Dr. John Swanson knows with certainty the genesis of his drive to excel. Following his father’s death when he was just 5 years old, John and his brothers were raised by their mother, Dorothy, with what John admiringly describes as an “expectation of excellence.”
John attended Cornell University on a National Merit Scholarship, graduating with a bachelor of science degree and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He began his working career at Westinghouse, and with their support earned a Ph.D. in applied mechanics from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966. After leaving Westinghouse in 1969 he went on to found ANSYS, Inc., an industry leader in the development of software for simulating how products would function in real life.
As fulfilling as John’s work was, little did he suspect that his life would become further enriched when he attended a New Year’s Eve party at a church in 1974. It was there he met his future wife, Janet, who had come to Pittsburgh to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science. The two married in 1983.
New Year’s Eve has since become the first of many holidays, birthdays, and other milestones that John and Janet celebrate in a special way. Rather than exchange material gifts, they have established a tradition of donating to the charities they care about on such special occasions.
Having far surpassed any “expectation of excellence” his mother ever could have held—including receiving the prestigious John Fritz Medal in 2004, a distinction he shares with luminaries George Westinghouse, Alexander Graham Bell, and Orville Wright—John, together with his wife, Janet, has shifted priorities. “Our focus now is on how much good we can do for the rest of our lives,” he explains.
One cause both John and Janet feel passionately about is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Steady contributors since the Museum’s early days, the Swansons made their first major gift to the Annual Fund in 1996. In 2010, inspired by the impact of the Museum’s educational outreach and in honor of John’s 70th birthday, they made a significant gift for the benefit of the Museum’s Endowment by establishing a charitable gift annuity.
And this year, to commemorate Janet’s birthday, the Swansons established a second annuity, thereby becoming Legacy of Light Guardian Pillars. Their primary motivation for making these extremely generous gifts is to combat ignorance. “Education is the key to everything,” notes Janet. “Adolph Hitler knew that to be true. If he had not started the Hitler Youth, how active would antisemitism be today? We are making these gifts to ensure that the Museum can continue educating and informing, creating more people who understand and who care.”