CAMP RIPLEY - Just out of high school in Casper, Wyo., David Swantek took a summer mowing job at the state's veterans cemetery.
Almost 20 year's later, Swantek is the director at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery near Camp Ripley. It's not a career Swantek envisioned for himself. Out of high school, he thought he'd find a job in aviation.
"It started out as a way to make a few extra dollars during summer," Swantek said. "It was a summer job that's turned into a career.
"Once I started into doing this, I found it's an interesting job and I really enjoy the work. In hindsight, I can't imagine doing anything different. This has been very rewarding."
David Swantek, director of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery near Camp Ripley, chatted with a member of the Patriot Guard motorcycle club before Sunday's Memorial Day program at Camp Ripley. Swantek has been the cemetery director since 1996. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
It was a bit of luck that brought Swantek to Minnesota. In 1996, when he was an assistant cemetery director in Wyoming, he picked up the cemetery mail for the cemetery director. What he found was an announcement for the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery director opening.
Normally, Swantek wouldn't have picked up the mail.
"I never would have seen it if I hadn't got the mail that day. It probably would have been filed away," he said.
Family: Fiancee, Casey; and three girls, ages 4, 3, and 8 months.
Favorite holiday: Memorial Day is a close second, mostly because it's a day to relax following Sunday's ceremony at veterans cemetery. But his favorite holiday is the Fourth of July because he usually travels back to Wyoming to visit his family.
Hobbies: Riding motorcycles "though the weather hasn't cooperated with that too much this year"; hunting with his bird dogs for pheasant and other upland game; and spending time with his children. "They keep me busy," he said.
Ideal career: Outside of working at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, which he said is his ideal career, Swantek thought about a career in aviation. He got his pilot's license at 19 but flew less as the demands of his cemetery work grew. He hopes to one day get back into flying as a hobby. "But right now it's a little expensive," he said.
Proudest moment: Professionally, it was being a part of the renovation of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. Personally, his three girls are the highlight of his life, he said. "They keep us going, that's for sure," he said.
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Almost 12 years later, he wouldn't change a thing. The reward of the job, he said, is the thanks he and his four other full-time staffers get from the veterans community.
"They go out of their way to thank you for the job you do," Swantek said. "In a lot of jobs, unfortunately, you don't get that appreciation."
Though planning started in January, the last couple of weeks for Swantek, the memorial service committee and his staff were spent getting ready for Sunday's Memorial Day ceremony. Swantek said it's the biggest event for the cemetery with more than 1,200 people attending annually.
While the casual observer might not think a lot of work is needed for the ceremony, Swantek noted that it takes a lot of coordination to line up a guest speaker, book bands and vocal groups, organize parking and programs and place American flags on each of the 2,500 graves.
Swantek said the attendance numbers tells him they are doing things right.
"This is the 14th year we've done it and through experience we're pretty good at getting it done," he said. "We've always had a really good crowd."
Outside of the Memorial Day celebration, Swantek said he's been keeping busy with an initiative to build another state veterans cemetery near Duluth, which he also would oversee.
Though still in the planning stages, Swantek said a possible site is near Jay Cooke State Park. The state also is looking for funding for the cemetery.
"It's not a done deal but the steps to move the project along are falling into place," Swantek said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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