Obituary: Elwin Joseph Benton


December 8, 2023

Elwin Joseph Benton, 85, passed away peacefully Dec. 2, 2023, in his home in Cloquet. He was born in Cloquet on Nov. 22, 1938, to Joseph and Marie (Diver) Benton. He grew up in Cloquet and Duluth, where he attended Cathedral High School. At age 17, Elwin joined the U.S. Navy. He was honorably discharged before his 21st birthday, and traveled the country before joining the U.S. Army, serving until 1967.

Upon returning to Duluth, he earned degrees in sociology and psychology at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. He then worked for the federal Bureau of Prisons' Federal Correctional Institute in Sandstone before leaving to earn a graduate degree from John Hopkins' executive training for comprehensive alcohol programs. Elwin worked for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Rockville, Maryland, then came home to serve as executive director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, 1973-75. He went on to administer a training project for alcoholism counselors at UMD's lower campus. It was there he met his wife of 44 years, Valerie (Elling), when she was assigned to interview him for a student project. They wed on Sept. 23, 1979.

During this same time, Elwin was one of several American Indians chosen to work on a project spearheaded by Gov. Wendall Anderson to combat the rising problem of alcoholism in the state. With funds from this project, Elwin gave life to the vision of his heart, the Mash-Ka-Wisen Treatment Center, the first such facility to be Indian-owned and located on a reservation. Elwin served as its executive director from 1977 until retiring 30 years later in 2007. In that time, the facility touched the lives of countless people.

After retiring, Elwin enjoyed spending more time with his family. He continued to join his wife's family and several close friends for annual cherished deer hunting trips in Glen/Malmo, Minnesota. He recently celebrated his 56th year of sobriety, and always said what he was most proud of in life was that his daughter, whom he adored, had never seen her father take a drink.

Elwin was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Marie Benton, and infant sister, Janice. He is survived by his loving wife and daughter, Valerie and Marei; sisters, Barbara Tidaback, Charlene Bodin, Kathy Rilling and Linnea Drlaca; numerous cherished nieces and nephews and their children; beloved cousins; as well as his in-laws, whom he loved as his own family. He also leaves behind countless friends, including all the wonderful people who have served on Mash-Ka-Wisen's staff.

Elwin was an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. A gathering to celebrate his life will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 14 at the Fond du Lac Language & Cultural Learning Center followed by lunch at noon. The center is located at 1713 Animikii Road in Cloquet (across the street from the main tribal center). In lieu of flowers and cards, donate to your favorite charitable cause. Arrangements by Nelson Funeral Care of Cloquet.

Pine Knot News, Dec. 8, 2023


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