Dr. Frederick Swahn, 72, veterinarian for 40 years

June 03, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Frederick H. Swahn Sr., a retired veterinarian who for nearly 40 years traveled Harford County's back roads in a green Ford pickup or an old Datsun visiting farmers and treating their animals, died Sunday of prostate cancer at his farm in Street. He was 72.

A colorful, modest, down-to-earth man who stood 6 feet tall and had a ruddy complexion and dark hair, Dr. Swahn often became a midnight savior to farmers who called when their cows went into labor or their sheep fell ill in the field.

"People would call at all hours of the night, and after a few choice words, he'd get up and off he'd go. And then he'd often come home a bloody mess," his daughter, Sarah Swahn Friedman of Bel Air, a registered nurse, said, chuckling.

"One of his favorite stories was about the cow that was birthing a calf, and he had to perform a Caesarean section. The farmer passed out from the blood, but he [Dr. Swahn] managed to save both the calf and cow," she said.

She described her father as a "man who loved what he did and was very compassionate with both animals and people alike. He didn't get rich in his career, but he had lots of friends."

It wasn't uncommon for Dr. Swahn to accept what money a farmer could pay for services. "He had an understanding of the situation," said the daughter, who used to accompany her father on calls.

Like James Herriott, the English author-veterinarian who wrote "All Creatures Great and Small" about his experiences in Yorkshire, Dr. Swahn found pleasure treating animals in northern Harford County's rolling hills.

Tim Stevens, a neighbor who is a retired dairy farmer, said, "He always came to us. He had to. We were dairy farmers."

He often accompanied Dr. Swahn on house calls and acted as his assistant, including weekly visits to West Nottingham, Pa., where his job was to hold down reluctant pigs for vaccinations.

Another time, he went with Dr. Swahn to geld a horse.

"My job was to hold the tail," Mr. Stevens said with a laugh.

"One of the things that continually amused me was that he could doctor animals who couldn't possibly tell him what was wrong. He had a wonderful touch with animals and was a good doctor," he said.

In recent years, until he retired late last year, Dr. Swahn tended to small animals such as cats and dogs from a small white clapboard office with shutters on the grounds of his 90-acre farm.

Dr. Swahn, who was born and reared in the company town of Sparrows Point, spent his childhood frolicking around the waters of Bear Creek and Back River.

At 17, he enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and spent the duration of World War II as an aviation ordnance man, flying coastal, convoy and escort patrols in the Atlantic.

After the war, he resumed his education and earned his General Educational Development certificate from Sparrows Point High School. He earned his bachelor's degree in agricultural chemistry in 1951 from the University of Maryland, College Park and for the next two years was a chemist at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In 1957, he earned his veterinary degree from the University of Georgia at Athens and for the next two years was a veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Maryland in St. Mary's and Charles counties.

He opened his own practice after moving to Street in 1959.

Dr. Swahn collected and made lead soldiers, which he painstakingly painted in the authentic colors of British or U.S. regiments.

He was a member of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Street.

A memorial service will be held at 2: 30 p.m. Saturday at Harkins Funeral Home, 600 Main St. in Delta, Pa.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 41 years, the former Sarah Dickey; two sons, Frederick H. Swahn Jr. of East Stroudsburg, Pa., and Irvine D. Swahn of The Hague, Netherlands; a sister, Mary Agnes Manyak of Newark, Del.; and four grandchildren.

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