Marie Schafer Benson '53
2012 Covenant Award Presentation
Marie Schafer Benson ’53 has lived a life filled with adventure, challenges and faith. At this year’s annual meeting of the Association of Congregations, she is being recognized with the Gustavus Adolphus College Association of Congregations Covenant Award for significant contributions to the life and growth of both the College and the Church, most notably for leadership in connection the College with congregations in a variety of ways. She has designated the stipend from the Covenant Award for the benefit of students in the Church Leadership Program at Gustavus.
Raised in Jackson County, Minnesota, Marie attended Gustavus Adolphus College. As a graduating senior, a faculty committee recognized her demonstrated excellence in scholarship, leadership, and diversified participation in extra-curricular activities, and she was inducted into the Guild of St. Ansgar. She looks forward to the 60th reunion of her graduating class this year in May.
At Gustavus, she was active in the Lutheran Student Association, where she met Stan Benson. He went off to serve as a missionary teacher in Borneo in Indonesia and later to Tanganyika, East Africa. Meanwhile, Marie used her degree to teach English and also as a school librarian. When he returned in 1956, they were married in St. Peter. Then she went with him to the Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois. With a shared desire for overseas mission work, following Stan’s ordination in 1959, they traveled with baby John by freighter to Tanganyika to begin their work together as missionaries of the Augustana Lutheran Church (later ELCA) in East Africa. Working mainly among the Maasai tribe in northern Tanzania, they lived in and near Arusha.
Marie adapted to her various roles—missionary pastor’s wife, hostess to visitors from other villages and other countries, mother of three sons. The boys attended boarding schools, and Marie served on the board of directors of their schools, including for 20 years (1972–1992) as a director of International School Moshi. She also worked for the US Embassy as a counselor assistant in northern Tanzania, and as chair of the International Women’s Club. In 1986, she was founding chairperson of the English-speaking Arusha Community Church. Marie and Stan retired to St. Peter in 1992.
Marie has always had great interest in getting things done. She was intent on building community among those working and needing support, even in East Africa; she named and managed the Amazing East Africa Prayer Chain, an international e-mail network that shared family news and provided prayer support to more than 200 people in four continents. Today this network continues to share shares news of those with links to East Africa, even including missionary kids from around the world now in their middle year. She has organized reunions at Gustavus of missionaries and “MK’s” who served in East Africa.
In St. Peter, Marie continued to be active as a leader in church and community work. In 1992, she joined the local Habitat for Humanity St. Peter Chapter, serving as its treasurer until 2004. In service to the College, Marie served as a delegate to the Association and for 6 years (2001–2007) as a member of the GACAC Board of Directors. At First Lutheran Church in St. Peter she served on the church council and as chair of adult education and social ministry committees, as well as co-chairing the congregation’s sesquicentennial celebration. In the Southwestern Minnesota Synod ELCA, she was chair of the Companion Synod Committee and also served on the Board for Global Missions. In 2004, she was a coordinator and on the planning committee for the AHA Gathering IV; , she currently is co-chair of the local planning committee for the Augustana Heritage Association (AHA) Gathering VIII to be held on the Gustavus campus this summer. She and Stan were volunteers with Meals on Wheels and the St. Peter Area Food Shelf. In 2007, they were named Outstanding Senior Citizens of Nicollet County, Minnesota.
Marie and Stan are the parents of three sons: John ’80 (Moorhead, MN); Todd ‘x83 (Kampala, Uganda); and Jeff (Seoul, Korea); and grandparents of John Jr. and Claire.