Jan Swenson's Retirement Reception

On April 7th, well-wishers gathered at the Capital Gallery in downtown Bismarck for a Retirement Reception honoring Jan Swenson, BCA’s newly retired Executive Director. Cake and coffee were served, President Lillian Crook made remarks on behalf of BCA, and Beach, ND potter, Tama Smith, presented the BCA gift to Jan, a unique planter with a Badlands-inspired glaze. The Grand Forks Herald published a wonderful story and interview with Jan.

Jan’s leadership will be greatly missed.

Remarks for Jan Swenson Retirement Reception by Lillian Crook April 7, 2019

Jan at her reception by Lillian Crook.jpg

Thank you all for coming to this reception honoring Jan Swenson for her decades of service to BCA.

Jan’s dedication and perseverance are the stuff of legends. From the day she and I sat perched on the rim of the Little Missouri River canyon in the North Unit until today, her leadership has built this grassroots organization, one that is respected and known for his integrity and determination, despite all odds. For, in the words of Jay Clemens, “punching above its weight class.” For being a force to be reckoned with in conversations about western North Dakota’s wild lands and critters and rivers.

That day, while she & I watched the sunset, we agreed that our soft voices could make a difference, that we should--in spite of our reticence about taking what were often difficult positions in our small home state – we should move forward with confidence that our voices were valid and relevant.

I’m sure we never dreamed that day of all that has transpired. Of all the time we would spend in meetings.

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Of all the time, she would spend in meetings. Of all the time she would spend in front of a computer. Of all the time, she would spend on the phone. Of all the sleepless nights in building this organization.

So many stories.

Time does not permit me to tell the many stories.

One story of many:

Jan's cake at her reception by Lillian Crook.jpg

At the 10th anniversary celebration, an overnight at the North Unit group campsite, it was one of those beastly hot August days, probably 100°. Not only was it baking hot, but the wind howled ceaselessly that day – I mean howled – all day and all night. Other than the large herd of bison (complete with rutting bulls sparing) that surrounded us in the campground for hours, what I most remember from that event was that we just could not cook our evening meal at our picnic tables in the unrelenting wind. Finally, Jan and I took my portable grill into the women’s bathroom, with our headlamps on, and cooked the brats (or whatever it was we were eating). Need’s must.

One of Jan’s greatest gifts is as a writer. Time and again she found eloquent words to inspire our members and defend our positions with passion. Sarah Vogel asked me to present this inscribed book of Heid Erdrich’s poems, Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media to Jan on Sarah’s behalf. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe and, although Erdrich has not met Jan one of her poems, “Hang Fire,” was inspired by a quote from Jan she came across. (See poem Hang Fire.)

Jan, our deepest thanks for all you have done. You have been our leader on many trails, into the heart of wild places. Without you, there would not be Badlands Conservation Alliance. You have been a warrior.

The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Jan, I have no doubt that you will, in upcoming years, make the most of your one wild and precious life. Godspeed.