Behm family selected to receive local foundation's first philanthropy award

By Anne Polta WILLMAR -- Money was tight while Luella Behm was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. But her parents impressed on her the need to share -- a lesson that Behm and her husband, Marvin, worked to instill in their own ch...

By Anne Polta

WILLMAR -- Money was tight while Luella Behm was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s.

But her parents impressed on her the need to share -- a lesson that Behm and her husband, Marvin, worked to instill in their own children.

It's a lesson that is now being passed on to her great-grandchildren.


This family spirit of giving will be recognized Thursday when the Willmar Area Community Foundation presents its first Award in Philanthropy to the Behms -- Luella Behm; her oldest son, Ken, and his wife, Alix; and their three children and spouses, Dion and Laura Warne, Christopher and Brenda Behm, and Matt and Teresa Behm.

The award will be given during the foundation's annual dinner at the Willmar Conference Center.

Barbara Carlson, development director for the Willmar Area Community Foundation and the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, said it will become an annual award.

"It's to call attention to the generosity of people in the community," she said. "It also helps get the name of the Willmar Area Community Foundation out so people will be aware it exists."

For the Behm family, volunteering and contributing have been a way of life.

Ken Behm said it's how he grew up. "As far back as I can remember, my parents were always active in their church and also in the community," he said.

His mother, Luella Behm, credits her own parents with teaching her about the rewards of giving.

"Even though money was tight, they said there was always something you could do or give to the needy," she said.


Alix Behm was raised by her grandmother after her mother died when she was 10. She too remembers how they valued generosity.

"My mother was always giving and trying to help other people," she said. "There were hard times growing up. My grandma basically set the example and gave her whole life to us kids."

Early in their marriage, she and Ken "decided we had many blessings in our lives and we wanted to give them to other people," she said.

They found many ways to give: financially, to their church and other local organizations and causes.

They also volunteered extensively. Ken Behm, for instance, has served in almost every position at the family's church, Redeemer Lutheran. He has been on the Willmar School Board and the Rice Memorial Hospital Board.

Alix Behm is a church and school volunteer. Next week she'll be helping with the Rice Health Foundation's annual holiday benefit for the hospital.

Luella Behm, now 86 and living in Atwater -- her husband died eight years ago -- still actively volunteers, giving rides to friends, picking up their mail and visiting them in nursing homes.

Indeed, it's the breadth of the family's volunteerism that caught of the attention of the award committee, Carlson said.


"One of the notable things about the Behm family is both their volunteer hours and their financial contributions," she said. "They span a number of organizations. They're true community philanthropists."

It has carried over to the next generation with Ken and Alix Behm's three children.

Their daughter, Laura Warne, is on the board of the Minnesota Bankers Association and has been chairman of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA board and on the Southwest Initiative Foundation board. Her husband, Dion, is on the Willmar School Board and volunteers as a youth sports coach.

Son Matt volunteers as a youth mentor, as an ambassador for the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and the Ducks Unlimited board. His wife, Teresa, is on the YMCA board.

Three of the family -- Laura, Dion and Matt -- are involved in the family business, Home State Bank of Willmar, of which Laura has been president since 1998.

Christopher Behm, a pharmacist in St. Cloud, is on a local lake association board. Last year, he and his wife, Brenda, took five needy families shopping for Christmas and picked up the entire tab.

Already, the Behm children are working to instill similar values of giving and volunteerism in their own children, who range in age from 3 to 11.

It's not something that happens by accident, Laura Warne said.


"I remember how active my parents were and how they stressed to us as children that it was important to be active," she said. "A big key is teaching your children to take care of other children. Personally I think that sets a great foundation."

Dion Warne likes to bring their two sons along when he delivers Meals on Wheels on Saturday mornings for the Willmar Rotary Club.

"It provides discussion time to your children to explain what we're doing and why it's important," he said.

The family also emphasizes volunteerism among their bank employees.

"It's actually part of our strategic plan," Laura Warne said. "We encourage our staff to be active and volunteer."

How do busy families manage to find the time for community involvement?

"It's your priorities," Alix Behm said. "If you have a desire to do something, you can always find the time."

"You organize your time," Ken Behm agreed.


"I think you need to choose which areas you're going to support," Laura Warne said. "It does help immensely if you've got flexibility within your job, if you've got an employer who's willing to let you run to a meeting here or there.

It's also important to "find things you're passionate about," she said. "Oftentimes it's not that you have to be the superstar. If you're a solid team player and do your part, that's a huge contribution to whichever path you choose to go down."

Ken Behm said the family has been "truly blessed."

"We're just trying to give some of that back," he said. "It isn't all about dollars. It's about giving your time and talent where they can best be utilized. You try to put the right people together and you get a lot of things done and have fun doing it. It makes for a better community and it's been a joy to be part of it."

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