In Memoriam

Dr. Orvar Swenson


Dr. Swenson was true pioneer in the surgical treatment of Hirschsprung’s disease and served as APSA President from 1964-1965.

(from The Post & Courier newspaper)
Dr. Orvar Swenson was born in Helsingborg, Sweden on February 7, 1909. He was the third child of Amanda and Carl Albert Swenson. He grew up with his brother Alvin and sister Lillie. His father was a wheelwright and a missionary of the Reorganized Church of the Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ). In 1917 his family immigrated to Independence, Missouri. By the time he reached his teenage years both of his parents had died. He and his brother lived in a boarding house and started a business making fire by friction sets for the Boy Scouts. This business, "Woodcraft", grew to include archery equipment and, for a short time, field hockey sticks. (It is now a nationwide company selling equipment and tools for woodworking.) In 1929 Orvar graduated from William Chrisman High School in Independence, Missouri where he had been elected President of the Student Council, was Captain of the debate Team and President of the Anti-Smoking League. He graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1933.

He then forsook the business world and entered Harvard University Medical School in Boston. He and his brother Alvin were in the same class and shared textbooks. After graduation he served his internship at Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He returned to the Harvard University Program at Boston Lying In Hospital for his surgical residency. He spent a year as the Tracey Cabot Fellow doing research on Hirschsprung's Disease and during that year developed a bowel resection procedure that became a cure for this disease. In 1941 he married Melva Elizabeth Criley from Independence, Missouri. They honeymooned in the Smokey Mountains on their way to Boston where they settled and raised their three daughters.

In 1945 he became an Assistant Professor in Pediatric Surgery at Harvard University in Boston where he was a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital and worked with Dr. Robert Gross. In 1949 Orvar became the first Pediatric Surgeon at Tufts University, Boston Floating Hospital in Boston. In 1960 he moved his family to Chicago, IL and became the Surgeon-in-Chief at the Children's Memorial Hospital. Orvar traveled extensively demonstrating his Hirschsprung's procedure in hospitals all over the world: India, Australia, South America, Europe and Canada. During his career he received many awards and commendations worldwide and he served as President of the American Pediatric Surgical Association from 1964-1965. He wrote over 100 papers published in numerous medical journals. His book "Pediatric Surgery" was a standard textbook read by pediatric surgery residents worldwide. Orvar had a passion for sailing and spent 50 years sailing his various boats (SS Enema, Golden Arrow, Three Belles, and Droja) in the Great Lakes, Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida and the Mediterranean Sea.

 In 1973 he retired with his wife Melva to Rockport, ME. They were snowbirds and also had a home in Ft. Pierce, FL. He took up woodworking in retirement and made many beautiful pieces of furniture. In 2000 Orvar and Melva moved to Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community in Charleston, South Carolina. Orvar was married for 67 years when his wife Melva died in 2008. Orvar Swenson loved the adventures of life as well as truth and family. He had a keen interest in world affairs and environmental issues. He will be deeply missed by his family and friends - especially daughters: Wenda Elizabeth Swenson (Houston, Texas); Elsa Swenson Teel (Blue Hill, Maine); and Melva "Mimi" Swenson Owens (Charleston, South Carolina); grandchildren: Catherine Devore Johnson, Christopher James Edmond Devore, Jenna Viktoria Frasca, Tyra Lilly Walsh, William Orvar Owens, and Evan Swenson Owens; great grandchildren: Ethan Devore Johnson, Lila Elise Johnson, Matiyah Victory Frasca, Beckett Criley Walsh, Wyatt Swenson Walsh, and Thayer James Devore. A memorial service will be held in the chapel at Bishop Gadsden at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, 2012. The family will greet friends following the service. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the Bishop Gadsden Residents' Assistance Fund, 1 Bishop Gadsden Way, Charleston, SC, 29412. Arrangements by J. Henry Stuhr, Inc., Downtown Chapel.