Benson worked on access issues
Audrey Benson is remembered as someone who dedicated many years’ work to accessibility issues. Benson, 76, died February 20 in Minneapolis. She was a founder and former president of the United Handicapped Federation, a forerunner to many of today’s groups for people with disabilities. She used her own experience with disabilities to highlight mobility, accessibility and public transit access issues.
Born in 1939 in North Dakota, Benson was one of seven children. She had cerebral palsy and graduated from the Crippled Children’s School, now the Anne Carlsen Center, in Jamestown. With encouragement of an occupational therapist and her Episcopalian priest, she attended and graduated from Moorhead State University in 1969.
After college Benson moved to Minneapolis to take a job with Goodwill/Easter Seals. She later worked for the City of Minneapolis on affirmative action issues. She also was a community organizer and served as president of the United Handicapped Federation for two years. Benson received a number of awards for her work on disability-related issues.
In an interview, Benson said, “Among many issues we worked on, my favorite two issues were skyway accessibility in downtown Minneapolis and accessible mass transit. Non-disabled people especially, it seems to me, those in power, have a hard time understanding the needs and rights of persons with disabilities to participate as fully and as unencumbered as possible in community life.”
Benson was known for using humor in her work. She recalled working with a committee of people with disabilities and Metro Transit staff on the issue of accessible mass transit. “One of the transit authorities stated that disabled people don’t need transit accessibility in the winter because they don’t go out.” Benson’s response was, “That is news to me.”
Pastor Don Portwood of Lyndale United Church of Christ was Benson’s minister. “She was a fireball,” he said. “She had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to share them.”
Benson was well-liked by other church members and informed them about disability issues.
“I will remember her in her wheelchair, with stickers on it,” Portwood said. The stickers had slogans about opinionated and strong women. Benson is survived by siblings, nieces and nephews. Services have been held. Memorials may be given to Lyndale United Church of Christ or the Anne Carlsen Center.
Luther was legislative pioneer
Sara “Sally” Fletcher Luther was not only a pioneering woman legislator and state official, she also worked to pass laws for children with developmental disabilities. Luther died of leukemia February 3 at her Florida home, at age 96.
She served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1951 to 1962. During her first four years in office, Luther was the only female legislator in Minnesota. She spent the next eight years as one of two women holding office.
“I first came to the legislature in 1961. I remember Luther was legislative pioneer her as a very intelligent legislator, and one heavily involved in a whole series of issues,” former U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo told the Star Tribune. “I just found her a very impressive member and a major contributor.”
Luther was from a prominent Deephaven family. She graduated from Vassar College in 1940 with a degree in drama. She worked at Honeywell after college, married and had three children. She also worked as a newspaper reporter before being elected to the Minnesota House.
She chaired the House Civil Administration and Welfare committees. After serving in the legislature Luther became the executive assistant to Minnesota Gov. Karl Rolvaag. In interviews Rolvaag praised Luther for her work to improve schooling for people with developmental disabilities.
Luther later married Moorhead State President John Neumaier. They relocated to State University of New York College at New Paltz, when Neumaier became president there.
After leaving Minnesota Luther earned masters and doctoral degrees and authored a book about international politics. She is survived by her husband, children and stepchildren and two brothers.
Services have been held.