The male juniors at New Trier High School were called into the gym on Dec. 8, 1941, to hear their country had joined in the second World War. For Charles Swarts, it would be the best thing that ever happened to him, he would later say, after the military kept him out of combat and put him through medical school.
"It was like falling into a barrel of [feces] and coming out smelling like Chanel No. 5," Swarts fondly remembers.
Although Swarts never saw combat as a young man in the U.S. Army during World War II or later as a physician with the Air Force, a skin lotion he helped create has been easily found amid recent U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Defense Department contracts for purchases of up to 15,000 bottles at a time of Derm-Apply, a moisturizing cream, make it the most popular of three products produced by Snuva, Inc., 715 South Blvd.
Swarts and business partner Richard Boylan founded Snuva in 1989 and worked with a pharmacist to develop the formula for the moisturizer. The hydrophilic (water loving) lotion works by holding moisture in the skin, and should be applied after bathing or water has been applied to the skin.
"Our biggest failure with it is that it doesn't make a good martini," Swarts said, smiling.
Through "bird-dogging," he and Boylan, who's now disabled and is not involved in the company's operations, got approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and for defense contracts.
Swarts says he now gets calls from former soldiers who have returned from Iraq and like the product so well they order some for themselves.
At 80, Swarts says he can't put a lot of energy into marketing Snuva products. Instead he works with the Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation and other organizations to target people with skin disorders. Sjögren's Syndrome is an auto immune disease where the immune system attacks exocrine, or moisture-producing, glands, inhibiting the production of sweat, tears and other moisturizing secretions.
Swarts says the lotion helps people with uremic pruritis (severe dry, itchy skin), hives, eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma and people on renal dialysis.
He's looking for someone to buy Snuva, but said large pharmaceutical firms aren't interested in small companies. Swarts would not comment on revenues or sales, but an online source listed Snuva sales last year at $100,000.
"Taxed out of Oak Park," Swarts and his wife now live in Westchester, where he plans to move the business in expectation of losing his lease due to an impending development proposal for the entire southeast corner of South Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue (see "Courtyard," page 1).
After retiring from 50 years as an allergist?#34;40 of which were at the same South Boulevard location?#34;in 2000, he has no aspirations to stop work completely. Staying at home would breed bad habits, such as sleeping in and watching "crap" on television, said Swarts, who looks 10 years younger than his age, and acts so when he talks about the 40 to 130 e-mails he gets a day and hits on his website, www.snuva.com.
Still at full force is his sense of humor, with signs posted about the cluttered office such as, "The beatings will continue until morale improves." When Mrs. Swarts calls asking about his lunch he says, "I had no lunch. I'm coming home to nibble on your ear," then later tells the reporter, "It's OK, she's my wife."
Even the name of the company shows his penchant for comedy. Snuva is Swedish for "snotty nose," he said.