Robert “Bob” Schwanke, a retired associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, began his career in public health in 1955 following his service in the U. S. Army. He began as a health education specialist with the Minnesota Department of Health and then served as director of education at the Sister Elizabeth Kenny Institute and American Rehabilitation Foundation. Bob then joined the Minnesota Society for Crippled Children and Adults (now Courage Center) to launch a five-year statewide program to improve accessibility for the disabled. Directing the Architectural Barriers Education and Research Project, he wrote and guided the process to secure adoption of a law by the Minnesota Legislature in 1963, requiring all new and remodeled public buildings be fully accessible to the disabled and elderly.
In 1966, Bob joined the School of Public Health (SPH) as assistant professor and assistant dean, a relationship that would extend into over 25 years of service. He introduced numerous curriculum and course innovations, serving as director of interdisciplinary studies, alcohol and other drug counseling and the joint public health/social work degree program, which has served as a model for numerous subsequent interdisciplinary programs. He also designed courses tailored to student needs in their practice areas such as basic principles and concepts of public health, needs assessment and planning, change management, interdisciplinary team building, and human sexuality.
Throughout his career, Bob stayed active volunteering with the Minnesota Public Health Association (MPHA), serving as its president in 1969-70, prompting its reorganization. He continued to serve on numerous boards and advisory committees of community and state and local governments. Under Bob’s leadership, MPHA drafted legislation that has enabled minors to seek needed help and legally authorize professionals to provide services on a confidential basis. The Minor’s Consent to Health Services Act of 1971 became a model statute across the country. In 1976, he was awarded the Albert Justus Chesley Award for his outstanding contributions to the health of the people of Minnesota by the MPHA.
Since retiring from SPH in 1992, Bob has continued with ongoing volunteer activities with MPHA and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and has served as a consultant with various local and state organizations and mentored public health professionals. He and his wife, Phyllis, live in St. Paul.
About the Award: The Alumni Award of Merit, established in 2014, recognizes graduates of the School of Public Health who have achieved professional excellence in the field of public health through numerous years of consistent performance and service, distinguished themselves in their particular profession or field of endeavor, and contributed substantially to the health and well-being of people, communities and society.