and Randy. Her academic background was in Chemistry (A.B. from Mt. Holyoke in 1946 and M. S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1947) but in 1965 when the family required less care she decided that a change was necessary for a second scientific career and she began studying and working towards a Ph.D. in Cell Biology in the Department of Botany at Iowa State. These plans in part complemented her husband's interests in natural products chemistry; they were co-authors on a number of scientific papers.

She received the Ph.D. in 1969 (a study of blue-green algae) and joined the Department of Botany as an Assistant Professor the same year. Freshwater algae are common to the natural environment and her research which was funded in part by the ISU Water Resources Research Institute and the EPA involved these algae as tracers for potential and real pollution problems, some of them from coal-fired power plants. These interests led to participation in the Iowa State University Coal Project. During this time she supervised 3 Ph.D. and 3 M.S. students and published a dozen papers in scientific journals. As a faculty member, she also was heavily involved with both formal teaching and the advising of undergraduate students, activities she enjoyed and found rewarding. Because of these contributions to both research and teaching, she was promoted to Associate Professor in 1972 and to Professor in 1977.

This research and experiences with students gave her a solid background and excellent credentials for the final and probably most satisfying part of her career which began in 1975 when she became an Assistant (later Associate) Dean in the College of Sciences and Humanities (now College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) with the specific assignment to make sound advising available to students in the College who were unable to decide on a specific major. She established a group of excellent professional advisers to work with these students; her efforts were recognized by the establishment of the Ruth W. Swenson Outstanding Adviser Award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She also was active in efforts to interest young women in science--here her career (chemist, mother, then cell biologist, and administrator) established her as a true role model for these young persons. She was one of the founders of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) at Iowa State and remained active in this organization even after her retirement.

Her complete honesty and integrity, and willingness to work hard and effectively at anything she agreed to do (she was an invaluable committee member and often chair) gained her the respect of everyone, students and colleagues, with whom she had contact. A major achievement was chairing the information committee which oversaw the extremely smooth transition from the Quarter to the Semester system at Iowa State in 1981. During most of the period until her retirement she served as one of the University Marshals at graduation ceremonies a duty she enjoyed since (and I quote) "It is rewarding to be with students who have been successful after seeing mostly students with problems during the semester." Student recognition came through election to Lampos and Cardinal Key, and she was uniquely honored when she retired in 1987 by being named Associate Dean Emerita as well as Professor Emerita in the Department of Botany. She carries the same enthusiasm for work into any organization to which she belongs. Her innovative work with students was recognized by the National Academic Advising Association where she served on the Board of Directors for three years. She was one of the charter members of the Zeta of Iowa Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, which was installed at Iowa State in 1973 and has acted variously as Historian, Secretary, Vice-President, and President of the Chapter. When she retired in 1987, she became Secretary-Treasurer of the ISU Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi for three years. She has been a very active member of the Iowa Academy of Science and was an elected member of the Board of Directors from 1985-90, the last two years as President-Elect and then President. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the establishment of the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering at the ISU Parks Library, and her papers were among the first in the collection.  The previous comments refer primarily to academically-related activities, but she has been active in the community as well. She served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Ames Town and Gown Chamber Music Association (President, 1983-3, Secretary, 1994-96), the Ames International Orchestra Festival Association (one year as Treasurer), the Central Iowa Symphony Association and the Emergency Residence Project (shelter for the homeless). She has been active on the Ames center Community Council of Planned Parenthood, is the President-Elect for the Ames League of Women Voters (1994-5), is a City of Ames member of the Analysis of Social Services Evaluation Team (ASSET, 1993-96), and has contributed significantly in early years to the Collegiate Presbyterian Church, and more recently, to St. John’s by the Campus Episcopal Church. Her other interests/activities include (or have included) the American Red Cross, the Ames Community Arts Council, the American Association of University Women, the Mary Greeley medical Center Auxiliary as a volunteer, the University Museums and the Octagon Center for the Arts, as well as P.E.O. Chapter HO in Ames, where she became very active after her retirement, serving as President in 1992-3. Her endowment of the William C. Wildman AIOFA Scholarship (in memory of her late husband), which each year pays the tuition for a promising undergraduate music student at Iowa State University, reflects a long-term interest in music.

