Retired superintendent receives humanitarian award

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 6/28/00.

Torbenson During Town and Country Days, this year's recipient of the Ruth Aulick Humanitarian Award could be found flipping hamburgers, making fry bread, and playing his harmonica in the parade with the harmonica band.

Don Torbenson (left), 77, received the Ruth Aulick Humanitarian Award during the Miss Paynesville pageant June 19.

Joe Voss (right), president of the Paynesville Human Rights Commission, presented Torbenson with the award. "A goal of the Paynesville Human Rights Commission is to recognize an individual that has made a contribution to the promotion of understanding and cooperation between people of different backgrounds," Voss said.

The award is named after Ruth Aulick, who started and ran the Paynesville Community Center and foodshelf for more than 30 years.

Voss cited Torbenson's work on the Paynesville Area Charity Fund as the most significant. Torbenson has served as the fund's president since it started in 1993. "It's a fund that touches many people," Voss said.

Torbenson helped start the fund after he had a heart by-pass operation in 1993. "I was thankful a lot of research had been done, which enabled doctors to do a successful operation," Torbenson said.

Dollars collected through the fund always meet Paynesville area needs first. Among the charities receiving funds are the Community Service Center, Home Delivered Meals, Paynesville Area Health Care System, and Paynesville Area Special Olympics.

Torbenson came to Paynesville in 1964 to serve as the school district's superintendent. "The community has been a great place to live. I'm glad to leave it a little bit better," he said. "I hope to have a few good years left to do more."

He retired in 1981. "I'm fortunate to have had a good many years to do things, in addition to the resources and time to do them," Torbenson said.

Torbenson has been an active member of the Lions Club for 36 years. He has served as a board member and as president. "I enjoy the fellowship and worthwhile projects the Lions contribute toward," Torbenson said. He was also a member of a team that went to Ecuador and Guatemala to distribute used eye glasses to those in need.

Torbenson was president of the Paynesville Lions when the Paynesville Historical Society was formed in 1969. "I'm proud to say I had a hand in getting it off the ground," he said.

Torbenson was also involved in getting the Industrial Park started. He served on an industrial park development board eight years when the land was acquired for the area.

Another project Torbenson helped get off the ground was the Paynesville Area Center. He and other key people started the fund raising campaign which made the facility a reality.

Voss said someone from Willmar asked him once how Paynesville was able to get a senior center built when they couldn't. Voss replied that along with other key people, Willmar would need Don Torbenson to move to their town.

Torbenson has served as a former trustee and council president at the Paynesville Lutheran Church. Torbenson currently serves as the treasurer of the church's endowment fund. Torbenson and his wife, Gladys, started a music enrichment fund at the church.

He is also a Lutheran Brotherhood branch representative. He has helped secure funds for many Paynesville groups and activities, including the Crow River Nature Park, the Paynesville Area Center, the Paynesville Public Library, the Paynesville Historical Society, and the Paynesville Area Health Care System.

Torbenson said his philosophy in life is to be yourself. "I read something recently which sums up how I feel. If you try to impress people at the top, they will look down on you. If you try to impress people at the bottom, they will envy you, so forget about it," he explained.

Torbenson's hobbies are gardening, reading, and using his computer. Through his computer, he has learned how to communicate with people all over the world. Using a video camera his children gave him for Christmas, Torbenson can see people as he talks to them. "It is a great way to talk with people," he added.

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