Fittingly, Bemidji’s August 10 sendoff reception for Jim and Nancy Bensen embodied the trademark enthusiasm of Bemidji State University’s former president.
In a spirited celebration of the Bensens’ immeasurable accomplishments, impact and stewardship, BSU and the Bemidji community bid farewell to the distinguished couple at the David Park House. The Bensens are moving their permanent residence to Wisconsin later this month, making the event a chance for all to bask in the contagious Bensen zeal one last time.
“We’ve had a tremendous journey in life,” said Jim Bensen, who served as Bemidji State’s eighth permanent president from 1994-2001. “Absolutely spectacular. And it’s been really, really fun.”
A little light rain couldn’t wash out the joyful festivities. The Bensens greeted each guest individually before speeches, cake and plenty of hugs provided a proper goodbye.
Jim and Nancy have long been loyal supporters of Beaver Athletics, as well. Delegates from the BSU football program gifted a ball signed by the whole team, and many other guests bestowed deep gratitude for the Bensens’ service and friendship.
It was an apt showcase in recognition of decades of work. Jim Bensen has been an architect of growth and Bemidji’s quintessential visionary both during and after his presidency.
Originally from Erskine, he first came to Bemidji State College as a student and graduated in 1959 with bachelor’s degrees in industrial education and physical education. In 1994, Bensen was unanimously voted in as the school’s new president – becoming the first BSU graduate to serve in that role – and tirelessly championed economic growth at the university and in the community.
In addition to investing in the progress of the college through advocacy and philanthropy, Bensen has been heavily involved in the community’s development as a member of Greater Bemidji for 25 years, as a Rotarian for 45 years and through many other cutting-edge civic organizations and causes.
Best of all, he married his high school and college sweetheart in 1958. Nancy was a 2003 outstanding alumni honoree at Bemidji State and a charter member of the BSU Alumni & Foundation’s Legacy Society. She has both served on and established volunteer organizations to better the lives of those in the community, as well.
“In 1955, two 18-year-old kids from Erskine came over here to go to Bemidji State,” Jim said during his speech. “We were high school sweethearts, and let me tell you, we still are.”
Likely no one in Bemidji is more future-oriented than Jim Bensen. While others draw from the past, Bensen’s focus is lightyears ahead.
“What Jim has lifted up throughout his career is transforming us with the future,” current BSU President John L. Hoffman said in his speech. “That’s the responsibility you leave to us as you move on. I’m so proud to say that we have a building here at Bemidji State, just down the way, named after you and after our commitment to the future.”
Naturally, Jim incorporated the future into his own farewell speech. He acknowledged the current hardships, yet he spoke with a point of view that already originated from the other side of those hurdles.
By the time most people can see the light at the end of a tunnel, Jim Bensen has already reached it.
“As we move ahead and look at what’s going to be happening in this community, it’s tough times right now,” he said, referencing the current enrollment and budget challenges BSU faces. “John is digging through a hole like I did, and others have done this as well. But that’s not going to stop them. They’re going to turn this thing around, go sailing right on and be the best thing that’s going on in the Upper Midwest.”