Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a Monday series looking at area people who grew up here, live here, and are impacting the lives of those around them.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A decision to return to your hometown can be made out of necessity or choice. But it’s when the decision results in the good fortune of the family and the community that the decision becomes one of example.
The name Benda has been a strong name in Fort Madison for generations, but the familiarity has been enhanced by the decision of Rachel and Adam Benda who brought their family back after growing up in Fort Madison and Donnellson in the 80s. As part of that decision, the Bendas have been raising a family in Fort Madison while also giving of their time to create a stronger and more vibrant community.
But Rachel is quick to say that the move was selfish in motive because both hers and Adam’s family are in the area and the move has allowed them to remember their roots, while helping building a better future.
Adam grew up in Fort Madison and I grew up in Montrose and went to Central Lee,” Rachel said. “He says I was too stuck up and never noticed him. That’s not true. He was 110 lbs. soaking wet in high school and I didn’t even know who he was.”
The two then worked together on the Catfish Bend riverboat casino and they started dating, but Adam joined the Army and Rachel enrolled at Culver-Stockton college on a scholarship for basketball and the two went their separate ways for a short time before finding each other again.
After a brief stint in Texas following Adam’s service to the U.S. Army, the two began considering moving back to Fort Madison.
“Adam had just gotten out of the army. We’d had Aiden, he’s a Texas baby,” Rachel said. “It’s gonna sound dumb, but I worked days and he worked nights and that’s how we raised the baby. So we decided that if we moved back here we would have a more stable environment with more family around who were willing to help. And, if we moved back here we knew no one would mess with Mike Benda’s grandson.”
It was security and comfort that brought the Bendas home, but it’s Rachel’s hope to give something back to the community that has provided her with memories and a future.
Benda began her career in Fort Madison with Shopko and then went to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and now she is program director at The Kensington.
The CVB was a great job with good people,” she said “It was fun and I got to market this town that I believe in. Then I got this great opportunity to come to work at The Kensington. This is a really great job and AgeMark, the company that owns us, is big into giving back to the community, so they support these efforts.
“I don’t know… I just felt like this is just a good place to raise the kids. Everyone knows each other and some people see that as bad thing because everyone’s always up in everyone’s business, but I don’t buy that.”
It’s small town, everyone-knows-everyone characteristic that landed Benda in one of her current volunteer roles as chair of the PORT (Promoting Outdoor Recreational Trails) committee, in Fort Madison. PORT has successfully built their 1st phase of a 3-phrase trail system that will eventually go from Bluff Road on the west side of Aztec Park Trailer Court to Ivanhoe Park and then west along the southern property line of the Middle School campus and then along the Baxter Sports Complex west to the Fort Madison Community Hospital.
“Honestly, Matt Mohrfeld pushed me into it and said “Rachel you should do this.” And he was a big part of it at the beginning but then said he would help where we needed him, but I should keep moving with it,” she said. “I’m not sure how I got to be the chair, but I could only do it if they (the committee) do their part. I call them often and I have multiple people, my mother-in-law is a big part handling the financial stuff, and Emily Biddenstadt at Lee County Health Department doing grant writing. We’ve got two or three from Fort Madison Community Hospital, Chuck Osmanski and Larry Smith have gotten the Rotary involved doing a rest area in the first phase. Larry Driscoll is invaluable to us and is a big believer in it. Everybody on there, we’ve had our bumps along the way, but has made it very successful.”
As quick as Benda is to dish out the credit, she said that giving back to communities is an important part of her life.
You know I just think it’s very important. I’m blessed with Adam, he’s just a huge source of support. But I’ve always been in a sales role and it’s always come with more than a 40-hour a week job and giving back is being a part of small town and it’s fun to do that. PORT just came about from people sitting around saying wouldn’t it be great if we had some trails to run and ride on. And look how quick this has come together. That’s betterment for everyone,” she said.
In addition to the work on PORT, Benda is also an ambassador with the chamber, she’s a member of Fort Madison Rotary and she sits on a PEO (a Philanthropical Education Organization), which is a group of women that meet once a month and do things for other women in education. She’s also served a term on the Fort Madison Tourism Commission, which she said she would still do, but had to step off because the commission has term limits.
Benda was also awarded the Ambassador of the Year award by the Fort Madison Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual dinner on Feb. 17.
She said coming back to Fort Madison to raise a family and help the community was a path to her dreams, but everyone should follow their own. However, she advises those getting ready for college or trying to figure out a path for their life, to keep an eye on your hometown.
“Follow your dreams,” she said. “My dream was to just play a sport in college. I wasn’t very good, but I had a lot of heart and I enjoyed it and got a great education. I was very lucky and was able to move forward with my dreams. But go do that and experience things, but then bring your talents back here. I know people who would love to be back here, but it just doesn’t work out for them. We’re pretty lucky.
“There are good people here,” she said. “You go into the different clubs and groups that support community involvement and make this a better place for everyone.”
Adam and Rachel have three children now, Aiden is 11, another son Rowan is 7 and a daughter, Landry, 5, who Benda said is named after Dallas Cowboys former Head Coach Tom Landry as the family is huge Cowboys fans.
“No matter what, I’m super happy where I’m at. I get to wake up every morning in a place where I’m happy… in a wonderful community with like-minded people.”