Birthday surprise

Published 11:51 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

It was a birthday, it was a surprise, but more than anything Betty Benner’s musical serenade by the Riverland Community College choir Friday was about a “thank you.”

For the last three years, Benner, who turns 82 this month, has been mentoring immigrant and international students at The Writing Center on the RCC campus.

The goal has been to help students coming from other countries to better acclimate to the English language.

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Along the way Benner has gained respect, friendship and memories, receiving as much from them as she gives.

But for all for that, Benner couldn’t see the lengths of appreciation shown to her Friday when she rounded the corner into the lobby area of the east building, thinking she simply was going to have her picture taken with her students.

“Oh man, I can’t believe this. It’s wonderful to have a birthday celebrated like this,” Benner said, following the soft serenade of the song “Dirait-on,” derived from a French poem by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

“That’s why it’s so surprising,” Benner added. “There’s a piano in the lobby, the students sing a song and give me a plaque. It makes me feel good about myself.”

It’s an added, ironic bonus that Benner is well acquainted with the poet’s works.

“(Rilke) is one of my favorite poets,” she said.

Though the honor may have been a surprise to Benner, it wasn’t for those who know and are taught by her.

“Every Friday we come out to the writing center for more knowledge,” Yu He said. “She is very nice and she helps us with our English skills.”

“We laugh and that’s the good part,” said student, Juan Jin.

These are attributes that others see as well.

“She’s so faithful,” Writing Center coordinator Vennie White said.

“I’m just amazed,” White said. “The singing. The song was so beautiful, just like Betty is.”