Duane Dean Benson

August 5, 1945 ~ January 26, 2019 (age 73)

Obituary: Duane Dean AnchorBenson, former Minnesota Senate Minority Leader, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, dies at 73

Duane Dean Benson died peacefully Saturday, January 26 at age 73 surrounded by his loving family following a battle with cancer. Duane was born August 5, 1945, in Belmond, Ia., the son of Dale and Hazel (Arends) Benson. At the age of three, he moved with his family from Iowa to a farm between Grand Meadow and Elkton, Minn. He graduated from Grand Meadow High School in 1963.

Duane attended Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. 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.     

He played for ten 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, Duane played with the team in four playoff games, two league championships and one Super Bowl. In the mid-1970s, he and his wife Melissa fell in love with the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota and bought a farm in Lanesboro, Minn. Their daughter Brooke was born in 1971 and their son Jess was born in 1978. 

In 1980, Duane 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. Duane’s public policy work in this role focused on improving quality of life for all Minnesotans and strengthening Minnesota’s economy.

Duane also served as executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF) which he described as an R&D 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, Benson 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. Duane 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.  

Duane is survived by his wife of 50 years, Melissa, and his children and grandchildren: Brooke Worden, Emma and Lauren Worden, of St. Paul, Jess (Janet) Benson, Nora and Dane, of Burnsville, brother Reggie (Diane) Benson, of Grand Meadow, sisters, Dixie Mathews, of Rhinelander, WI, and Val Jean (Tom) Thorsen, of Grand Meadow, and many nieces and nephews.  He was preceded in death by his parents Dale and Hazel Benson, and three brothers Dale, Max, Rex Benson.

 A memorial service will be held at Bethlehem Lutheran Church Thursday, January 31, 2019, at 11am, with visitation from 9-11 at the church.  Officiating will be Pastor Mark Woodward.

Riley Funeral Home is assisting the Benson family with arrangements.  To share a condolence with the family please visit

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