Duane Benson, 73, brother of Grand Meadow residents

Duane Benson

Duane Dean Benson, 73, of Lanesboro, died peacefully on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, surrounded by his loving family, following a battle with cancer.

He was born on Aug. 5, 1945, in Belmond, Iowa, the son of Dale and Hazel (Arends) Benson. At the age of 3, he moved with his family from Iowa to a farm between Grand Meadow and Elkton.

He graduated from Grand Meadow High School in 1963. 

He attended Hamline University in St. Paul. He graduated with honors with a degree in history in 1967, the same year he was drafted to the Oakland Raiders.

He met his wife, Melissa Donehower, at Hamline and they were married in St. Paul in 1968, before moving to California. They had two children, Brooke and Jess.

He played for 10 years in the NFL as a linebacker in Oakland, Houston and Atlanta. In his five years with the Oakland Raiders he was selected outstanding defensive player four times. Elected a captain of the Raiders in 1971, he played with the team in four playoff games, two league championships and one Super Bowl.

In the mid-1970s, he and his wife fell in love with the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota and bought a farm in Lanesboro.

In 1980, he was elected to the state Legislature and represented southeastern Minnesota in the Senate where he served for 14 years and attained the post of Senate minority leader. His legislative concerns included education, health care and agriculture. He was a member of the “Gang of Seven” who helped to establish MinnesotaCare in the early 1990s.

In September of 1994, he was appointed executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, an organization of more than 100 CEOs and senior executives from Minnesota’s largest employers. His public policy work in this role focused on improving quality of life for all Minnesotans and strengthening Minnesota’s economy. 

He also served as executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), which he described as an research and development engine for early childhood education in Minnesota. He served on the board of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. He was a charter member of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which oversaw the construction of the state’s new professional football stadium.

Throughout his professional career, he owned and managed a 240-acre farm where he raised livestock. He enjoyed walking the pastures to check on his cattle and loved riding horses. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle. He was a beloved teacher, mentor, coach, colleague and friend to many, and he was known for his wisdom, kindness and sense of humor. His family and his faith were at the center of his life.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Melissa; and his children, Brooke Worden of St. Paul and Jess (Janet) Benson of Burnsville; grandchildren, Emma and Lauren Worden and Nora and Dane Benson; brother, Reggie (Diane) Benson of Grand Meadow; sisters, Dixie Mathews of Rhinelander, Wis., and Val Jean (Tom) Thorsen of Grand Meadow and many nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by three brothers Dale, Max, Rex Benson.

 A memorial service for him was held at Bethlehem Lutheran Church Thursday, Jan. 31, with the Rev. Mark Woodward officiating. 

Riley Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements.

To share a condolence with the family please visit rileyfuneralhomes.com.