Richard Seow and his family stayed in close contact with his host parents, Jackie and Chuck Swenson, over the years.
A few weeks before he died this spring, Charles (Chuck) Swenson received a bundle of letters from the University of Oregon—all from current Swenson Scholars.
Each, in their own words, told him how much the kindness that he and his wife Jackie had shown to a fellow international student, Richard Seow, BS ’83, has inspired them.
In 1979 Seow, a newly arrived UO freshman from Singapore, was extremely homesick being so far away from home, with no friends or family nearby. It was the second session of summer school, a time when residence halls were nearly empty because few students were on campus. The normally extroverted Seow felt terribly lonely when he learned he had a visitor.
“Jackie came to see me in the dorms,” he said. “She brought a nice basket of homemade cookies, but what really made the difference was her warm smile and her reassuring words.”
Jackie explained that she and Chuck were now his “friendship family.” She told him that all he was feeling was understandable, and that things would get better.
The Swensons would become like parents to Seow. More than three decades later, he describes them as “two of the most incredibly kind and loving people that I have been blessed to meet.”
Looking back, he felt their kindness had “such a phenomenal impact” on his future that in 2008 he funded a UO scholarship in their honor. Since then, Swenson Scholarships have helped 15 international students.
In their letters, the students told Chuck that their Swenson Scholarships allow them to spend more time focusing on their studies. That having the scholarship motivates them to work harder. That learning the story behind it makes them determined to show kindness—and gratitude—to others.
“My life has been changed a lot,” said Tanainan Chuanchaiyakul of Bangkok, Thailand, of her Swenson Scholarship. “I am thankful to Mr. and Mrs. Swenson for being such kind and inspiring people. I will do my best to contribute to the community and inspire others.”
A double major in psychology and economics, Chuanchaiyakul holds two volunteer research assistant positions, one in the Social Cognition Lab and the other in the business school’s Marketing Lab. She also serves as a peer mentor in the Office of International Affairs.
Giao Nguyen Quynh Ta of Da Nang, Vietnam, said the Swenson Scholarship frees her parents to save for her younger sister and brother to go to college.
“My parents work really hard. I am very, very happy to put less burden on them,” said Ta, whose work-study job as a technical assistant in the College of Education also helps pay for her UO education. “The Swenson Scholarship means the world to me.”
Chuck Swenson died on April 7. He was born July 18, 1923, in River Falls, Wisconsin. In 1942, he was drafted out of college into the US Army Air Forces. Upon earning his wings, he was assigned to the 8th Army Air Force and the Italian Campaign. After the war, he spent a year in Paris with the European Air Command. One of his duties was flying participants in and out of Nuremberg for the War Crimes trials.
He joined the 3M Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, after he was discharged. In 1951, he married his beloved Jackie. They and their two young boys became Oregonians when 3M transferred him to Medford in 1959. In 1972, he and Joe Richards started API, a wholesale distributor of automotive paint and industrial supplies based in Eugene. Chuck and Jackie’s sons, Chuck and Dave, followed him into the family business. Jackie, a nurse, died on April 6, 2012.
Jackie and Chuck are survived by their boys, four grandchildren, and an ever-increasing flock of international Ducks whose own lives will be sweeter because of the way the Swensons lived theirs.
By Melody Ward Leslie, BA ’79