DUNNELL - Roger B. Swanson 81, of Dunnell, Minn., passed on Dec. 25, 2012, in Minneapolis with his family nearby. Preceeded in death by his parents and first wife June (Lawler) Swanson. Survived by his children, Steven, Lynne and Philip (Renetta) Swanson. Grandchildren, Evan, Ellyn and Erin Swanson. His sister, Esther (Martin) Kellogg. His wife Gaynelle Templin, her son, Francis (Peggy) Kerkhove; grandchildren, Tyler and Amanda Kerkhove.
Roger was born in Saint Paul, Minn., to Carl and Ethel (Johnson) Swanson. He graduated from St. Paul Central High School in 1948 and from the University of Minnesota in 1953 with a degree in electrical engineering with high distinction. Commissioned as an Ensign into the Navy in 1953, he served three years in both the Atlantic and the Pacific aboard the Destroyer USS Henley.
Upon discharge from the Navy, Roger chose to take over operations of the southern Minnesota farm that had been established by his Swedish immigrant family over a generation earlier. Throughout his adventurous life, the original family farm has remained his home. Roger's energetic ambitions soon led him into manufacturing as a principal owner of Eskine Manufacturing, in Erskine Minn., a manufacturer of snow blowers and farm equipment. Roger founded RC Industries in Sherburn, Minn., making tractor cabs and other agricultural accessories. He was president of the First National Bank of Dunnell and owner of the Dunnell Insurance Agency. In 1971 he founded Innovar Industries, makers of the Sno-Coupe, a short-lived adventure in the snowmobile industry. Expertise in the making of fiberglass snowmobile parts led to the formation of the company Glasstite in Dunnell, a maker of fiberglass pick-up toppers and utility bodies. This business soon distributed to all 50 states and Canada, employing over 150 people in a town of approximately the same number. Throughout Roger's professional career his business partners and all those who worked with him were his dear and most trusted friends.
All the while he was growing the farm and his business ventures Roger was compelled to cultivate another passion, sailing. Inspired by the sea during his time in the Navy he began to sail on the inland lakes of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Soon to follow were trips with chartered boats in the Caribbean. Having learned celestial navigation in the Navy, his skills were called upon to lead a sailing vessel and its crew of new owners across the Atlantic in 1971. The scope of adventures rapidly grew to where in 1982 Roger and sons Steven and Philip (age 24 and 13 at the time) and four other friends set out from Miami, Fla., aboard their sailboat "Cloud Nine" to sail westward around the world. Twenty-eight months later, maintaining that same westward course, Cloud Nine arrived successfully back in Miami after visiting 180 ports of call in 50 countries and sailing almost 40,000 miles. Thirty-three crew members participated.
For Roger, this was just a warm up. He subsequently completed two more circumnavigations, one of which was from west to east, a much more difficult route. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, sailed twice to the Antarctic, and three times to the Arctic where he attempted transit of the fabled Northwest Passage, first in 1994 and a second attempt in 2005. Cloud Nine was turned back both times by the closing ice. A third attempt in 2007 was successful in making it through the Arctic ice from the Atlantic to the Pacific, an achievement that landed Roger on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It was the first time any American sailing vessel had ever traversed the Northwest Passage from east to west.
In 1996 Roger married Gaynelle Templin, who shared his love of sailing and adventure. From that moment Gaynelle and Roger have gone on to circle the world together and visit the ends of the earth aboard Cloud Nine. Many awards followed. The Blue Water Medal from the Cruising Club of America, The Tilman Medal from the Royal Cruising Club of England for their successful completion of the Northwest Passage, and the Cruising World Medal from Cruising World Magazine, which referred to Roger as "the pre-eminent American offshore voyager of the last three decades." In 2004 Roger was inducted into the St. Paul Central High School Hall of Fame.
In all, 310 people had the rare opportunity to see the world from a sailboat under the vigilant captainship of Roger Swanson. Their only requirement in return was to be a willing and helpful member of the crew. For 40 years and over 217,000 nautical miles this simple pact served and rewarded all.
Funeral services will 11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Dunnell, Minn. Burial at Lake Fremont Cemetery in Dunnell. Reception to follow. Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2 at the Lakeview Funeral Home in Fairmont and one hour prior to the service at the church on Thursday. Memorials preferred to the Children's Home Society of Minnesota or to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Dunnell.