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In her honor

Arizona man's donation honors his wife's work as a nurse and nursing teacher
Hank Swierenga donation to the College of Nursing in honor of his late wife.
To honor the memory of his wife, Vivian, a lifelong nurse, Hank Swierenga gave a charitable annuity to the Sanford College of Nursing. Vivian Swierenga graduated from Bismarck Hospital School of Nursing in 1953.
  Hank Swierenga is the kind of guy who gets choked up when he talks about his wife, who died last fall. His love for his wife of 55 years is palpable in his words and deeds.

Vivian (Hoff) Swierenga was from Venturia and graduated from what was then called Bismarck Hospital School of Nursing in 1953. The school was renamed the Medcenter One College of Nursing in 1988 and currently named Sanford College of Nursing.

The first time Hank saw Vivian, he was delivering newspapers to the nursing station in the Bismarck Hospital, which is now called Sanford Health, and she was walking with some nurses. They crossed paths again at a Bismarck Baptist Church Bible study.

It took him a couple weeks to persuade her to go out, because she didn’t date much, but they married about 10 weeks later, when they were both 24 years old.

“She fit the bill,” Hank said. Hank recently donated $200,000 to the nursing college in memory of Vivian—the largest donation the college has ever received from a living donor.

“She thought a lot about her nursing career,” he said. “That was very important to her.”

And Bismarck is important to Hank, even though the Chicago native only lived in the city for three years. After getting out of the military upon conclusion of a 13-month stint in Korea, he was working in circulation for the Minneapolis Tribune in 1954 when they sent him to Bismarck, which he said was their third-biggest market outside of Minneapolis.

“It’s one of the greatest cities,” he said. “That’s a city I’ll never forget. I felt the city gave me an education, and the Bismarck Hospital School of Nursing, they gave Vivian a good education at the same time. And both of us I think carried it for the rest of our lives.”

He retired from the newspaper business in 1990 and then went into the vending business, owning Scottsdale Vending Service for 11 years.

But life changed when Vivian was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001.
  Karen Latham, Provost/Dean, Medcenter One College of Nursing
Karen Latham
College of Nursing
He sold his Scottsdale, Ariz., home and moved to a gated community in Mesa, where he lived just two and a half blocks away from the assisted living center where Vivian lived for her last three years.

Toward the end of her life, she would call Hank “her sweetie,” and he would show her their marriage certificate to explain who he was.

“She was never more than two feet from me, every place we went,” he said.

When Vivian and Hank met, she was teaching nursing at the nursing college. She spent several years working as a nurse and student nursing teacher at Bismarck Hospital. She took about eight years off from nursing after she had their first child but always took refresher courses and worked for trauma centers in Illinois, Minneapolis and Phoenix.

“She just loved that,” Hank said. “She liked the ER. That was her thing.”

Nine days after their 55th anniversary,Vivian died. It only made sense to Hank to give an annuity to the nursing college where she got her start.

“I think that hospital at Sanford Health and its school of nursing are probably among the best in the country,” he said. “She was not only my wife, she was my best friend and really my partner.”

Karen Latham, Sanford College of Nursing provost/dean, said the money will be used to help the college buy equipment and technology to improve instruction.

“That’s awesome to have that kind of support from this alumna’s spouse,” Latham said.

Click here for more information about Sanford College of Nursing.

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