Duane Benson will be the featured speaker at the Preston Area Community Foundation event on March 25 at the Branding Iron in Preston
Duane Benson will be the featured speaker at the Preston Area Community Foundation event on March 25 at the Branding Iron in Preston
Former Minnesota state senator and NFL linebacker, and current Lanesboro cattle farmer Duane Benson will speak to members of the Preston Area Community Foundation and the general public during the PACF's annual banquet held on March 25 at the Branding Iron Supper Club in Preston.

As the featured speaker, Benson will give a talk titled, "The Future Ain't What it Used to Be," which will address how we currently view the future and how the reality of the future has significantly changed.

"I've done similar presentations in and out of Minnesota and I've thought a lot about it," shared Benson adding that he will be talking about three things which are changing the most: technology, globalization and demographics.

"What we used to think is the future has changed so dramatically," he stated.

Benson will be bringing his years of experience as a public servant, organizational leader and rural farmer to the forefront in a speech he hopes will stir people to disagree or agree.

Benson attended Hamline University and graduated with honors in 1967, earning a bachelor of arts degree. He was drafted into the American Football League by the Oakland Raiders and then played in the NFL when the AFL merged in 1969. He played as a linebacker for 11 years with the Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Oilers.

Benson said he learned things in the NFL that he still uses today, particularly in leadership. "Being in an organization, I saw effective leaders and how they build consensus," he shared.

According to Benson, there are three things that make an effective leader: the ability to simplify, the ability to establish relationships and passion.

"The great ones can simplify. They can make everyone understand what they are saying," he explained.

Legendary Oakland Raiders coach John Madden started as a linebackers coach and Benson was one of the first players he coached. "He used to say, 'This is not a complicated game! You tackle the ball and when you get it, run it in the other direction!'" Benson recalled.

Relationship building is something Benson has been doing all his professional life. As a legislator from 1980 to 1994 for six southeast Minnesota counties, he got to know a lot of people.

"A relationship is I care about you and you care about me," he described adding, "It creates energy."

Benson shared that he feels human "networks" are becoming more impersonal and passive. One thing that surprised him when he and his family moved to Lanesboro in 1973 was the neighborliness of a lot of people.

"People were helping me a lot and I thought, 'It's going to take forever to get even.'" He has since become very comfortable living near Lanesboro and sees a lot of opportunity here.

"We breed leaders here and I think we don't realize it," he stated. "People in rural America learn how to do a lot of different things. They are problem solvers. They have been exposed to a lot of situations and they have learned from it."

He went on to say opportunities have not diminished in small towns, but are greater than ever.

However, Benson said, "The degree of change we are witnessing as a society is happening so fast we don't even notice it sometimes."

He said because of this rapid change, towns will have to make sure they keep improving schools. "It may come down to how our schools perform," shared Benson, explaining how towns may have to compete for people to live there. "I don't have the answers though," he said, "I'm just trying to stir peoples' imaginations."

He will be doing that at the PACF banquet, hoping to incite passion in people to take control of their future.

"You can't resist the change that is going on," he said adding, "but you can fashion it so it is positive. We can make our future how we want it. If you think it's fraught with opportunities, you'll have the time of your life. Shape it, and don't let it shape you. We are in the most exciting time in history."

Benson is also the rural commissioner for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which handles oversight and management of the Metrodome and construction of the new multi-purpose stadium. He meets with the four other members of the Authority once per month.

Once the 2013-14 Vikings' season ends, the site preparation would begin with a projected finish date in the summer of 2016.

Benson was also the executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation from 2005 through 2011. He sees the importance of the foundations in small towns.

"They are a fairly new phenomenon for small towns, but here there is a corps of people who care deeply about the future of Preston," he added.

Benson was the executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership from 1994 through 2003 and currently serves as Trustee of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

The PACF annual banquet tickets are $35 per person. Tickets are available at F&M Community Bank and Weber and Judd Pharmacy.

The event will begin with a social hour starting at 5:30 p.m. with the dinner at 6:30. Dinner choices will be filet mignon, grilled shrimp, rib-eye and walleye pike. There will also be a silent and live auction with close to 60 items, including wine baskets, craft items, Commonweal tickets, fishing gear and even a hog. All money raised will go toward the Foundation's endowment fund. The interest earned from the fund is what is given to local non-profit organizations, which have submitted applications and have been approved.

"We are celebrating a successful year," said PACF board member Sheila Craig.

The PACF was able to grant funds to the Fillmore Central daycare program, the National Trout Center, the area Audubon Society and the Preston Historical Society.

As for the event Craig stated, "Each year we've had increased attendance and excellent speakers. It's becoming a community social event."