Ruth Evelyn (Larsen) (Randall) Benson, age 91, of Apple Valley, Minn., died on September 10, 2020 after a brief hospitalization. A lifelong educator, she was the sixth woman chief state school officer in the nation, and the first in Minnesota, serving as Commissioner of Education for the state from 1983-1990. Ruth was born on a farm in Underwood, Iowa, on March 4, 1929 to Oluf and Lillie (Bondo) Larsen, the second of six children. She began her career as an elementary school teacher in Iowa and Nebraska, and became a principal and administrator of schools in Omaha Public Schools starting in 1967. In 1978, she moved to Minnesota to become assistant superintendent of Independent School District 196, rising to superintendent in 1981. In naming her Commissioner of Education in 1983, Gov. Rudy A. Perpich said she had "earned a reputation for drawing students, teachers and parents into a drive for innovation and excellence." An early advocate of school choice, she also urged state schools to drop Indian nicknames. Her 1991 book, "School Choice: Issues and Answers," explored opening educational opportunity for students. Ruth received her teaching certificate at Dana College in Blair, Neb. in 1949; her Bachelor of Science from the University of Omaha in 1961; her Master of Science from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 1968; and her Doctorate in Educational Administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1976. It was at UNL where she completed her career, as a professor and dean in the 1990s. An enthusiastic traveler for work and pleasure, she visited all seven continents, following a lifelong curiosity about cultures. She often said that the only thing better than being a teacher was being a parent, and as a generous and loving grandmother, she planned special trips for each of her 8 grandchildren. A decade-long resident of Council Bluffs, she was a devout churchgoer and was member of Saint John Lutheran in Council Bluffs. She also served on the board of directors for the Lutheran Brotherhood Mutual Fund. She was preceded in death by her first husband of 24 years, Robert Dale Randall, who died in 1975; and her second husband of 10 years, Duane Benson, who died in 2008; as well as her grandson, Andrew Christopher Randall, in 1990. She is survived by her children, Robert Randall (Laurie) of Apple Valley, Minn., Mark Randall (Yvonne) of Rosemount, Minn., and Diane Randall (Roger Catlin) of Washington, D.C.; seven grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; as well as a sister, Alvina Hjortsvang of Omaha; and brother, Irvin Larsen of Treynor, Iowa. Memorial services are pending next year in Minnesota and Iowa, when it may be possible for friends and family to gather once more. Memorials may be sent to Grace Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, Minn., or a charity of choice.
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