Swanson Hall: A fond look back

by John Schleicher, McGoogan Library of Medicine | May 13, 2013

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The building most know as Swanson Hall was actually constructed as Children's Memorial Hospital, with a vision that no child in need of care would be turned away due to an inability to pay.

Charles Poynter, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine from 1930 to 1946, met with Omaha World-Herald publisher Henry Doorly in early 1943 to discuss the idea. By November, the first meeting of the incorporators of the hospital took place.

In 1944, John Latenser & Sons architectural firm of Omaha was selected to design the building. In April 1946, construction bids for the building were opened, and the next month groundbreaking for the hospital took place. By the end of September 1946, a ceremony was held to place the hospital's cornerstone, the trowel wielded by Doorly himself.

Share your Swanson memories

The Swanson Hall tribute ceremony will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday on the east steps of Swanson Hall. Prior to the tribute, please share your memories of Swanson Hall. E-mail your stories to UNMC Today - some will be printed in Friday's UNMC Today as a tribute to the building.

In May 1947, a staff of 62 doctors was organized under the leadership of Joseph Henske, M.D. By November, community fundraising for the building passed $750,000. In February 1948, an official ribbon cutting was held along with an open house for the public.

In March, with a total cost of $850,000, the 100-bed hospital opened for its first patients, with the first two operations taking place on March 15. In August 1948, Children's opened its entire north first-floor wing to polio patients - by November, there were nearly 150 patients with varying degrees of the disease.

In 1949, the first iron lung was acquired to treat patients with polio, with a second added in 1952 to deal with the growing number of polio cases.

In 1960, construction began on a $1.3 million addition to the hospital on the west side, along 44th Street. The new wing opened in 1962, increasing the capacity to 135 beds and adding operating rooms, labs and a nursery, as well as a new emergency entrance.

In May 1981, UNMC acquired the building through the Swanson Foundation of Omaha, renaming it Carl and Caroline Swanson Hall. It became home to the Swanson Center for Nutrition, along with UNMC offices and labs. The Swansons were the founders of Swanson Foods Company, famous for their TV dinners, developed in 1952 and produced here in Omaha.

The philanthropic efforts of the Swansons' daughter, Gretchen Swanson Velde, made possible the transfer of the former Children's Hospital building to UNMC. Carl Swanson had been one of the original members of the Children's Hospital Board of Trustees in 1943.

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