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Doctor’s passion lives on through bequest

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When Pam Moran met Dr. Kenneth Swanson, her world was upside down. Despite surgery, 70% of a tumor remained on her six-month-old son Derek’s brain, requiring two and a half years of chemotherapy and MRIs from Dr. Swanson every six months. "I was mad at the doctors, at the nurses and at God," she said. 

The wait for results was unbearable. Pam remembers shaking in her waiting room chair. But, instead of enduring days of uncertainty, she was comforted by Dr. Swanson, who shared Derek’s progress immediately after every MRI. "I’m sure it wasn’t protocol, but it’s the only way I could sleep during the most difficult time of my life," she said.

For 46 years, Dr. Swanson sensitively served families like Derek and Pam Moran’s at Akron Children’s Hospital. The first in his department to master the CT scan and MRI, he spent every holiday working and most lunch hours consuming as much knowledge as humanly possible, sharing interesting tidbits with friends and colleagues.

"We called them Kenvelopes," radiographer Jason Duncan recalled. Whether a colleague was a wine connoisseur or a cat lover, Dr. Swanson always remembered their passion and clipped, copied and shared with them as much on the subject as he could fit in a #10 envelope — "often more," Jason said.

Having never married, and with no local relatives, Dr. Swanson’s friends and co-workers were his family. Caring for them and his patients was his mission, but music was his passion.

For 18 years, Dr. Swanson volunteered as a physician at the Cleveland Orchestra, even traveling with the group to Europe and Southeast Asia, where he had once served at a Thailand-based M.A.S.H. unit. He was the house physician at Blossom Music Center, too. He administered vitamin B shots to the likes of Kenny Rogers and exchanged niceties with legends like Janis Joplin. ("She was fun," he would always tell colleagues.)

Dr. Swanson also was a self-taught keyboardist, and he relished playing the century-old pipe organ at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Former church music director David Forrester credited him with attracting the world’s foremost Bach organist for a concert at Trinity on the eve of the composer’s 325th birthday. "Ken adored the whole thing," he said.

Dr. Swanson lived a full life. As he neared its end, he called on his executor, Roetzel & Andress attorney Roger Stevenson, to review his will. "I looked at it and said, 'Ken, you’re leaving things to organizations that don’t exist anymore,'" Roger said.

So, he introduced Dr. Swanson to his law partner, estate attorney and ACF board chair Steven Cox, who shared the benefits of starting a fund at Akron Community Foundation through a bequest. "He didn’t have any close family, and we knew he loved the arts, so a fund at ACF made good sense," Steven said. "He also liked the flexibility of being able to benefit many different organizations."

"He wanted to make a difference — let people know who he was and what he cared about," Roger said.

On Sept. 2, 2015, the Dr. Kenneth F. Swanson Fund for the Arts was established to support local music and arts programs, which will keep Dr. Swanson’s passion alive forever. 

Hearing the news, David Forrester recalled three most fitting words of Dr. Swanson’s: "When something was really good, he’d say, 'Not too shabby.'"

Not too shabby, indeed.

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