Mr. Swank retires after 29 years at OHS


Preston Meier

Mr. Swank retires after 34 years of teaching science.

Preston Meier, Writer

For 29 years, OHS has had the luxury of having Mr. Van Swank as one of their science teachers. He has been teaching for 34 years now, five of those years being in Wolf Point, MT on the Fort Peck Reservation. Mr. Swank grew up in Joliet, IL and went to high school there, then he attended North Dakota State University and South Dakota State University to receive his college education. He got his bachelor’s degree in biology education and his master’s in chemistry education.

Mr. Swank was drawn to Minnesota because of the beautiful scenery, and after taking a couple of trips to Minnesota, he knew this is where he wanted to be. Mr. Swank said, “I was first impressed by Minnesota as a boy when we used to drive up from Illinois to do Boundary Waters Canoe trips. And then when I was at NDSU in Fargo, Mary and I would go camping at Itasca State Park and we often talked about eventually living in Minnesota.” After college, Mr. Swank applied for a position at OHS, he was offered it and accepted it eagerly.

Mr. Swank has taught mainly chemistry, but has also taught ninth grade science, field biology and physics. His favorite thing to teach in science class is the labs. He enjoys analyzing them and helping students understand how the lab correlates to the lesson. Junior Sam Pfieffer, one of Mr. Swank’s students said, “One of my favorite things about having Mr. Swank as a teacher is how he really explains things and makes sure to go over the material before you start a lab or homework assignment.”

After all his time at OHS, Mr. Swank has learned many valuable lessons about teaching and has made many great memories. One of his favorite things that he learned was the importance of developing relationships with his students. Mr. Swank said, “I have learned that teaching and learning go a lot smoother when you get to know your students. I tried to remember and practice that ‘Caring comes before Chemistry’.” Mr. Swank has loved to make memories with the thousands of students he has got to know over his 29 years of teaching, and he has also loved making lasting bonds with his colleagues. 

Retirement can be a bittersweet moment for teachers. After spending almost every day of their life educating and developing relationships with students, it can be difficult to step away from it. On the other hand, retirement provides lots of free time and opportunities to do things that there was not enough time for. Mr. Swank is excited to be able to spend more time in nature, especially at his lake property in Park Rapids, MN that he and his wife have been working on. He also plans to spend more time traveling and being with his family.