The Minnesota

​Territorial Pioneers

Established May 11, 1897 - Incorporated 1924

Previous Award Recipients

Leona S. Benson


Leona Kanne Benson turns 90 years-old in 2008 - Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial Year. She joined the Pioneers in February 21, 1979 when she was just a young 70 years old. She has been contributing bonnets and aprons to sell at the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers State Fair Log Cabin since 1996. This has enabled the Pioneers to make a profit and continue our display on the Fairgrounds.


She was born on Sept. 21, 1918 in Waseca County, Minnesota, to Rudolph and Minnie (Wilkowske) Kanne. She is a descendant of Gottlieb F. and Albertine (Stiller) Kanne, who traveled with a family group of three generations from the Neumark province of Brandenerg, Prussia to Castle Gardens, New York in the fall of 1855. By the spring of 1856, the extended family had begun farming in Iosco Township, Waseca County, Minnesota. Five of these homestead farms are still in the family and will be recognized as Minnesota Sesquicentennial Farms in 2008.


Born during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, Leona, the youngest of 9 siblings, became ill from the influenza as did an estimated one-fifth of the world’s population. Three of her siblings died in the epidemic, which swept the world killing an estimated 50 million people. Leona grew up during the Great Depression. She attended St Cloud State Teachers College in the 1930s. In 1940 she married Harland Benson, whom she met at the University of Minnesota, where Harland studied mechanical engineering. Leona and Harland settled in Minnetonka, where Leona still lives today. Leona has three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


Leona’s father, Rudolph Kanne, was born in 1872. Her father personally knew most of the original thirty-one German-speaking Prussian immigrants in this extended family, who had taken an eight-week sailing voyage across the Atlantic; traveled by train to Horicon, Wisconsin; and led seven teams of oxen and carts to the Southern Minnesota farmlands. Leona must have inherited her father’s interest in telling the immigrants’ story. In 1980, she published a 428-page history and genealogy book. Today, three decades after Leona Kanne Benson did her research and seven or eight decades after Rudolph Kanne recorded this immigrants’ story, descendants of the thirty-one Prussian immigrants have established a non-profit educational group for the purpose of supporting research and producing educational materials about territorial pioneer history. See them at: www.ourminnesota.org.


We are honored to present this award, “Pioneer of the Year” to Leona in appreciation for all that she has done for the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers, Inc.


The following poem was written by one of this family’s descendants after reading Leona’s book:


BETWEEN THE LINES

I have read of our fore-fathers;
And Their quest for better lives.
How They journeyed to the New World,
With Their Children and their Wives.

But, with all that has been written
Telling of the former times;
There is much that We can gather
From the space between the lines.

They were busy, happy people,
As they worked to till the sod.
But, They still found time for pleasure,
And the time to worship God.

They were hard, and stout-hearted,
With ambition to succeed.
They were neighbors, always ready
To help out, when there was need.

They felt Honesty and Justice,
Worth far more than Wealth and Fame.
And the later Generations
Can feel proud to share their name.

There were Tragedies, and Heartaches,
Disappointments – many times.
In the story, still unfolding,
As we read between the lines.

By David S. Keacher (1905 – 1993)

Pioneer of the Year

2008 Pioneer of the Year