RI changemaker good citizen, community servant

Jenni Swanson  Lincoln Office, workplace consultant  City of Rock Island, alderwoman 

Jenni Swanson

Rock Island Alderwoman Jenni Swanson is more than a dedicated elected official. She’s a community leader and a changemaker who embodies what it means to be a good citizen and community servant.

That’s according to the authors of a stack of letters written in support of her inclusion among the QCBJ Women of Influence. In them, her fellow public and private sector leaders celebrated her pragmatism, her ability to listen carefully and collaborate effectively and to embrace – rather than ignore – a problem and find ways to address it.

Her fans also noted that this elected official and community activist champions a long list of causes and organizations, many of which are focused on women and child care. Why there?

“I think because at heart I am a feminist and I think I’ve always been one,” Ms. Swanson said. “I had a very strong-willed independent grandmother who lived across the street from me that really impacted my life a lot and I think she made me feel like I could do anything and be anything that I wanted to be.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges ahead.

“As you grow up and enter the workplace and you enter the world as an adult, sometimes you’re hit with ‘As a woman, you can’t,’” she said. “You can but there’s more walls you have to navigate around and barriers that you either have to figure out how to go through, go over or just turn away from and go a different direction.”

She’s no stranger to barriers.

“I remember in the late ‘70s when a woman couldn’t get credit in her own name. That’s in my lifetime and you couldn’t get a loan,” she said. “And I remember when I first got married, I couldn’t do hardly anything without my dad or my husband signing things.”

Even after her divorce in the early 2000s, she couldn’t set up a gas and electric account in her own name without her ex’s OK.

In addition, Ms. Swanson said, “I don’t think a woman should feel like she has to be married in order to have nice things and I think if a woman wants to have a job she should be allowed to have a job and should not be put in a situation where she can’t work because she has children.” That’s why the cost, quality and availability of child care is so critical. 

“I think the things that I get involved with tend to focus on women and children and how to help women navigate life and importantly help them be a role model for their children,” she added.

She knows what it’s like to need help. “When I first got married we lived in a tent in a campground for six months until we could get into Section 8 housing, so I’ve lived on the poverty end of things,” Ms. Swanson said. “So I think for me watching the struggle that women have had struck a chord.”

Getting a college education brought its own challenges. Ms. Swanson studied history and pre-law at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, but left to get married because, she said, “that was the smart thing to do.” She later earned her associates degree in West Virginia, and after moving to the Quad Cities earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Ambrose University.

Rather than lament that twisted path, she embraces it. “I think that was a good thing because I think studying while my kids were younger kind of emphasized to them that this is an important thing to do.” 

An equally winding career path saw her wearing multiple hats at a bank, the Family Museum, Rivermont Collegiate, the American Rental Association, and currently at Lincoln Office. 

That job provides the flexibility that she needs to navigate days that begin at 5 a.m. with answering emails from her Fourth Ward-constituents followed by teaching jazzercise classes.

Her community and constituent work energizes Rock Island’s mayor pro-tem and the lone female on the city council. As does her family which includes husband Kai Swanson and the five children and seven grandchildren they share.

“A community is what people make it and this is a great community,” Ms. Swanson said. “I say we have all the amenities of the city without the traffic, which I love. But in order to have a great community you have to invest money and time into your community.”


This profile was originally published in the QCBJ’s 2024 Women of Influence publication. The QCBJ is excited to introduce this new awards program to the Quad Cities. Our inaugural class of Women of Influence are an inspiring group of trailblazers, role models and leaders in their workplaces and in their communities. They have overcome adversity, taken chances and committed themselves to making the Quad Cities community a better place for all of us to live, work and play.  

The QCBJ will present the 2024 Women of Influence awards on Thursday, May 23, from 5:30-8 p.m., at the Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf. Tickets are still available to the event, which includes networking, dinner and remarks from the winners, by visiting quadcitiesbusiness.com.


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