REMEMBERING OUR FOUNDER, WWII VETERAN
Born in 1925, Roger Swanson grew up in Kansas City, MO and from a young age took to journalism and aviation. His grandparents were poor farmers from Sweden and Germany. Though his father barely graduated the fifth grade, he worked his way up in a photo engraving firm to provide a middle class living for his three sons and wife even during the Great Depression. Swanson attended Paseo high school and rose to the position of editor for his school year book. While at Paseo he also enlisted in Army JROTC, both events being preludes to his future path.
Following graduation from high school, Swanson enlisted in the US Army Air Force without being drafted. He quickly completed officer training and graduated as a Second Lieutenant. His official duties were public relations officer and navigator in B-17s and B-24s. During Swanson's time in the Army Air Force, his career took him all across the United States and then to East Anglia briefly at the close of the war in Europe.
He spent the bulk of his time during the war guarding the Panama Canal Zone and flying on missions throughout Latin America. His responsibilities included conducting patrol missions for reconnaissance on Japanese subs as an aerial navigator and serving as the chief editor for The Beach Times in Rio Hato.
Following the war, Swanson returned home to begin college and attended Kansas State University. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and picked up a job with the Kansas City Star while studying as their official correspondent in Manhattan, KS. While he wrote and studied, he cultivated a close working friendship with the President of the school, Milton Eisenhower whose brother Dwight Eisenhower served as the Supreme Allied Commander in the war.
While at KSU, he also met his wife Shirley Bynum. The two wed in Kansas City, MO on the Plaza the day he graduated. They honeymooned in Florida, a foreshadowing of things to come. During his tenure at the Kansas City Star from the late forties through the early 1970s, Roger Swanson served as both the editor for the Sunday edition and jet-setted the globe as a travel writer, visiting over 100 countries. He also learned to fly and remained a pilot for nearly fifty years.
Moreover, the Star frequently dispatched him on a wide variety of special investigations and interviews where he encountered everyone from politicians to gangsters, though his Republican sentiments made him ask if there were a difference.
Though personally he remained skeptical of an overreaching government, Swanson held great admiration for Presidents from all sides of the aisle and met or interviewed several, including a brief stint as stand-in correspondent for the Star at the White House in 1959. Additionally, Senator Fulbright entered his name into the Congressional Record for his support of the Senator's scholarship plan.
In the 1950s, Disney Land took off and transformed into a national icon overnight. To cover the new park for the Star, Swanson, traveled to meet Walt Disney and tour Disney Land with his public relations director Charlie Ridgeway. That decision opened the path way years later to move to Florida as the Vice President of Public relations for the new Disney Florida project in the 1970s.
During his time at Walt Disney World, Swanson escorted celebrities and held events for famous movies stars and important guests such as Jonas Salk, who discovered the vaccine for Polio. In addition, Swanson helped organized the now infamous Nixon "I am not a crook" press conference at the Contemporary Resort. One of his greatest honors included announcing the preliminary plans for constructing EPCOT, Walt Disney's final wish.
Leaving Disney at the close of the 1970s, Swanson branched out into television broadcast news as a local anchor for several news stations including Channel 9 News and Channel 6 News.
His experience with being Sunday editor and travel writer at the Star left a yearning for print journalism. The foundations of his career were based in writing and he sought to bring about a new type of journalism to central Florida - one that spoke the language of the reader and not that of some left-wing do-gooder at a corporate paper.
The Orlando Local News stretched from Lake Buena Vista to central Seminole County. Based in Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill, Swanson and his family enjoyed a friendship with Palmer and always specially promoted the Bay Hill Classic. Though Swanson retired a decade after opening the paper, his legacy lives on with the rich central Florida history found on its pages.
Roger Swanson's life represents the American Dream at its best. His belief in the values of patriotism, faith and hard work embody the best in America and live on to this day in his life and family.
He and his wife Shirley bore three children (Mark, Nancy and Anne), five grandchildren and one great grandchild. Swanson passed away on May 7, 2020.