The sweetness of giving back

 In News
Larry '57 and Judy '79 Swatosh were back on campus in August.

Larry ’57 and Judy ’79 Swatosh were back on campus in August.


Larry Swatosh ’57 graduated into a very tight construction market after he completed his bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in 1961 after having transferred from Clark College. Nobody was hiring. His memory is of pounding the pavement in Portland, Ore., every day asking for architectural work. He even applied for jobs outside of his chosen profession, but to no avail.

His wife, Judy, who entered Clark in 1955 and studied for one year, put aside her college aspirations to help Larry achieve his bachelor’s. Funds were tight for the couple.

“We would stop to see my parents once a week and get a free meal,” said Larry Swatosh.

One day when he was in Vancouver, Larry walked into Coburn Ackley Architects and got a job, where he remained for two years. In 1963, he landed a job at Nelson, Walla and Dolle Architects and settled in for 20 years.

Work, children, travel, community volunteerism and Judy’s return to Clark to finish her degree in 1979 rounded out their lives. In the mid-1970s, Larry became the youngest appointee to the Vancouver City Planning Commission. He also served on numerous other boards and committees including Vancouver Cultural Commission, Columbia Non-Profit Housing, American Red Cross Board, Friends of the Arts, Chinook Trail Association Board and the Clark College Foundation Alumni Board. Larry has been a member of the Rotary Club of Vancouver for decades.

Launching pad

Education was the Swatosh’s foundation for their life.

“Clark prepared me to go to UW and helped prepare me for living in the community,” said Swatosh, who returned to Clark when he had his bachelor’s in hand to take courses like calligraphy for fun and speed reading for his job.

“Clark was both a launching pad and a landing pad,” he said.

The couple have been long-time donors to Clark.

“I am paying back. Lew Cannell was an outstanding person. The Apslers, Scarpellis—and all the people that have buildings named after them. These are the people who deserve respect. We give for all of that,” Swatosh said.

In addition to giving their treasures, the Swatoshs indulge in culinary creativity for the community. What started as a labor of love for their three children – designing birthday cakes – turned into more elaborate designs for fundraising projects like the Rotary Club of Vancouver’s annual gingerbread contest.

Over the years, Swatosh teamed up with Clark’s Culinary students, the Vancouver School District’s Culinary department and others to create elaborate 3D buildings like the First Methodist Church, Timberline Lodge (whimsically titled Gingerline lodge) and a Christensen yacht.

One Larry Swatosh's many talents is cake decorating. This is a Picasso he created for a grandchild.

One Larry Swatosh’s many talents is cake decorating. This is a Picasso he created for his grandchildren.

Swatosh designed the structures and provided the bakers with drawings. The bakers would place the cut-out drawings onto the rolled-out dough in order to prepare the pieces to size. Sometimes, the Culinary students would use carpentry tools such as a rasp – a metal file – to trim the edges of the dough, then build the 3D structure and frost it with a variety of colors.

Swatosh still designs cakes for his family. His grandchildren have requested everything from Harry Potter to Van Gogh to Captain Underpants. He has photo albums chock-a-block with examples from over the decades.

Cake design has been a fanciful way for Swatosh to extend a passion for architecture and community involvement into a lifetime of giving back.

Written by Rhonda Morin


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  • noname

    Larry has left a lasting impact on his family and the community. He valued the arts, education and the environment. He went to concerts, games and fundraisers–cheering on his kids and grandkids. Larry loved spending time at the beach with family and friends. Over the years he spent time sailing, hiking, camping, woodworking, playing tennis, and traveling.

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