Bentdahls’ gift to Luther funds sesquicentennial landscaping project

Dec. 4, 2009

Luther College President Richard Torgerson has announced that a generous gift from Shirley and E.E. “Ray” Bentdahl, both members of the Luther Class of 1959, will fund a major landscaping project for the college’s central campus.

A $500,000 gift from the Bentdahls will fund the redesign and construction of the campus green that fronts Dahl Centennial Union and the Center for Faith and Life. To be named “Bentdahl Commons,” the area will serve as the site for worship services, performances, large receptions and other community gatherings.

“We are grateful to Ray and Shirley Bentdahl for their gift that will make this exciting project possible,” said President Torgerson. “Luther’s landscape is stunning, and Bentdahl Commons will be a gathering place that will draw people together to enjoy the beauty of the campus.”

President Torgerson said the college expects to begin work on the landscaping in late May and complete the project by October 1. The creation of Bentdahl Commons is in conjunction with the college’s sesquicentennial year celebration in 2011.

Luther has selected a landscape design created by Greg Sagen of the Signature Design Group in Naperville, Ill.  Sagen will work with Reilly Construction Co. of Ossian to construct Bentdahl Commons.

A multi-level facility that will resemble a natural amphitheater, Bentdahl Commons will be built to a scale that is intimate and inviting as a place of study and reflection and will be a popular student meeting place and retreat. 

The design will include limestone and natural plantings characteristic of the northeast Iowa topography and eco-system, and conforming to the college’s 100-year-old landscape plan originally created by Prairie School landscape architect Jens Jensen. The design includes facilities for water, electricity and wi-fi access.

Donors E.E. “Ray” and Shirley Klingsheim Bentdahl received the Luther College Distinguished Service Award in October 2009. The Distinguished Service Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the college, is given in recognition of success and achievement in professional field, service to society, contributions to community, and loyalty and service to Luther.

Residents of Edina, Minn., the Bentdahls are retired after accomplished professional  careers. Ray Bentdahl is the retired president, chairman and owner of Excel Bank in Minneapolis. Shirley Bentdahl is a retired retail business owner and high school English teacher.

Ray, from Hanska, Minn., and Shirley, from Harmony, Minn., met during their student years at Luther and were married in 1960 after they graduated.

Ray began his financial career with a credit association in Mankato, Minn., and became a bank owner in 1967 when he purchased a small bank in Hokah, Minn. He went on to purchase small banks in Ferryville, Wis., and Clara City, Danube, Alden, Conger and Hayward, Minn. 

He later purchased the Americana Bank of Edina, Minn., which grew into the Excel Bank of Minneapolis with locations in Edina, Richfield and Minneapolis.

Bentdahl has served as a member and chairman of the Luther College Board of Regents and the Minneapolis Heat Institute Foundation board, chairman of the Minnesota Banks for Tax Equality, and a member of the Fairview Hospital Foundation board. He is a member of the Minnesota Bankers Association, the American Bankers’ Association, Lion’s Club, Rotary Club, and the Pappas Scholarship Foundation Board.   

Shirley Bentdahl is a retired high school English teacher and retail business owner.  From 1959-66, she served as an English teacher in Spring Grove, St. Peter and Houston, Minn., and in Kingsley, Iowa.  From 1966-68, she was a physical education and Title I teacher in Rushford, Minn., and a Title I teacher in LaCrescent, Minn.   

In 1978, she served as the boutique manager of Dorothy Collins Interiors, and in 1980, she became owner and operator of Les Fleurs, Inc. in Edina, Minn. She served on the Luther College Board of Regents from 2003-07.

She has served as a member of Creative Women of Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale, Ariz.  She is a volunteer at the Pappas School for Homeless Children in Phoenix, and she is currently chairman of the Pappas Scholarship Foundation.

She is a past president of the Root River Conference Ascension Lutheran Church Women and has served on the district board.

The Bentdahls are life members of the Luther College President’s Council.

Shirley frequently attends the college’s annual Lutherlag summer program with daughter Ann and two grandchildren.