democratic-farmer-labor party of minnesota hall of
DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR PARTY OF MINNESOTA
HALL OF DISTINGUISHED SERVICE
The highest honor that the Central Committee confers is admission to the DFL Hall of
Distinguished Service. The History Committee was established to nominate up to four persons
a year for this honor. The History Committee considered those from throughout the history of
the state excluding only those in current leadership roles. We recommend that the Central
Committee elect Elmer Benson and Katherine Speer to the hall for 2014.
I wish to thank the members of the History Committee - Jacob Grippen, Tim O'Brien, David
Weinlick – for their work in preparing this report.
JULES GOLDSTEIN, DFL Historian
Current Members DFL Hall of Distinguished Service:
Hubert H. Humphrey
Ray J Anderson *
Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III
Sharon Sayles Belton
John A. Johnson
Josie Johnson *
Nellie Stone Johnson
Muriel Humphrey Brown
Jack Davies *
David Minge *
Walter F. Mondale
Joan Anderson Growe
Floyd B. Olson
* 2013 inductees.
Elmer Austin Benson was born in 1895 in Appleton,
Minnesota and served for a year in the U.S. Army during
World War I. He studied law, but never practiced, choosing
instead to pursue a banking and business career.
He was a close ally of Governor Floyd B. Olson who helped
orchestrate his political rise. Olson appointed Benson state
Commissioner of Securities. In December 1935, Olson
appointed Benson to United States Senate to fill the vacancy
created by the death of Thomas D. Schall. After Olson's
premature death from cancer in 1936, Benson stepped into
the breach and was elected the 24th Governor of Minnesota
with more than 60% of the vote. He lost his bid for reelection
in 1938 to Harold Stassen with only 34% of the vote. This
1938 defeat is seen as the end of the Farmer-Labor Party as
an independent political force, and a setback for progressive politics in Minnesota. Despite his
losses to Republicans in Senate campaigns in both 1940 and 1942, Benson remained
committed to the Farmer-Labor Party and its vision of a Cooperative Commonwealth.
In 1944, U.S. involvement in World War II and President Roosevelt’s unprecedented campaign
for a fourth term inspired talks of merger between the established Farmer Labor Party and
weak Democratic Party. As a high profile Farmer-Laborite, Benson worked alongside state
Democratic Party chairman Elmer Kelm to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL).
After leaving the DFL Party following “The Schism of 1948,” Benson served as national cochairman for Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party in 1948.
Benson remained a fierce critic of unregulated capitalism
and postwar liberalism. In a 1983 interview with the
Minneapolis Tribune, Benson said he wanted to be
remembered as an unreconstructed radical. ''I can't imagine
anyone changing his philosophy. ... I never have,'' he said.
He passed away in 1985 at the age of 89 in his hometown
of Appleton, MN.
As one obituary observed, even though many of his policies
were stalled by a recalcitrant legislature, “his proposals
became law during the 40 years that followed – property tax
relief for homesteads; higher income tax rates for highincome individuals and corporations; mandatory workers’
compensation coverage for employees; a state Civil Service
system; expanded state aid for schools, financed by income
taxes; [and] party designation for legislators.”
Elmer Benson was nominated by Joshua Preston. Katherine Speer
Katherine Speer was a fearless advocate for the DFL, and for
her children, and grandchildren.
Born Katherine Cleone Lauridsen in Storm Lake, Iowa. She
graduated from Grand Meadow Schools and married Dale
Speer in 1958. Together they raised five children and shared
the adventure of life for over 55 years.
Katherine was devoted to her community and local schools. A
member of many community organizations over the years,
Katherine worked as a secretary at the Grand Meadow School,
she drove bus for Elgin-Millville Schools for 10 years, and she
served on the Elgin-Millville School Board.
Katherine lived and loved passionately – you remembered her
if you met her. She was dedicated to the Minnesota DFL, supporting candidates at the local,
state and national level, knowing and working with political leaders from Humphrey and
Mondale to Walz, Franken and Klobuchar. She ran for the legislature in 2000 in a deeply
republican district. She served the DFL at all levels including Wabasha County Chair, Senate
District 30 Chair, State Director and State Party Affairs Committee Co-Chair. She was a 2008
Democratic National Convention delegate and a 2012 Alternate Presidential Elector. She was
well-known for driving a DFL float at local parades.
Katherine never stopped trying to make the DFL at every level the best it could be even as she
developed breathing problems the last few years. Pulling around an oxygen tank was easier
than staying home and withdrawing from the political process.
“A fierce advocate, Katherine was someone who never shied away from tough conversations or
the hard work of building our party,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said. “Katherine was someone
you could count on to actually roll up her sleeves and do work in this Party.
Lori Sellner has called Katherine “simply the most outwardly passionate DFL activist in
southern Minnesota – perhaps all of Minnesota.”
“Katherine was passionate and honest about her ideals and opinions, and worked wherever
she could to make this world a better place for all;
through it all she had a great sense of humor and had
such wonderful laughter,” Mary Jones said. “She was a
strong voice for greater Minnesota and rural
communities. Above all else, her love for her family
was central to her life. The world is a better place
because of Katherine Speer. I was so fortunate to
have her in my life.”
Katherine Speer was nominated by Jacob Grippen,
Diane Hellie, Lori Sellner and Mary Jones.