It's the highest community service honor bestowed by the University of Minnesota.

Crookston’s Jess Bengtson, assistant editor at the Crookston Times, on Thursday was at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis with her family and colleagues to accept the highest honor bestowed by the university for service to the community.

During the U of M’s annual system-wide conference focusing on and celebrating community engagement, entitled this year “Partnering with Minnesota: Connecting the University with Urban, Suburban, and Rural Communities through Public Engagement,” Bengtson accepted her award at a luncheon attended by around 300 conference-goers in the Coffman Memorial Union Great Ballroom.

Bengtson is one of four recipients of a 2020 Outstanding Community Service Award. Similar awards were also presented at Thursday’s luncheon to a U of M faculty member, a staff member, and a student. Bengtson’s award was designated for the “Outstanding Community Partner.”

She was nominated by Michelle Christopherson, director of Outreach and Engagement at the University of Minnesota Crookston, and Bengtson’s nomination was endorsed and supported by UMN Crookston Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause, who attended Thursday’s luncheon along with Christopherson.

As part of the nomination process, Bengtson was required to submit a “personal reflection” letter to the selection committee detailing the reasons why she does what she does to support the community and university.

Her opening paragraph:

“Inspired. That’s the only way I can describe how I’ve been able to serve the Crookston community and beyond. I’ve been inspired by so many people, both professionally and personally, which has led to me wanting to give back to the community that has done so much for me and my family.”

Her closing paragraph:

“To wrap this all up with one bow is next to impossible. I’ve been inspired by so many people in this community and that ‘turns a light on’ for ideas I have in ways to help give back. My grandmother was the same way, always doing things for others, so you could say that she taught me right. I hope to continue giving back, offering a helping hand to others and will always be that ‘yes’ person to anyone that asks."

In introducing Bengtson and presenting her with her award Thursday, Andrew Furco, associate vice president for public engagement at the U of M, described her as a “force of nature.”

The U of M Outstanding Community Service Awards program was established in 1999. The awards U of M faculty, staff, students and community partners “who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the greater community by devoting their time and talent to make substantial, enduring contributions toward improving public life and the well-being of society.”

As a recipient of the award, Bengtson will receive a one-time stipend of $5,000 in the fall. A plaque with her name and other award honorees will be posted for one year at the entrance of the Campus Club in Coffman Memorial Union.

Bengtson received her bachelors degree in Communications with an emphasis in Marketing and Public Relations from UMN Crookston in 2010, something she noted with particular pride during her remarks in the Great Hall Thursday.

Bengtson has been with the Times since 2013. Her list of not only involvement but leadership in campus- and community-related initiatives and efforts that involve partnerships between both includes:

• West Polk Relay for Life
• Crookston Rotary Club
• Easter Egg Hunt
• Ox Cart Days Festival
• Northwest Minnesota Cancer Crusaders
• Crookston Marketplace
• Power of Produce
• Queen City Art Festival & Chalk It Up
• Crookston Firefighters Auxiliary
• Trinity Lutheran Church
• UMN Crookston Alumni Association Board of Directors
• Golden Eagle Pride Committee
• UMN Crookston MinnTucky Social
• Downtown Crookston Development Partnership