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At age 85, he isn't slowing down

Ed Swanson

Ed Swanson

Ed was there when the bombs fell at Pearl Harbor

Salem Lutheran Church at 42nd Street and Dupont Avenue North in Minneapolis has a landmark dining venue at the Minnesota State Fair. It also has a human landmark in Ed Swanson, its 85-year-old custodian. The wiry octogenarian has kept fit over the years through jogging and hiking — and walking with the Lord.
Swanson is devoted to Salem, just two blocks from where he was born. He was baptized in the ELCA congregation in 1919 and confirmed there in 1933. In addition to serving as custodian, Ed prepares the meal every fifth Friday for Salem’s Men’s Prayer Breakfast and, during late August, scrubs pans in the deep sink at the State Fair dining hall.
Swanson’s experiences include having been at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked December 7, 1941, and also having been aboard a minesweeper preparing for the European invasion at Omaha Beach in World War II. So, he was an eyewitness to the beginning of the war and saw the beginning of the end, as his mine sweeper was credited with detonating 30 mines that saved many lives.
At Pearl Harbor, Ed was aboard the USS Maryland and says he could see the face of the Japanese pilot who flew in at an altitude of 50 feet to drop his torpedoes. The USS Oklahoma, an-chored alongside the Mary-land, took the brunt of the attack from that side; Ed’s ship, the Maryland, lost just four sailors. “I knew that was the beginning of the attack, which had been rumored for some time. I saw an oil tank explode and ships, including the USS Arizona, hit. The sky was black as night for more than a day [following the Japanese attack].”
Swanson joined the Navy in 1939, following his 1938 graduation from Minneapo-lis North High School. Having spent six years in the service, he wears a cap with the logo of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
Though he admits that for some of his years he “wasn’t walking with the Lord,” Ed prayed about returning to Salem Lutheran Church. He says he “saw a “flash” that he interpreted to mean he should reconnect with his childhood congregation, which he did in 1962. Swanson says that “flash” was another in a series of spiritual experiences he’s had through his lifetime.
On his return to Salem, the Sunday School superintendent recruited him. He spent 22 years as a teacher. He’s also been involved in church committees, and his interest in photography is shown in several photo displays mounted on the church walls. For the past five years, Swanson has served as church custodian.
An avid hiker, he walked the rugged terrain around Hol-den Village in the state of Washington on seven different summer trips. He found the hiking brought him closer to God, as did trips to numerous national parks. For years Swanson has been a YMCA member, where he worked out after his shift at a sheet metal firm in northeast Minneapolis. He says he has “Y” trophies attesting to 7,000 miles of jogging.
The limber 85-year-old says he couldn’t have asked for a better childhood than he had near Salem Church. He treasures the relationships formed with neighborhood friends many years ago. Never married, Swan-son lives in nearby Brooklyn Center, an easy commute to Salem.
Today he drives a bright red Jeep Liberty vehicle that replaced a Ford Bronco he drove for 19 years. Mary Helnfinstein, parish secretary, makes it no secret that she expects Ed to “keep going another 19 years” with those new wheels.
New wheels or not, Ed continues his walk with the Lord, serving Salem Lutheran Church.