Former Minnesota state senator and NFL linebacker Duane Benson, a cattle farmer near Lanesboro, will talk about our changing world during the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation's second annual banquet set for Wednesday, April 24, at the Root River Country Club south of Spring Valley.

Benson will be sharing thoughts similar to those he shared at the Preston Area Community Foundation's banquet held last month. The talk 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 fore in a speech he hopes will stir people to disagree or agree.

SVACF banquet

The banquet will also feature Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald, who will address the influence of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in their school. Specifically, he will talk about the STEM-based curriculum through the Project Lead the Way program, which has been implemented into the Kingsland curriculum for the sixth through 12th grades.

Last summer, the district offered a week-long summer camp called Gateway Academy. The course allowed 30 students to dive into more STEM-based activities and learning. Luke Howard and Madison Himle, two Kingsland students that participated in the Gateway Academy, will also be speaking at the banquet about their experiences. Himle, a fifth grade student said, "I like building stuff and learning about it." The program is open to fourth through sixth grade students and helps prepare them for future learning through Project Lead the Way.

"The kids are engaged in problem solving, teamwork, critical thinking, and they are having a lot of fun," shared McDonald, who also expressed his appreciation for the foundation's help in funding the first summer. The $2,500 donation motivated an anonymous community member to step forward and take upon the funding of the program for the next two summers.

"They are a valuable partner because they support education and events in the community that foster education," stated McDonald about the SVACF.

The SVACF banquet is ticketed at $35 per person. Tickets are available at Security State Bank, First State Bank, city hall, and from any of the 13 foundation board members.

The event will begin with a social hour starting at 5:30 p.m. with the dinner at 6:30 p.m. Dinner choices will include prime rib, chicken, ribs, and cod. There will also be a silent and live auction with many items including wine tastings, Twins and Vikings tickets, an autographed baseball from a 1965 Twins player, a Segway tour of Minneapolis or St. Paul, a handmade quilt, and many other items. All money raised will go toward the Foundation's funding of the Music In the Park summer concert series as well as other community projects.

"We are looking for opportunities to help the community," shared Foundation President Sue Kolling. "We are asking people to reinvest in the community. It's home-grown philanthropy." Although it is only the second year of the foundation's existence and of their annual banquet, Kolling said they expect the Root River Country Club to be packed.

The SVACF has also provided matching funds to the roof repair for the Wykoff Community Center. Much of the money the foundation receives is put into an endowment fund, which is managed by the Southeastern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. They are currently growing that pool of money to be able to fund more projects in the future. According to their mission and purpose, the foundation "strives to build a dynamic community be encouraging generosity, promoting civic engagement and providing the opportunity to enhance the quality of life by creating community partnerships" and doing so by connecting the areas of Spring Valley, Ostrander, and Wykoff.

Benson featured

Benson attended Hamline University and graduated in a B.A. with honors in 1967. 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 which 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 is 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 people's imaginations." He will be doing that at the SVACF 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 the 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 although "they are a fairly new phenomenon.

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.