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Extension > Youth Development Insight > Remembering Peter Benson: May 2, 1946-Oct 2, 2011

Remembering Peter Benson: May 2, 1946-Oct 2, 2011


Dale-Blyth.jpgYouth development lost a champion this week. I first met Peter Benson in the early 1980s in Arizona at one of the first adolescent research meetings. I remember his bright boyish charms even then. He had just conducted a seminal study of early adolescents and was humble and eager to learn. We next met in Chicago in 1990 when he was presenting publicly for the first time on the developmental assets. Here was a man saying what youth needed positively in their lives -- not just trying to understand their development or count their problems.

I was quite taken by him and by his work and soon joined him at Search Institute as the director of research and evaluation. I remember my family having dinner with his family as we moved to Minneapolis and feeling I had found a soul mate. We joked and told stories with our families. I never felt more instantly at home than I did that night.

peter-benson.jpgIn the next decade Peter grew Search from 13 to 75 people and the assets from 30 to 40. More importantly, he laid the critical empirical foundation for a strength-based approach to youth, which he continued to champion with new ideas until his death last Sunday. From assets to sparks, Peter was a man of ideas and words -- words that moved you to do the right thing. He spoke from the heart and the head in ways I came to greatly admire. Peter perhaps did more than anyone else to bring positive youth development to communities, families, schools, and everyday people than anyone else. His most popular book, "All kids are our kids: What communities must do to raise responsible children and adolescents", sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Peter's passing is being noted in journals and the news media.

I will miss Peter's smile,charm and friendship but most importantly we will all miss his voice for young people -- and what we can each do to support the development of young people. Fortunately for the field and for the world, he leaves behind him ideas that have and will continue to inspired individuals, families, youth workers, foundations, communities, cities, states and even nations to do well by youth.

Thank you Peter for all you taught me and all you have given the world.

I invite you to share your stories of Peter's influence on your life and our field.

-- Dale Blyth, associate dean and director


Kate Walker said:

Thanks for this thoughtful tribute, Dale. Though I only saw Peter occasionally at meetings or events, I was always touched by his inspiring presence, his gentle kindness, and his deep commitment to young people and a brighter future. It was a privilege to know him. His spark will live on in the work he was so influential in shaping with new language and perspectives that resonate with so many. All my sympathies to Peter's family, friends, and colleagues.

Carol Thomas said:

Not many of us seem to be irreplaceable but I think Peter will be. While I struggled, as a practitioner, with understanding Peter as a researcher and the constant drive to quantify and analyze human behavior, over time I appreciated more and more the practical uses SEARCH tools and processes were put to in communities - for the clear benefit of children and youth. I applauded as well his ability to listen and learn and to reflect that in the work of the organization. Peter, as I knew him, was a thoughtful, respectful, gentle individual committed to making sure all children and youth were doing well. We are left with his legacy, thank goodness, and with the task of figuring out how to muddle along without him.

Christine Ganzlin said:

Dale -- I just re-read your tribute to Peter as we are getting close to the anniversary of his death. It still feels like such a large loss - he was so wonderful as a colleague and such an articulate and passionate advocate for young people.

A challenge to all of us is to carry on his legacy and work and to try to take many voices to fill his one loud and brilliant voice.

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