After 29 years, 25,875 hours, and 1 million miles, Walt Swenson took his last drive on Aug. 18 as a volunteer blood transporter with United Blood Services.
“I got the energy to do it from God,” said Swenson, 89, with a chuckle.
UBS celebrated Swenson’s million miles with cake, coffee and balloons. On Sept. 18, UBS posted on its Facebook page, “Thank you, Walt, for your dedication to saving lives!”
Swenson started driving with UBS on May 4, 1988, when he was 56 years old. As a retiree, he just wasn’t busy enough for his liking. He found out UBS was looking for a volunteer driver, so he applied and got the job.
“I did it because I like to drive and because I like to help people,” said Swenson. “I met all kinds of people at blood drives and in hospitals and laboratories. I was doing something that needed to be done.”
Swenson’s longest trip was to Basset, Neb., which was 584 miles round trip. He decided that when he reached 1 million miles, he would retire.
“I’d had no accidents or traffic violations, and I didn’t want to make that one trip where my luck would run out,” said Swenson.
He said he made 7,008 trips in those million miles; around 4,000 of the trips were for emergency situations at hospitals.
Swenson visited 84 locations in four states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. During his travels, he kept a log of places he visited. He went to Gillette 1,161 times, Spearfish 940 times, and the two VA hospitals in Fort Meade and Hot Springs a total of 540 times.
“As I drove, I saw many changes in scenery and an abundance of wildlife,” said Swenson. “Driving allows you to see so much beauty in nature.”
Because he’s given so much of his time, Swenson was inducted into the 2015 Donation Hall of Fame, a program created by Fenwal, a blood technology company. The program is designed to recognize the contributions of volunteers and donors. He was one of 12 volunteers or donors chosen for the award.
Swenson said he couldn’t have reached his million miles without support from his family. He’s been married to his wife, Gloria, for 68 years. They have three children, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
The couple have lived in Rapid City for the past 38 years. Swenson worked for Northwestern Bell telephone company for 40 years before retiring in 1986. He started out on the ground line crew and lived in several locations throughout the years, including 18 years in Huron as a regional manager. Swenson ended up in Rapid City as the district manager of construction and cable maintenance.
Now that Swenson is also retired from driving for UBS, he keeps busy with his fishing tackle hobby. He gives 15 to 20 tackle boxes to the Club for Boys each year. He also grows dahlias and takes bouquets around town.
Why does Swenson believe it’s important to give back to the community?
“Somebody has to do it — especially in those emergency situations,” he said. “Over the years, I also made good friendships with the people at UBS and at various hospitals and labs. Every day, I dealt with good people. And at the end of the day, it feels good to do something important.”
Sweet treats for Storybook Island
The Rapid City Journal joined area groups in donating to Storybook Island’s Safe N’ Sweet Trick N’ Treat event.
Storybook Island’s third-annual family friendly event was Saturday night and included candy, train rides and costumes.
Journal employees held a competition to see which department could bring in the most candy. In the end, the Journal donated more than 9,000 pieces of candy to the event.