The Rev. Gerald Swanson, a Thousand Oaks resident who taught and provided spiritual guidance to California Lutheran University students for three decades, has died. He died at his home in Thousand Oaks on July 3 at the age of 77.
Swanson became Cal Lutheran’s first full-time campus pastor in 1969. He played an important role in helping students through a time when the Vietnam War raged and social concerns heated up at home. He helped form Cal Lutheran’s student congregation, Lord of Life, and led ongoing discussions on the issues of the day. His contemplative spirit and compassionate counseling served students well. Swanson guided countless students on the path to ministry or other careers of service. While he was pastor, he also helped teach an honors humanities program, a role he relished because he loved the power of the written word.
He left his role as pastor in 1986 and began splitting his time between teaching English and serving as the director of the university’s Learning Assistance Center. At the center, he helped struggling students develop academic and personal management skills and overcome disabilities. As an assistant professor of English, he developed a popular class called Literature of the Earth that combined the study of literature with environmental issues. As both a chaplain and a faculty member, he challenged students to evaluate and debate social and political issues in a balanced manner. He retired in 1999 and was granted emeritus status.
A native of Illinois, Swanson earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Augustana College. He earned a master’s degree in divinity at the Augustana Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1963. He served as the founding pastor of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Canfield, Ohio, and briefly served as an associate pastor of a Detroit church before he and his wife, Cal Lutheran English professor emerita Jan Bowman, came to Thousand Oaks with their three young children.
The couple remained active at Cal Lutheran following retirement. In 2003, they were honored with the Christus Award for strengthening the bridge between the Church and the university. In 2007, the Alumni Association named them Honorary Alumni.
In the larger community, Swanson volunteered for the Holden Village Lutheran retreat center, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, Conejo Valley Hospice and the Southeastern Ventura County Drug Abuse Project. He also served as chair of the Conejo Valley Refugee Committee, which sponsored a 25-member Vietnamese family and helped them settle in the Conejo Valley in the 1970s.
Bowman died in 2009. Swanson is survived by the couple’s children, Mindy and Cal Lutheran alumni Krister and Karl, and their families. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3, in Cal Lutheran’s Samuelson Chapel. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Swanson Memorial Fund at Cal Lutheran or Holden Village.