Remarkable good fortune, unparalleled generosity
Dale and Jolita Benson are among PLU’s most generous donors. They have given the university just about $5 million in the last decade. In 2004, they established the Benson Family Chair in Business and Economic history, the first fully funded chair at PLU. Last spring, they established the Jolita Hylland Benson Chair in Elementary Education. They have also contributed to the Kurt Mayer Chair in Holocaust Studies, to Wang Center symposiums and to the Scandinavian Cultural Center, among other projects and programs.
The Bensons are also among PLU’s most improbable benefactors. Their story is one of remarkable good fortune, followed by unparalleled generosity.
“I believe that we have supported PLU because we were called to do it. I think that God had a plan for us,” Jolita said. “We started out with nothing and had absolutely nothing for a very long time. Then we were blessed and it just seemed natural to do all that we could for others.”
The Bensons each came to PLU from modest and devoted Lutheran families, intending to become teachers. They met on campus in a bowling class, Jolita said. Dale says it was in chorus singing under R. Byard Fritts. The couple has been together ever since.
They graduated in 1963 – Dale to attend graduate school at the University of Maine and begin a career as a professor of history, Jolita to teach kindergarten and first grade.
Before long, they decided that Jolita would step out of the classroom to raise their family while Dale dedicated himself to his career. They now have four daughters, three of whom attended PLU, and two grandchildren with one on the way.
After receiving his Ph.D., Dale was offered a professorship at Southwestern at Memphis, a top-tier liberal arts college now known as Rhodes College. After a few years, Southwestern ran into financial difficulty, resulting in the layoff of 20 untenured assistant professors, including Benson.
It was a fateful moment for the Bensons. Dale became a banker.
“That was when my career took a sharp turn,” Dale said. “Jolita and I agreed that if we were going to get back to the Pacific Northwest, as we wished, I would need to find a different career.
“I talked my way into a position with one of the major banks in Memphis where I worked for two years before landing a job with U.S. Bank in Portland as a financial advisor.”
The Bensons have now lived in Portland, Ore., for 36 years in a modest family home in the lower Vermont Hills neighborhood.
In 1997, U.S. Bank merged with First Bank System in Minneapolis, intending to take all of the trust assets back to Minneapolis. “I said ‘No thank you. I’m not going back to the Midwest,’” Benson said.
Instead he created his own company and began managing money for some of his clients from U.S. Bank. During the next six years, Benson Associates became a very successful investment management company.
In 2003, just after Dale joined the PLU Board of Regents, Benson Associates was sold to Wells Fargo. Proceeds from the sale allowed the Bensons to first fund the chair in business and economic history and then, this year, fund the chair in elementary education.
“Yes. I would say that it is true that PLU now has ‘his’ and ‘hers’ endowed chairs from the Benson family,” Jolita said.
“But you know, we haven’t taken advantage of our financial position to enhance our own lifestyle,” she said. “I was raised to be a modest person. My grandfather was a Lutheran pastor. My great aunt was a missionary in China for 20 years. My extended family has lived like that all the way, living lives of service.”
Dale, who also has Lutheran clergy in his lineage, agrees. “Giving back to PLU was something I always thought about doing if I ever had the resources to do it. And once I got into the banking world, it became apparent that I might reach that goal,” he said.
“We have always believed that it is important to reach out and help others because helping others is what life is all about,” Jolita said. “There is no pressure to give and there is no personal return expected. For us giving is a natural part of who we are.”
“We are indeed blessed that we have been so fortunate,” Dale said.
To learn more about investment options and ensuring the legacy of PLU, please contact the Office of Development at 253-535-7177 or visit www.plu.edu/advancement/ and click on “Make a Gift.”