AJ Williams, Michigan Chronicle Managing Editor
Swanson Funeral Home is a staple of the funeral home industry within Detroit and O’Neil D. Swanson was the driving force behind the company’s name and brand.
O’Neil D. Swanson, 86, the driving force behind Swanson Funeral Home’s brand, passed early March 27, 20020. The cause of death has not been released.
Swanson was born in Birmingham Ala. and moved at an early age to Dayton Ohio, where he graduated as a member of the National Honor Society from Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School. In June 1953, he graduated from Central State University, and from 1953 through 1955 served the United States as a member of the military, receiving an honorable discharge with the rank of First Lieutenant.
Swanson then continued his education at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, graduating cum laude in 1956, and in that same year, he improved his professional status bypassing the National Conference of Funeral Services Examiners Board.
In 1958, O’Neil D. Swanson founded Swanson Funeral Homes, Inc. in Detroit, Mich. In addition to his funeral service business, Swanson also sat on the board of Real Times Media. Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, remembers Swanson as a friend and mentor.
“Today, with the passing of O’Neil Swanson, the Detroit community lost a legend and an icon. I lost a beloved mentor, partner, and friend. But, most importantly, the Swanson family lost their patriarch. And to them, I am sending my deepest, heartfelt condolences and prayers for comfort.
“For more than 60 years, O’Neil provided a refuge for families across Detroit in their darkest hours. He was a compassionate man whose level of commitment to service of others was at times awe-inspiring. But O’Neil’s love and passion for Detroit extended far beyond the parlors of his funeral home as he was an active servant in many ways. He was a spirited leader with a passion for black businesses. He was a giver in ways that many will never know.
“I met O’Neil over 30 years ago when I was serving as a youth council leader for the NAACP and he was an active member. In the years since that time, the knowledge I’ve gained from him is immeasurable. As a member of the Real Times Media board and as my partner in numerous other business dealings, O’Neil has truly helped me to become the man I am today.
“For the decades of love and guidance he bestowed upon me, I am forever grateful.”
Known not just for his business acumen, but also for his philanthropy, as the company grew and prospered, he established the Swanson Foundation to fulfill a responsibility to the community by providing scholarships for the less fortunate and to aid other underserved areas of the community.
Alex Parish of Honigman spoke of Swanson’s mark on the community and those he mentored as long-lasting. “’ Pillar of the community’ is a much-overused phrase, but Mr. Swanson was that and so much more. This great man was widely loved and admired because he actually dedicated his life to serving in any way he could. He generously and fully committed not only his personal time and energy in that regard, but he also devoted his businesses and his family to that mission.”
Parish continued, “During his career of over 60 years, Mr. Swanson left his mark on so much of our community. His name is on Swanson Funeral Home, but behind the scenes, he was a leading force for many Detroit businesses (ranging from casinos, hotels, retail establishments to newspapers) and he left his mark on all of us who were mentored by him and who looked up to him as a model.”
O’Neil was also active in numerous businesses, cultural and social organizations and his achievements have been recognized by many, including the conferring of two honorary Doctoral Degrees by both Shaw College in Detroit and Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Known as a fixture in the community for his kind and giving spirit. Gordon Follmer, partner of UHY, LLC regarded Swanson one of the kindest men he’s ever known. “O’Neill was one of the most giving men I’ve ever known. His kindness and generosity were always delivered with a smile for everyone.”
Jackson’s closing comment regarding Swanson, rings in the sentiments of the community, “Job well done. Rest well, my friend.”
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