He may only have lived for 25 days, but Benton Charles Degerstrom — affectionately known as “Bennie” — taught his loving parents some important life lessons.
“He taught us to be kind to people, to live in the moment, not to take things for granted — he taught us how to be strong,” says Bennie’s mom, Amy Degerstrom.
“We have gotten a lot of comments from people who said they thought we were strong. But we think Bennie was the strong one.”
Amy and Sean Degerstrom joyfully welcomed their son Bennie into the world on Sept. 3. And even though he would spend the rest of his short 25 days of life hooked up to machines that were needed to help him breathe, “it’s not all a sad story,” says Amy. “Bennie brought us lots of joy, and lots of hope, which we want to continue to share.”
To that end, the Degerstroms are hoping to start a charitable foundation known as “Benton’s Hope,” with the intent of “paying it forward with acts of kindness,” she added. “Just like Bennie’s life, we want it to be a positive thing.”
“We haven’t really worked out all the details yet,” Sean Degerstrom said. “We’re still researching the details to set it up.”
“We want it to be a positive light for the communities around us,” Amy added.
But to help jumpstart the fundraising for that foundation, as well as to help defray the cost of the large medical bills that were incurred for Benton’s care, the Degerstroms’ friends and family have organized a benefit that is set to take place this Sunday, Nov. 24 at Lake Park-Audubon High School in Lake Park.
A ‘positive energy’ event
The location for the event was chosen “because we wanted to make sure it was a welcoming environment for families and children of all ages,” said Becky Mitchell, a close friend of the Degerstroms who was a member of the planning committee for the benefit.
The benefit will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will include a live broadcast of the Vikings-Packers football game, an inflatable obstacle course that is being provided by the Minnesota National Guard, and “other kid-friendly games and activities,” Mitchell added.
“We didn’t want this to be a somber event,” Amy Degerstrom said.
“We wanted it to be about positive energy,” Sean Degerstrom added.
At the same time, said Mitchell, there will also be a silent auction, a free-will donation luncheon, and a bake sale, with all proceeds going toward the Benton Degerstrom Benefit Fund.
In addition, there will be commemorative T-shirts with the slogan “Benton’s Hope” available for sale, along with a limited number of bracelets with the same phrase printed on them.
Sean Degerstrom said the bracelets were a project started by some of his colleagues at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes — where he is employed as an athletic trainer, serving schools throughout the region.
“They said they wanted to do something for him, because his story was so inspiring,” Sean said. “They came up with the slogan, ‘Benton Strong.’”
“So many people were asking, ‘What can we do to help,’” Mitchell said of the impetus behind organizing this Sunday’s benefit. “That bracelet allowed them to become a part of something positive, and to show Amy and Sean their support.”
“We want to say how much we’ve appreciated the support, which has been amazing, and overwhelming,” Amy Degerstrom said.
Because Sean’s work as an athletic trainer has taken him to schools all around northwest Minnesota, and Amy’s job as executive director of the Becker County Historical Society brings her in contact with a wide variety of organizations throughout the region, that support has come pouring in not only from Becker County, but Mahnomen, Otter Tail and Norman counties as well, she added.
Once the medical bills have been paid off, any extra that is left in the fund will be used to start Benton’s Hope, Amy noted.
Those medical bills, however, are no small matter. After Bennie was born at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital in Detroit Lakes, he was transferred almost immediately to Essentia in Fargo, where he stayed for a week.
“Then he was Lifeflighted (taken by helicopter) to the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, due to ongoing complications,” Sean said.
“We had a 16-day wait for him to get the scans he needed,” Amy said.
“They were waiting for him to stabilize first, but he never did,” Sean added.
What those scans showed still hasn’t been fully disclosed to the Degerstroms.
“We haven’t actually got all the details back yet,” Sean said. “That was supposed to happen a couple of weeks ago, but it hasn’t yet.”
As for their own recovery from losing their son, Amy said, “Like anyone who suffers the loss of a loved one, it’s a moment to moment, day to day thing.”
How you can help
For those who cannot attend Sunday’s benefit, monetary donations can also be sent to: Benton Degerstrom Benefit Fund, 115 Holmes Street East, Detroit Lakes MN 56501-3119, or can be dropped off directly at any Bremer Bank location.
Donations for the silent auction are still being accepted as well, Mitchell said, and can be dropped off at either the Becker County Museum or La Barista in Detroit Lakes, as well as at the city offices in both Frazee and Lake Park.
“Benton Strong” T-shirts are also available for $10 by contacting the Lake Park city offices, and a limited number of bracelets can be purchased, for $5 each, by contacting Troy Schmitz at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.