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In Memory of Sherm Swenson

In Memory of Sherm Swenson

Sherm Swenson served as Bethel’s executive vice president of administration and finance from 1987-1998

Sherm Swenson, Bethel executive vice president of administration and finance from 1987-1998, died on April 8. “Sherm was a top level leader at Bethel, first as a trustee and then in his role as executive vice president,” says President Jay Barnes. “He helped Bethel elevate our approach to marketing and to recruitment of students. His commitment to Royal Care made us more responsive to concerns raised by students, parents, or employees. In addition to his important institutional leadership, Sherm invested in the lives of students and executive leaders at Bethel. He wanted to support us in becoming our best. I am thankful for his vital contribution to moving Bethel forward at an important time in our history.”

Swenson joined Bethel at a time of major institutional transition, and brought a wealth of knowledge and skills in critical areas of management, admissions, branding, marketing, human resources, and staff development. At the time, he was CEO of a major national retail corporation and was serving as chair of Bethel’s governing board. He resigned from his corporate role to join Bethel’s leadership team. “His expertise and passions were exactly what Bethel needed to maximize the tremendous opportunities for enrollment growth and an expanded curriculum in areas that to this day are ‘headliners’ for Bethel,” says George K. Brushaber, president emeritus of Bethel University.

Swenson’s expertise and innovation affected Bethel operations university-wide. According to Brushaber, Swenson devised and championed the concept of Royal Care that is now part of Bethel’s DNA. Student dining was marked by major upgrades; Human Resources brought employees new and improved services; and leadership development gained added importance. Swenson also had a hand in the development of significant new facilities and instructional technology. “As Bethel grew in strength and enrollment,” explains Brushaber, “Sherm invested energy in planning and pushing the construction of new and much needed facilities, including key academic space, student residences, and athletic facilities. He worked hard to provide the adequate instructional equipment for the expanding curriculum and for the digital revolution just gaining speed.”

Tom Johnson served as executive vice president for enrollment, technology, and program development during Swenson’s tenure, and recalls Swenson’s ability to innovate and motivate. “Sherm was always working to make sure students had the most excellent experience possible during their time at Bethel,” he says. “He brought many ideas for assuring that positive student experience from the years he spent as a business executive and church leader, and was always innovating to move forward in the most productive ways. He found ways to make his colleagues feel appreciated and rewarded, motivating them to always do their best as we worked together in the Bethel mission.” 

Swenson was “a true servant leader,” says Sherie Lindvall, former senior vice president of communications and marketing. “He worked with his team to develop their leadership skills, and taught us all a great deal about establishing Royal Care in our interactions with our colleagues and constituents. He taught and modeled joyful stewardship, professional development, effective and aggressive marketing, team building, and the value of mentorship and encouragement. His commitment to God, family, and wise use of talents and treasure left a legacy for those who followed him.”

Swenson impacted Bethel at a critical time in the institution’s history, and his legacy is found in the fabric of Bethel’s culture and influence today in so many ways. “Sherm contributed so very much to Bethel’s growth and stature as an institution of Christian higher education, in Minnesota and nationally,” says Brushaber. “He deserves our highest appreciation and gratitude. He was a gift to Bethel at a time of great need and ripening opportunity.”

A celebration of life will be held for Swenson and his wife, Joann, on May 19 at 11 a.m. at Ridgewood Church, Minnetonka, Minnesota. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be given to the Ridgewood Church Youth Group, 4420 County Rd 101, Minnetonka, MN 55345, and The Grace Place in Stuart Florida, 1550 SE Salerno Road Stuart, FL 34997.

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