September 13, 1916 – April 23, 2017
It was during the deadly battles of the Somme in WWI that a ray of sun light in the bedroom of Gudbjorg Benson in Upham, North Dakota, announced the birth of her fourth daughter, Sigriður, to be followed by three boys and a fifth girl.
Life on the farm, homesteaded by Sigrid’s father, Sveinbjorn, was a happy mix of children’s laughter, reciting of Icelandic poems, daily chores and school work. Sigrid remembered that her childhood was filled with love and happiness, despite the challenges of the hard farm life and the Great Depression. She excelled at school and acquired the reputation of being the most brilliant of the Benson children.
In 1936, while at university, she met Fred and deeply fell in love. Here was a ‘man of the world’ who had travelled, spoke several languages, loved music and literature, and was as keen as she to experience the adventures that life could hold. They married in 1939.
During two years in Minnesota, where Fred was teaching, Sigrid gave birth to Aldis. Then, after moving to Walla Walla, Washington, where her husband was charged with the educational rehabilitation program of the State Penitentiary, Steven was born. Fred was drafted in 1944 and was transferred to Germany shortly after the war ended.
A telegram proposing a holiday in Switzerland was the beginning of a life-long adventure that brought Sigrid, Aldis and Steven to Europe joining Fred. They founded the Ranger Camps in 1949 and discovered their life’s vision, namely furthering international understanding amongst young people. The family moved to Wiesbaden, Germany in the early fifties, where Fred planned and opened over fifty Air Force dependent schools and Sigrid worked with her camps.
In 1960, the municipality of Leysin approached Sigrid to make her aware of the availability of the Savoy building, providing the impetus for the founding of the Leysin American School (LAS). Start-up difficulties made it necessary for Fred and Sigrid to move to Leysin in 1966. They then dedicated their lives to the school and its sister institution, the American College of Switzerland. Doris and Steven took on the leadership role of LAS in 1982.
By the mid-eighties Fred and Sigrid were enjoying a well-deserved retirement. They travelled the world, entertained friends in Chalet Dakota, made music – Fred played piano and Sigrid sang, cared for their grand-children, and participated in LAS events. Fred passed away peacefully on November 27, 2007.
Sigrid lived in Chalet Dakota until 2012 when she moved into the Pyrolle with Doris and Steven. She actively participated in LAS events and enjoyed many visits until the last days of her life.
Sigrid’s last week were for listening to her favorite ‘Vier letzte Lieder : Im Abendrot’, by Richard Strauss and for good-byes to family and friends. She passed away in peace with a slight smile leaving a significant legacy behind her.
Sigrid will be missed by her family (in photo above), who could count on her good advice and lots of love, and especially by Doris and Steven, who shared their life with her for so long.
Sigrid will be missed by LAS students, faculty and staff, whom she addressed so many times inspiring them to be tolerant of others.
Sigrid will be missed by her Leysin friends, whom she welcomed with a sparkle in her blue eyes.