Cover photo for Harriet W. Swanson's Obituary
Harriet W. Swanson Profile Photo
1920 Harriet 2020

Harriet W. Swanson

November 23, 1920 — February 7, 2020

Harriet Nelson Swanson, Winchester, Wisconsin, returned home to her beloved Jesus Christ for ever lasting life on February 7, 2020.

Harriet was married to Ralph G. Swanson, also 99, her husband of 73 years, who survives her.

Harriet passed away in The Avanti Health and Rehabilitation Center in Minocqua, WI, as a result of complications from a recent fall. She and Ralph felt blessed to have been “roommates” there for the last several months. Harriet and Ralph look forward to being together again in Heaven.

Harriet Swanson was born to Clara and Elmer Nelson in Baudette, Minnesota on November 23, 1920. She graduated from elementary school, and from Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. Harriet received her nursing education from The Mounds Midway School of Nursing in St. Paul, MN. She graduated in 1942.

Harriet eagerly responded to the opportunity to serve her country during World War II.

After enlisting in military service, she was attached to the 217th General Hospital Unit. Harriet rose to the rank of Captain in The United States Army.

Harriet was dispatched to France from a military training base in England only a few weeks after the Invasion of Normandy which took place on June 6th 1944.

Only twenty two years old, fresh out of nursing school, and away from home for the first time, Harriet worked long hours, and endless days as an operating room nurse. She was in the European Combat Theater during some of the fiercest and most decisive battles of the war. Harriet was never far behind the American and Allied forces as they fought their way to victory, across France, and finally into Germany, as the war in Europe drew to a close.

Harriet displayed a reluctance, even among friends and family, to discuss her experiences during the war. This was because the extreme emotional burden of trying to care for so many casualties, so many young men with severe medical issues, often beyond the available resources of
doctors and nurses, equipment and facilities, was overwhelming.

Characteristically, Harriet made many friends along the way. In Paris, where she served in a hospital, which is still in operation there today, she developed life long associations.

In Berlin, after the war’s end, she stayed on to care for wounded American soldiers.

Harriet and Ralph, until several years ago, made trips to Europe to visit old acquaintances of hers from the war who kept in touch with Harriet because of their gratitude for her

service during this terrible period. These were strong bonds forged by war which Harriet never forgot.

During this time Ralph was an officer in the U. S. infantry fighting in North Africa and Italy. Ralph participated in some of the epic tank battles between American General George Patton and German Field Marshall Eric Rommel. These were among the first battlefield contacts between Allied soldiers and Nazi troops.

Harriet and Ralph met after the war and were married in “The Little Brown Church in the Vale” in Nashua, Iowa in September of 1946.

Over the next 6 years, Harriet and Ralph had 4 children, Pamela, Ralph Jr. (Skip), Ronald, and James. The family lived in Ashland Wisconsin, and then later moved to Wisconsin Rapids.

Harriet’s Christian faith was the central feature of her life.

Active for many years in Wisconsin Rapids in The Youth for Christ organization, Harriet believed strongly in the importance of Christian Faith, throughout life, and especially in the development of young people’s values, beliefs and character, Harriet devoted herself to a number of Christian organizations and was always ready to share her strong faith with others.

A kind and generous person Harriet bore witness to Christian values and teachings. The strength and power of her faith was inspirational.

Harriet and Ralph retired to a home on the shores of West Birch Lake, in Winchester in 1985. There, they established “Swanson”s Working Forest” on 45 wooded acres. This became the site of an annual operation to produce award winning maple syrup. This activity also provided many opportunities for area retirees and other residents to come together, despite the wintry weather, to participate in gathering full buckets of sap from the land’s beautiful mature maple trees. As all participants will remember, this was done under Harriet’s watchful supervision. Groups of area students were invited to visit the Swanson’s land during this process, to learn about how maple syrup was made, the old fashioned way.
This reflected Harriet’s life long interest in education, and learning, which she was always eager to promote in large ways and small. She was very proud that all four of her children were graduates of The University of Wisconsin- Madison.

In retirement, Harriet and Ralph worked with a similarly dedicated group of other Christians to establish “The Living Hope Church” in Winchester. This was truly a labor of love and faith. It marked one of the most important times in Harriet’s life.

There, Harriet and Ralph made many important friends. These special people sustained them in faith and friendship for many years. These same friends have provided incredible support and strength for Harriet and Ralph over the past years when declining health has affected them both. Family members are truly grateful for this dedicated faith community whose presence and constant affirmation has meant so much,

to Harriet and Ralph, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Harriet was preceded in death by her mother and father, a brother Lawrence, a brother-in-law Ben, and her beloved Springer Spaniel Bennie.

Harriet is survived by her husband Ralph, four children, Pamela, Ralph Jr. (Skip), Ronald and James, and their spouses, respectively, Richard, Barb, Sherry, and Debi, her sister Maxine, her brother Ronald, and her sister-in-law Lu, and many beloved nephews and nieces.

There are 7 grandchildren, Leah, Paula, Carla, Laurie, Sudha, Kari, and Ken, and 13 great grandchildren Owen, Aidan, Wesley, Abram, Hannah, Elizabeth, Kenzie, Finley, Olivia, Ian, Reese, Stella and Henry.

Each, will cherish special memories of their wonderful and beloved “Nana”, forever.

Harriet is also survived by a herd of grateful deer which she cared for for many years.

Harriet Swanson, 1920-2020. A long life, well lived, always devoted, with unwavering commitment, to God, family, country, and community.

Memorials may be made to The Living Hope Church, 13795 Bear Claw Trail, Winchester, WI. 54557.

Cards for Harriet’s husband Ralph may be sent to him in care of Jim and Debi Swanson, 1905 Pine Bluff Road, Stevens Point WI., 54481.

The family wishes to thank the wonderful and caring staff of Avanti Health and Rehabilitation Center of Minocqua, and the staff of The Doctor Kate Home Health and Hospice Care for the loving and professional care of Harriet and Ralph.

Online condolences may be shared at


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