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Published May 03, 2010, 03:30 PM

Benedict’s death stuns Red River Valley ag community

FARGO, N.D. — Red River Valley’s agricultural and business community was stunned by last week’s sudden death of one of its most prominent farm, cooperative and agribusiness leaders. Patrick Benedict, 76, a successful farmer from Sabin, Minn., past chairman of two of American Crystal Sugar Co. and founding chairman of ProGold L.L.C., and Golden Growers Cooperative, died April 28 when his car collided head-on with a grain truck on Wilkin County (Minn.) Road 3 northeast of Wolverton, Minn. The funeral was set for May 3, but details were pending at presstime.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Red River Valley’s agricultural and business community was stunned by last week’s sudden death of one of its most prominent farm, cooperative and agribusiness leaders.

Patrick Benedict, 76, a successful farmer from Sabin, Minn., past chairman of two of American Crystal Sugar Co. and founding chairman of ProGold L.L.C., and Golden Growers Cooperative, died April 28 when his car collided head-on with a grain truck on Wilkin County (Minn.) Road 3 northeast of Wolverton, Minn. The funeral was set for May 3, but details were pending at presstime.

Benedict was on the board of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association when the organization led the farmer acquisition of American Crystal from a private company to a cooperative in Denver in 1973. He was one of Crystal’s first board chairmen.

“In those days, there were those who were for the purchase and those who were against it. Pat was always for it,” recalls Al Bloomquist of Moorhead, Minn., a former Crystal president and the executive for the growers who is credited with the co-op transition.

After his Crystal board service, Benedict was one of a group of corn farmers to propose a wet milling partnership project to American Crystal Sugar Co. Joe Famalette, who was Crystal president and chief executive at the time, helped propel the project into the ProGold L.L.C., a $250 million project that made the valley a high-fructose corn sweetener producer.

Benedict was the first chairman of the Golden Growers Cooperative, whose members invested $52 million into the deal in 1994. When the fructose market crashed in 1995 and 1996, Benedict was instrumental in leasing out the plant to Cargill Inc., avoiding a disaster for investors.

Patient persistence

James Horvath, former president for American Crystal, was chief operating officer for ProGold during construction and the crisis.

“Pat was patient and was willing to wait for answers and not act too quickly,” Horvath says, noting that Benedict was one of the top handful of business associates over 40 years that Horvath says he “always respected, and knew I could count on in good times and the bad.”

Committed to staying on the board until the co-op paid a dividend, Benedict remained at that post until 2001. He stepped down from the chairmanship and urged his vice chairman, Carl Larson of Fullerton, N.D., to succeed him. Benedict remained on the Golden Growers board until March 25, when his son, David, succeeded him on the board.

Larson says he had been “doubter” in the ProGold project and “Pat’s one of the reasons I kept going.”

The two became close personal friends. Larson remembers Benedict’s persistent negotiating style — whether for a corn factory lease or a golf deal.

“He’d often say, ‘That’s a darn good deal; they just don’t know it yet,’” Larson says.

Mark Dillon of Fargo, executive vice president of Golden Growers, says Benedict was the first farmer Dillon ever met in 1985 when he came from Iowa to work in American Crystal

communications.

“I was there to talk about sugar beets and he was combining corn,” Dillon says. “He said, ‘I just love combining corn.’ And he said it was his dream that every crop we’d grow would be processed through a value-added co-op like we do at American Crystal.”

Dillon says Benedict’s influence “brought a lot of economic success to the valley and created a lot of jobs,” but that soft-spoken Benedict was last person to call attention himself or take credit.

Beyond ag

Besides his ag connections, Benedict also served in community capacities. Among other things, he was on the Community First Bankshares Board of directors from 1992 to 2001. He was a board chairman of the MeritCare Board of Trustees — part of that time with Steve D. Scheel, chairman and chief executive office of Scheels Inc.

Scheel, whose father, Fred, was a first cousin to Benedict, says Benedict talked in the board room when necessary and “asked the right questions at the right time.” Personally, Steve remembers playing playing bridge with his cousin and bow-hunting on his farm, where Scheel’s grandmother had lived.

“He was remarkably respected — a gentleman,” Scheel says.

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