Sunday Profile: Jim Benson continues intentional involvement with local youth
Former teacher continues to inspire students beyond the classroom
Most people seek a purpose; whether it’s something found earlier or later on in life.
Jim Benson knows his purpose.
“You think about your life; all the sudden (my wife) Mary has cancer and then she’s gone and you go ‘whoa,’” he said. “You know, it just really made me realize that life is short and is a gift. Now I just take it and enjoy one day at a time.”
Jim Benson’s purpose is to be involved. He is a familiar face in school hallways, behind the wheel of a school bus, and even in the bleachers at a wide variety of school sporting events.
He started teaching in Glenwood Springs in 1988 but his love for kids started well before that.
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FAITH AND FRIENDS
Benson has always had two main passions: God and people.
“The most important thing to me is God and people. I wanted to be with people and I really like youth. I just really relate well to kids,” Benson said.
The son of a Lutheran pastor, he was born in Montana but graduated high school in McIntosh, Minnesota at McIntosh High School in a small class of only 42.
After earning a Biology degree but struggling to find a job after graduation, he spent a year working at a funeral home.
“I was just a helper. I would set up and take down for funerals, that sort of thing,” Benson said.
Soon after, he made the move out to Seattle to attend a Lutheran Bible School and work as a youth director.
“During my college days, I was always a bible camp counselor because I always liked being with kids,” he said.
This was where he met his best friend and future wife, Mary.
“That’s really a cool story,” Benson said.
‘SHE’S PRETTY SPECIAL’
It was at a wedding in California with mutual friends of Mary and Jim. Mary’s friends asked what her future plans were and she mentioned she was headed to the Lutheran Bible School in Seattle.
“One of our friends said ‘Our pastor’s son (Jim) is going to that school as well, you should meet him,’ and so we did,” Benson said.
“You know, she was beautiful and crazy and fun. I was working with the youth and I needed a female sponsor to go with a bunch of middle school kids for a bike trip so I asked her if she would go.”
“It was then that I got to see her working with kids and I thought ‘Whoa, she’s pretty special,’” he added.
The two married in 1978 in her hometown of Chapman, Kansas but stayed in Seattle as Jim continued as the youth director for three years.
At this time they realized they were ready to raise a family but needed to make some changes as their busy schedule wouldn’t allow for that.
The Bensons then headed back to Jim’s alma mater of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota where they both obtained elementary education degrees. Soon after, they moved to North Dakota where Jim started teaching and their family grew to the Benson party of five with the births of their children: Jacob, Sarah and Chris.
After six years, thoughts of relocating began surfacing and before long the Bensons made the move to Glenwood Springs in 1988.
Benson initially taught at Glenwood Springs Elementary School before making the transfer to Sopris Elementary School in 1997.
“Fourth grade was my favorite, simply because of the subject matter. Whether it was Colorado History or science, since I had a biology background and I really got into science,” he said.
Benson would take his students on grand adventures outside of the classroom.
“I would take my class to Arches National Park and do an overnight camp trip. We talked about weatherization and erosion,” he said. “Then in the spring we went to Mesa Verde National Park for the Colorado history class.”
“So I was able to get the kids out of the classroom and a lot of these kids had never been camping before so it was a lot of fun,” Benson said.
After 16 years of teaching fourth grade, Benson then traded the classroom for the gym to close out his career.
“The best job though was PE. There were about 675 students in the school and I made it a goal to learn every kids’ name,” Benson said. “It was really a positive thing, where I could impact kids and make them feel special.”
His wife Mary taught Kindergarten at Sopris Elementary school starting in 1998 and did so until she fell ill in 2014.
In February of 2014, Mary was diagnosed with brain cancer. Benson decided to finish out the year and begin taking care of his wife.
Benson started driving a school bus about the same time he started teaching.
“It was really a cool deal actually. I would drive the bus, park the bus, go teach all day, then after school the kids would get on the bus and I would take them home,” he said.
After retiring from the classroom, Benson continued making an impact.
“You know you retire, but I could never just retire and sit back and relax and travel and play golf — that’s not me,” he said. “For me, I wanted to continue to be intentional about working with kids so that’s why I decided to keep driving the bus.”
Benson can also be found cheering for student-athletes at many of the after school sporting events. Many of the young ones he once taught in the classroom are now older and in high school sports.
“I just know all of the kids; I think it’s great to see what they are doing and continuing to be involved in their lives,” he said “I go to swim meets, hockey games, basketball, track.”
All three of the Benson children followed in their parents’ footsteps as educators.
His youngest son, Chris, teaches social studies at Glenwood Springs High School and was selected as the Locals’ Choice favorite teacher in 2019.
Chris attributes his career choice to watching his parents work while he was growing up. In fact, his dad was his fourth-grade teacher at Sopris.
“Obviously we got the influence from our parents but I also enjoyed the lifestyle that we had,” Chris said. “But for me personally, it was just something that felt natural.”
The father and son can now relate on a new level.
“It’s fun going to Strawberry Days or events and having kids wave and yell ‘Mr. Benson!’ and we will compete over who is the actual Mr. Benson,” Chris said with a laugh.
Beyond the fun, Chris looks up to his dad and is amazed at the way he is able to bond and build relationships with students.
“It’s amazing how many kids love him solely for being a bus driver. The ability of being able to interact with the kids and have conversations with them on the bus is pretty minimal but he somehow remembers every bus rider’s name.”
“I think a lot of it is more about how much he’s involved in the kids’ lives outside of the classroom,” Chris said. “He supports them at their sporting events, he drives them to school, he teaches them, he does all sorts of stuff.”
The elder Benson continues doing so for his sake as well as the young lives he is positively influencing.
“Basically it’s just all about wanting to be involved in kids lives, I don’t want to sit around.”
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Students in the woods/construction classes at Basalt High School are getting hands-on experience by building a tiny home.