Ben Luense earns prestigious ‘Spirit of Springfield’ award
Being a volunteer is “Heartwarming” and “Inter-. esting,” says Ben Luense, recipient of the 2015 Spirit of Springfield award given by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Ben received the award at the Chamber’s annual meeting Monday evening.
Ben has always considered it important to give time and energy to good community projects, and he knows the joy of serving others and helping to improve our local community. “We don’t fully realize the benefits until we look back,” he said.
Volunteering has been a part of Ben’s life for as long as he can remember. “I grew up being involved in community,” he said during a recent interview. His father operated a restaurant / truck stop in Merrill, Iowa, and was an outgoing man who did much volunteer work in his community. “He was always taking me wherever he went,” Ben recalled.
At the age of 21, Luense was elected to the Merrill City Council, but that’s another story, one that convinced him never again to seek public office.
Working in banking and real estate for many years has provided him a good perspective of community. His willingness to volunteer was bolstered by what he felt was a responsibility to help people by providing financing, finding a house, or working on community projects.
Some community involvement came by “default,” he noted. “I supervised the old popcorn wagon that the Jaycees ran on the sidewalk in front of the bank on Friday nights during the years our banks and stores were open Friday evenings. I had to be there so I figured I might as well take that on as a chore.”
That’s how Ben got involved with the Nativity Pageant, too. The pageant was held in front of The Building Center during its early years. There was a need for extra seating, and he helped out by providing planks that turned into seating and, presto, he had a job! Ben took charge of the set and staging for the pageant throughout the years. “It has turned into quite a production over the years,” he commented.
Luense came to
Springfield in 1965
Ben came to Springfield to manage Lampert Yards in March 1965 and jumped right into action. He joined the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and served as chairman of the organization during his first stint in town. Lampert’s closed the local yards in June 1969, and Ben went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the summer, and then was transferred to Rosemount.
He returned to Springfield in February 1971 to work at the State Bank of Springfield.
Luense was employed at the State Bank of Springfield for 13 years from 1971-1984. With the loss of the bank’s two chief officers to their unexpected deaths — Arthur Birkemeyer in 1972 and Willis Weber in 1975 — Ben became vice president at the bank after working there less than five years. “We somehow were able to manage and the bank continued to prosper,” Ben commented.
“It was a great opportunity being in the bank, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s,” Ben stated. At that time, when people came to town, the bank was the first place they visited; so it was a great opportunity to meet people. It was always a good feeling to help people.”
In 1984, Ben left the bank and returned to the lumber business. He purchased The Building Center that he sold to the Saloneks in 1989, and managed it for them for another year. On June 1, 1990, he went to work for the Wanda State Bank and was there until July 1, 1995. Ben returned to Springfield to work at the local bank, then Southwest State Bank and later United Prairie Bank until his retirement.
Ben was an active member of the Jaycees. He was elected District Director, serving eight chapters in the area, and then served as national director for Jaycees in Southwest Minnesota. “It was a great organization,” he said. He continued his involvement until age 36, at which time Jaycees become “Exhausted Roosters,” and retire from the organization.
He got involved in the Boy Scouts of America when son Brad was a Scout, and served on the local Scout Committee for about 20 years. He served as Scout Leader and nine years as Scout Master.
He was a member of the Lions Club for 27 years from the day it was chartered until it disbanded.
He was a Rotarian during his first few years in Springfield.
He was involved in the Athletic Boosters Club and operated the clock at sporting events at Springfield Public School.
Ben served 22 years on the Springfield Fire Department.
Ben is actively involved at St. Johns Lutheran Church. He is an usher and serves on the Endowment Committee. He has served on the Church Council and two terms as chairman, and has served as delegate to regional and national conventions.
Health care was
Ben’s priority in volunteer efforts has been focused on community health care. Many of his leadership efforts involve Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield, including serving on the board of directors, and on the foundation board from 1985-2013, including several years as president. Outside of his leadership responsibilities, Ben volunteers as a valet — greeting patients and visitors and parking cars at the clinic/hospital. He helped develop the Helping Hands Charity Golf Tournament, a fund-raiser for the foundation, now in its 19th year.
His services to community health care earned him the prestigious Volunteer of the Year Award from the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) that is given to outstanding leaders in health care. He received the award at its 30th annual awards ceremony last April.
“I had two goals when I was on the hospital board,” Ben stated. “One was to recruit a female physician, and to get an affiliation. I felt that it was going to be very difficult for a rural community hospital to survive independently.” Both goals were accomplished.
He continues to work with Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield on Health Care Directives.
and Community Center
were favorite projects
The most enjoyable of prime volunteer projects, Ben says, were serving on the Centennial Committee and the Task Force and Capital Campaign Committee for the Springfield Area Community Center.
Ben was chairman of Saturday events for Springfield’s three-day centennial celebration in June 1981. The committee met for two years prior to the centennial. “That was interesting. It was a great time,” Ben recalled. “It was a tremendous amount of work but very rewarding because the community was so behind us.”
The Task Force for the Community Center met numerous times during several years leading to the construction of the facility. The group did much research and visited many communities, looking at the various facilities before putting together a design and location for Springfield. “The Community Center is such a benefit to our community. It turned out better than we ever could have expected,” Ben noted. “The capital campaign was a winner. That’s how I learned to run a fund-raiser.”
Ben continues work with
EDA, Leave a Legacy
Ben has served more than 15 years on the Springfield Economic Authority (EDA) and as a commissioner was involved in the challenging motel project. When the capital campaign was dragging, Ben offered to give time to the project when he retired from banking on March 31, 2004. “I was able to recruit about 10 other people and we went to work on the project.” With an extension of time, the EDA was able to raise $750,000 to build a motel.
Ben ended up managing the motel from April 1, 2005, to March 1, 2007. “I thought I could manage the hotel. That was a rude awakening,” he recalled. “It was an interesting two years. Fortunately we were able to contract with ROI Hospitality to help us with management, and later found good people to purchase it.”
“Both the hotel and Community Center are great assets in our community,” Ben noted.
Ben’s last big capital campaign was raising $500,000 for the Mayo Clinic addition for new inpatient rooms and the expansion of the operating / emergency room.
“The greatest reward of volunteering is seeing our community prosper,” noted Ben. “Even though our community has changed over the years, it continues to be a viable community and people want to live here. I see that every day in the real estate business, and that is why I like the community and glad to work for it.”
While it hasn’t been all fun and games and he was faced with challenges, Ben says, “I have enjoyed everyone of them.”
He continues to work for community.
Ben is a member of the group Leave a Legacy — collaboration of local foundations to work together for the benefit of the community.
He offers thanks to his wife, VerJean, family and community who supported him all these years. “Without their willingness to help out and support I could not have done that,” he said.
What does he think about being named the Spirit of Springfield 2015.
“Humbled and Appreciative,” he concluded.