Former Citizens League board chair, and current supporter, Tom Swain is turning 100 on July 4, 2021! 

Countless civic leaders have found inspiration in Mr. Swain’s unwavering commitment to Minnesota’s civic vitality. His influence on public life in Minnesota is extensive, and is illustrated through the long list of his involvement with Minnesota’s institutions: chief of staff to Governor Elmer L. Anderson, vice president for University Relations at the University of Minnesota, chair of numerous state commissions, and board chair of the Citizens League from 1985-1986.

In honor of Mr. Swain, our friends at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School and Alumni Association are celebrating this milestone, while making a commitment to one of Mr. Swain’s highest priorities: combatting climate change.

Click here to leave a message for Mr. Swain.

We asked past Citizens League leaders to share their words about working with Mr. Swain in a collective effort to make Minnesota a better place to live and work for everyone. Read on for their messages!

Pahoua Yang Hoffman

Pahoua Yang Hoffman

Former Executive Director, Citizens League

When I was appointed to be the Citizens League’s seventh executive director by the board at the end of 2017, I was excited but I did not feel adequate given those that had held the role before me: Verne Johnson, Ted Kolderie, Curt Johnson, Lyle Wray, and Sean Kershaw. Tom Swain was amongst the first to congratulate me and we met several times where he gave me sound advice.

He shared stories about growing up on Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis, not far from where I live now. We talked about his involvement with the Citizens League over the years, our changing climate, healthcare costs, and how one can’t be considered “old” until their kids are on Medicare. His are. We often have a negative image of older adults, but Tom broke every misconception. At age 85, he ran for mayor of Lilydale and at age 94, he told me he began dating a younger woman. I learned she was 90-years-old. His joy for learning, living, and helping others benefitted me and so many people who had the privilege to know him. Happy birthday, Tom, and thank you for the constant inspiration.

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien

Longtime Citizens League Supporter

Happy 100th Birthday, Tom!  How fortunate Minnesota has been to have Tom Swain as our native son.  Since July 4, 1921,  as the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”goes, you have been :  “a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the 4th of July.”  Thru hard times–depression, WWII,–and good times–your marriage to Arlene, family and career–you contributed your intelligence, energy and ethics to serve our country, University and state..  All of Minnesota and its institutions are beholden to you.  Some of us, me included, have been fortunate to have you as a mentor and friend.  Thank you for your servant leadership to Minnesota, its business and political leaders and our University.  Thank you for guiding me with your wisdom, humor and sense of fairness.  It has been a gift to be a part of your 100 year journey, Tom.  Dia dhaoibh agus slainte mhaith a thabhairt duit (Irish to English:  God bless you and give you good health)

– Your colleague and friend, Kathleen O’Brien

Sean Kershaw

Sean Kershaw

Former Executive Director, Citizens League

What’s remarkable to me about Tom Swain is his incredible mix of being completely ‘relatable’ – and absolutely extraordinary at the same time.  He’s always seen his role above all others, as a ‘citizen’.  Not in the legal sense but in the sense of being obligated to govern for the common good.  He’s done this in every sector, and for generations – literally.  He’s brought the sense of humor and sense of joy that this work so desperately needs.  And he’s brought a sense of honesty and asking tough questions that is more important than ever in public policy and politics. I’m one of thousands of people that is better for knowing and getting the chance to work with Tom.  Minnesota is better because of his 100 years here!

Athena Adkins

Athena Adkins

Former Citizens League Board Member

Tom likely doesn’t know this, but he has been present at several very critical points in my career.

The first was as an undergrad at the University of Minnesota and working at the Minnesota Daily. The Daily was honoring his brother-in-law and I gave him and other family members a tour of our newsroom. As a young person, it was really the first time I worked with a “VIP.” Next, I ran into his reputation and legacy when I was offered my dream job working at St. Paul Travelers Foundation as a program officer. I was thoroughly confused as to why he seemed to be so important at both the University and this Fortune 100 company. Was he inevitable? Then, I was finally asked to sit on the board of one of my most favorite organizations—the Citizen’s League—where, again, I got a close look at Tom’s legacy and commitment to community. Finally, when I decided to go back to graduate school and finish my master’s degree—16 years after I started it—I was chosen as a Swain Fellow. This was the most personal connection. As a seasoned and established adult—going back to school was really intimidating. Getting the Swain Fellowship felt like a vote of confidence in my experience and my abilities and a very well-timed “atta girl.”

I am sure that I am not the only person who have “secret” connections to Tom. With a career as long as his combined with his commitment to community and a deep curiosity about people—he has surely touched many more lives than we are aware. For me, I appreciated the opportunity to talk to him, learn more about his journey, and express my appreciation for his presence and ultimately for his support as I took my next steps to continue to develop my leadership and deepen my own commitment to community.

Happy Birthday Tom. On this anniversary of your entrance to the world, I want to commend and thank you for making so much of you time, experience and insight to benefit those around you. Thank you for being a strong set of shoulders upon which we build. I wish you the happiest of birthdays!

Jean King

Jean King

Jean King, former Citizens League board of directors, 1981-1986, 1989-1992

It was always good to serve with Tom Swain on study committees because I learned so much from him. He kept asking questions, not in a pedantic way, but in a way that all of us benefited. I always had a good feeling being around him, and the new acquaintances that would come from knowing him. He did not ignore tough topics. I  frequently quote him — he would often start a thought with “help me understand…” He would later come back with his thoughts, but he didn’t start conversations by prioritizing his point of view. Happy Birthday to Minnesota’s esteemed public servant and dear friend.

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