Larry Bentson, the co-founder of Midcontinent Communications, a University of Minnesota graduate and longtime supporter, died of cancer Sunday night at United Hospital in St. Paul. He was 87.
Benston graduated from the University in 1943, and following his success in broadcasting became a strong financial supporter of the University. That support culminated in a $10 million gift which created an endowed scholarship fund for incoming first years.
Bentson started his broadcast career as a 12-year-old radio actor and founded a series of television and radio stations with his partners Eddie Ruben and Joe Floyd. The series eventually became Midcontinent Communications — a multimillion dollar media company.
Just a few weeks ago, at a talent show, he and his wife Barbara told his Bentson Scholars that he had been diagnosed with cancer but that his treatments were going well and would be finished soon, said Marina Tecktiel, a Bentson Scholar junior, triple-majoring in Hebrew, Jewish studies and sociology.
“His death came as a huge shock and was very sudden,” said Tecktiel, who had been close with the Bentsons.
Steven Goldstein, the President and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation , said Bentson’s 2003 gift now provides 238 undergraduates with $5,000 per year for four years.
Goldstein said it was a pleasure getting to know Bentson in the 1980s, when Goldstein was at WCCO Radio, indirectly competing against Bentson’s television station.
“Larry was as honest and ethical and innovative a business leader as I have ever known and worked with,” Goldstein said.
Dan Nides, kinesiology senior, s aid Bentson always made the barbecues he hosted at his house feel like family events.
“His family would always be there, they’d always shake your hand, they’d know who you are, know your biography, and why they chose you, and you really got adopted into the Bentson family,” Nides said. “He invested in you and he saw the potential for you to change something in the world.”
Susan Hagstrum said she and her husband, University President Bob Bruininks, met the Bentsons because of their philanthropy, but the relationship became more personal over time.
“Larry was unbelievably generous, and when you saw him around his Bentson Scholars the guy just glowed,” Hagstrum said.
Bruininks served as a pallbearer and delivered part of the eulogy at Bentson’s funeral Thursday afternoon.
Bentson is survived by his second wife, Barbara Braman Bentson; a daughter, Laurie Kauth; and a stepson, Tom. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Nancy Ruben Bentson, and a daughter, Jan Bentson Martin.