The Life and Legacy of Jim Swanson
Written By: Jennifer Buhler | Posted: Tuesday, July 24th, 2012
Giant of the Faith
A great man has departed from us. Jim Swanson, known for his enormous stature of nearly seven feet, was also a giant in the faith. Jim went home to be with the Lord on June 30th after a battle with liver cancer.
Jim was a giant in many ways. He was a regular contributor to this paper and had an uncanny knack for taking current events and using them to teach spiritual truths. He also worked behind the scenes in counseling the editors and owners concerning the content of the paper.
In his church, Jim was indispensable. He was the leader of the Bible Training Institute, taught Vacation Bible School, preached every summer at a camp in Osseo, sang in a men's quartet, and often filled the pulpit for his own church and others'. Most importantly, he was a godly example of a Christian and a wise counselor to all in the church.
Jim was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. He grew up in a loving home but he did not hear the gospel of Jesus Christ until he was in college. Jim viewed himself as "a pretty good person" until a fellow student challenged him to read the gospel of John in the Bible. It was then that he realized that God's view of him was diametrically opposite to his view of himself. When he came to the end of the book of John he read, "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." Jim realized that he had believed about Jesus, but he had never believed on Jesus; that is, put his trust in the sacrificial death of Christ for his sins personally. It was then that Jim believed and found life in Christ.
Jim also realized his calling in life during his college years. Being enrolled in a liberal college, his professor of religion did all he could to destroy Jim's faith in the Bible. One day while reading the book of Ephesians, the Lord gave Jim assurance that he could trust God's word. Jim then made a resolution, "I dedicated my life to teaching the Word of life, the Book of books." He spent the rest of his life doing so.
Jim had a way of making the Bible come alive. He taught in a Christian school in Tennessee for many years and later pastored in New Brunswick, Canada. "Teaching was not just a job or a hobby; it was his passion," recalled his son Andrew. Many former students from Tennessee said that Jim Swanson was the best teacher they ever had. He composed around a hundred scripture songs for his students to help them memorize Bible verses.
Although Jim's passion was to teach the Bible, he was also a brilliant man in all areas of knowledge. "Dad loved to learn," said Andrew, "often he would point out facts that were too obscure to mention or care about." Jim acquired much of his love for learning from his father, John Swanson, who was a famous paper chemist. Jim delighted in science and wrote many articles on science and creation. He was also a diligent student of history and would study the lives of famous men to find spiritual applications. Several of his summaries appeared in the Eau Claire Journal.
Much of Jim's success as a teacher was due to his great sense of humor. He could keep the attention of children and adults alike as he slipped in jokes and little ironies throughout his messages. Jim loved children. One of the silliest ways he displayed his humor was through a ventriloquist's puppet named Jerry. Jim learned ventriloquism as a boy and Jerry was his "alter ego" where he could say anything without reserve.
Jim and his wife Ruby had seven children, two of which have special needs. Jim was a model of godly fatherhood as he carefully taught and discipled his children. One man said of Jim's pastorate in Canada, "You left them with the idea of what a family should be like in a godly home". Jim was constantly talking about his children and grandchildren. Jim's son Nate recalls of his father, "He was always interested in the things we like to do. He was willing to listen to us. He was always excited about our lives." Jim was also very involved with his grandchildren, even though they lived in different states. He would write an email with Biblical lessons and stories every week and send it to all his grandchildren. In order to further invest in his grandchildren's lives, he published his own character building novels.
Jim will leave a lasting legacy with his children and grandchildren, but also to all who knew him. In his last days, Jim displayed his consecration to the Lord as he came every Sunday to hear the Word of God, even though he was too weak to sit up and would lay in a recliner during the sermon. In fact, Jim was faithful in everything he set out to do.
His lasting legacy in our own family is a method he taught us to memorize the scripture. With this method, Jim had memorized several books of the Bible, including much of the New Testament. We have even used his method for teaching children as young as five years old. In my own life, his greatest impact was his meekness and humility. With all his knowledge in both the secular and the sacred, I had never met a more humble man. He was never proud of his knowledge and he would not take offense at criticism or ill treatment. He was willing to do the lowest tasks and tried to serve everyone.
Jim was a giant in so many ways that it is difficult to describe all the virtues of this man of God. He will be greatly missed by all that loved him, but we know that he is now in the presence of his God and Savior for all eternity.
Jennifer Buhler is a writer for the Eau Claire Journal. She is a homeschooler and a mother of seven and a half children. She lives with her husband in Augusta.