Rev. Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson was the founder and chief upbuilder of Bethany College, the institution around which cluster the best and most noteworthy distinctions of Lindsborg as a community and from which have gone influences that now permeate and give character to many localities through the useful men and women educated there. In an important degree Bethany College is a monnment to the late Doctor Swensson, and to a nobler one few men could aspire.
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He was born at Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, June 25, 1857, a son of Jonas and Maria (Blixt) Swensson. His parents came to America in 1856 from Smoland, Sweden. His father was a noted minister of the Swedish Lutheran Church and at the time of his death in 1873 at Andover, Illinois, was president of the Augustana Synod of the Swedish Lutheran churches in America. He and his wife had been married in 1855, just a year before they started for America. Mrs. Jonas Swensson died in 1874.
The late Dr. Carl A. Swensson was the oldest in a family of seven children. As a youth he attended a parochial school at Andover, Illinois, and afterwards was edueated under private tutors. At the age of sixteen he entered the freshman class of Augustana College at Rock Island, Illinois, and was graduated with the class of 1877. The same year he entered the Theological Seminary, connected with the same institution, was graduated in June, 1870, and June 22 (1879) was regularly ordained as a minister of the Swedish Lutheran Church of the Augustana Synod.
Doctor Swensson had accepted an urgent call from the Swedish Lutheran Church at Lindsborg, Kansas, and immediately after his ordination became pastor of said church. He came here also at the request of Rev. Dr. O. Olsson, his predecessor in the pastorate and the founder of the church at Lindsborg. Doctor Olsson had reslgned to accept a theological chair in Augustana College.
It was in 1881 that Doctor Swensson founded Bethany College. Of the history of its growth and development an article on other pages of this publication must tell. As head of the faculty Doctor Swensson laid the foundation broad and deep and made possible many of the splendid influences that have come from this school. He continued his work in behalf of the church and the college to the end. Doctor Swensson received his A. M. from his Alma. Mater in 1889; his Ph. D. from University of Upsala, Sweden, in 1893; his D. D. from Thiel College, Greenville, Pennsylvania, and from Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois. He was decorated with the order of “Knights of the North Star” by King Oscar of Sweden in 1901, the twentieth anniversary of Bethany College. Served as secretary of the General Council of the Lutheran Church of North America in 1885, and president of same 1893-1894. Was member of Kansas Legislature 1889-1890. Delegate to Republican Convention, St. Louis, 1896. President of Kansas Teachers’ Association 1889-1890. Member of State Historical Society and of American Academy of Political and Social Science, World’s Columblan Exhibition Auxiliary 1893. Member of Building Committee for Sweden’s Building at St. Louis Exposition in 1904.
A renowned preacher and lecturer he was in great demand at all times.
Doctor Swensson was also an author of note. A devotional book “I Morgonstund” (“In the Morning Hour”), “By the Fireside,” and several books of travel in Swedish and English. He was also cditor of and contributor to church and secular papers.
Doctor Swensson died at Los Angeles, California, February 16, 1904.
On February 15, 1880, at Moline, Illinois, Doctor Swensson married Miss Alma Christine Lind. Mrs. Swensson, who still lives at Lindsborg, was born in Sweden December 11, 1859. She was four years of age when she came with her parents to America. She possessed the Swedish talent of song, is a cultured musician, and was responsible for the early training and building up of the great ehoral society at Lindsborg, which more than any other one institution had given that eity its chief fame in this state and abroad. Doctor Swensson organized the chorus and with the active aid of Mrs. Swensson established the first performance of the Messiah. This great oratorio was first sung in 1882 by a chorus of sixty voices. Mrs. Swensson is vice president of Oratorio Society. Her life had been given to church and social work, to music, and she was ever in perfect sympathy with her husband in the great work he did in Kansas. She had served as organist of the Swedish Lutheran Church at Lindsborg since 1880. She is also secretary and was one of the founders of the Woman’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society of the Augustana Synod, and had been officially identified with this organization for twenty-five years. She is editor of the Missions Tidning, the official organ of the society, and had served as president of the Conference Society of the Synod for a number of years.
Mrs. Swensson is the mother of two talented daughters. Bertha Maria Fredrika was graduated in the college department and in vocal musie from Bethany College, and in 1907 married Dr. Axel E. Vestling, of Ludington, Michigan. Doctor Veatling is now professor and head of the German department at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. They have two children, Carl Swensson and Bertha Louise, twins, born May 6, 1913. Annie Hilma Theodora, the second daughter, graduated from Bethany College, and also from expression department and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Expression at Chicago. She is now at the head of the expression department in Bethany College.