From Longtime Librarian to Library Benefactor - Diane Swanson Leaves $1 Million Gift

Diane Swanson gave 44 years of service to the Kansas City Public Library, including a decade and a half as director of its bustling Plaza Branch. Even after her death, the quiet, keenly intellectual librarian has continued to give – a $1 million bequest that is the largest one-time gift from an individual in the Library’s history.

It forms the new Swanson Strategic Endowment Fund, authorized by the Library’s board of trustees this week. Set up through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, it will be used to “highlight the riches of our collections and spread the word in the community about the great services provided by the Library, the kinds of things that Diane Swanson did all of her career,” Library Director Crosby Kemper III says.

The gift “helps the Library to maintain and enhance those offerings,” Kemper says.

Swanson, the daughter of former Western Auto Supply Co. president and CEO Arthur Swanson, rose through the Library’s ranks over a career that spanned from 1958 to her retirement in 2002. Most of that time was spent in management positions at the Plaza Branch, which she oversaw as director from 1985 to 2000.

Born in the Chicago area, she graduated from Northwestern University and went on to earn a graduate degree in library science from the University of Denver.

Swanson’s outside passions and pursuits were wide-ranging. She loved opera, taking in performances from Kansas City to New York, Paris, and Milan. She hit the courts at the former Rockhill Tennis Club. And she was a longtime member of the Mission Valley Hunt Club and the Mission Valley Pony Club, teaching youngsters at the Pony Club to ride and serving as its third district commissioner.

“I arrived at the Library after she retired,” says Kemper, who took over as director in 2005, “but she came to a number of our programs at the Plaza and many of the activities to which we invited our retired librarians. She was smart and engaging, a great conversationalist.”

Swanson died April 23, 2014, at age 79.

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