Hazelden pioneer Harold Swift dies at 76

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2013 - 9:37 PM

Harry Swift seemed happiest in the outdoors.

Photo: Dan Fitzgerald ,

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Harold “Harry” Swift, a pioneer of Hazelden’s renowned approach for treating alcoholics and addicts, died Friday in Grand Marais, Minn. He was 76.

Swift worked with other Hazelden leaders to establish a holistic, interdisciplinary approach now used by treatment centers around the world.

“He was definitely a leader, part of the vanguard that really established the ‘Minnesota Model’ as an effective, replicable clinical model for treating alcoholics and addicts,” said Mark Mishek, Hazelden president and CEO.

Swift, a past CEO and president of Hazelden, served on a dozen boards and earned many awards. He was most proud of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Addiction Treatment Administrators.

“For all his accomplishments, Harry was a humble leader,” said Dan Fitzgerald, a close friend of Swift and his wife, Mary Jane Griffin, in Grand Marais. He said Swift once said that the primary purpose of a sober life was to help others.

“He modeled that every day,” Fitzgerald said. “In a few words he would bring clarity to those who were sunk in confusion and fear. Harry truly spoke the language of the heart.”

Reared in Scranton, Pa., Swift earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work at University of Scranton and Fordham University and studied alcoholism and business management at Rutgers, St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and Humphrey Institute.

After serving in the U.S. Army infantry, he was a social worker at Willmar State Hospital and a psychiatric supervisor at St. Paul-Ramsey Hospital, now Regions Hospital. In Willmar, he saw the value of Al-Anon and working with the families of those in treatment, said another close friend, Vicky Biggs-Anderson of Grand Marais.

Swift realized, she said, “that if the person went back to a family where there was a lot of anger and hurt, it just lowered the odds that the person would recover.”

He joined Hazelden in 1966 and was promoted to administrator in 1976. By 1980, he was secretary of its board of trustees. In 1986, Swift succeeded Dr. Daniel J. Anderson as CEO and president. He played a key role in the expansion of the Fellowship Club in St. Paul to serve women as well as men. He led the acquisition of the Pioneer House in Plymouth to treat adolescents and teens.

Hazelden’s current $30 million expansion is a direct extension of Swift’s vision, Mishek said. Headquartered near Center City, Minn., Hazelden has regional treatment centers around the Twin Cities and in Florida, Oregon, New York and Illinois.

“He led an organization that continued to flourish through the ups and downs of the health care world,” Mishek said.

In later years, Swift ran a treatment program in Grand Marais with Griffin, whom he first met when they worked together at Hazelden.

“His accomplishments were many,” Griffin said Tuesday, “but the time he spent with the family camping, fishing and hunting were the most important. He treasured his time with his granddaughters playing board games and hanging out on the beach of Lake Superior.”

Swift is preceded in death by daughter Leslie and first wife, Judith. Other survivors include daughter Stephanie Whitney, Hugo; son Bryan, Shoreview; brother Michael, Cincinnati; sisters Agnes Wetmore, Shelbyville, Ky., and Margaret Blumenthal, Yarmouth, Maine; and granddaughters Brooke and Erika Whitney.

Services will be at 11 a.m. May 11 at St. John’s Catholic Church in Grand Marais.



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