These talents and contributions were appreciated both at Iowa State and in the State of Iowa. A very significant recognition occurred with her election in the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989.

The above reflects the activities of a very intelligent, caring and person-oriented individual. She enjoys people, and is widely known and appreciated. Friends who receive special awards, or who encounter personal tragedies and problems, or who just have birthdays, are sent personal notes. She stays in contact with many of the students and postdoctoral associates from her early years. Her enjoyment of cooking has resulted in the widespread belief that an almost infinite store of cookies exists, cookies which appear at receptions after concerts. The new family from her second marriage has warmly accepted her, and gives her two grandchildren. She had a list of places to go and things to do when she retired, and, to date, has been able to accomplish most of these. Some of her best memories are of the weeks spent each year at the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman in the Caribbean, where she could join the other fishes in the water; the contrast with the Southwest (nurtured by five months on leave at Los Alamos) is great. Both have their attractions, but a replacement for Little Cayman must be found.

How is a heroine defined? If it is as a person who is recognize to have had a significant positive impact on a diverse group of people, Ruth Wildman Swenson certainly qualifies!

In loving tribute,
Clayton Swenson

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"Ruth W.

Honored by the Botany Department

Career paths often take unusual turns and Ruth (Bowman) Wildman Swenson's has been a meandering trail. From early years in a mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania through college in New England (A.B. Mount Holyoke 1946), an M.S. in chemistry (Univ. of Illinois 1947), and a succession of moves with husband William Wildman (Univ. of Wisconsin Princeton National Institutes of Health and a Guggenheim Fellowship at E. TH. Zurich) she landed in Ames Iowa in 1962 when her husband was appointed a professor of chemistry at Iowa State University. His field was natural products chemistry but his botanical knowledge was limited. With two sons in middle school, Ruth was eager to accept his suggestion that she study some botany to enhance their understanding of his research. She took one botany course, got "hooked" and earned her Ph.D. in cell biology/botany in 1969. Dr. Swenson was instrumental in developing the new Biology Program and she established a research program in freshwater algae, graduating three Ph.D. and three M.S. students before moving full-time to the College (then S&H, now LAS) Office as Assistant Dean of Academic Support Services. She helped streamline the advising procedure, developed an advising program for students who were not yet ready to declare a major and was honored by the establishment of the Ruth W. Swenson Outstanding Adviser Award. She chaired the university information committee, which was charged with guaranteeing students a smooth transition from the quarter to the semester system. She retired in 1987 as Associate Dean emerita and Emerita Professor of Botany, but continues to serve active roles on campus on the LAS Dean's Advisory Board and the Advisory Boards of the Music department and the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering (where her papers were among the first in the collection). In 1980 after the death of her first husband, Ruth married a long-time friend Clayton Swenson, who at that time chaired the Physics Department. In retirement, they have traveled far and wide, including East Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Alaska and Antarctica. They enjoy hiking, and Ruth still loves snorkeling. With the second marriage, she inherited two daughters and a son to add to her own two sons. Ruth has become heavily involved in community service as a City of Ames representative on ASSET (1993-96 vice chair 1995-96), president-elect (1994-95) of the league of Women Voters of Ames, and service on the boards of the Central Iowa Symphony and Ames Town & Gown Chamber Music Association. She provides volunteer service at Mary Greeley Medical Center, St. John's by the Campus Episcopal Church and the Emergency Residence Project shelter for the homeless. A large flower garden always brings joy and satisfaction.


Paver Inscription:

Lois H. Tiffany
Ruth Swenson
Ada Hayden
Charlotte King"