David Benson of Wayzata was born with neither hands nor feet, but he had an irrepressible spirit that helped him make a career aiding children with disabilities.
"He was such an inspiration to so many," said Randy Moberg, principal of Pilgrim Lane Elementary School in Plymouth, where Benson had his last assignment of his 24-year career with the Robbinsdale Area Schools.
Benson, an educational assistant for special education students, died July 28 in Edina. He was 64.
His family said he probably had a heart attack and died of complications after surgery.
"David embraced his disability and turned it into an ability, with his can-do spirit," Moberg said.
"Dave's personal approach helped children, staff and parents look beyond his disabilities, and value him for his many strengths," such as his sense of humor, Moberg said.
Benson would speak in various special education classes and elsewhere, telling the story of his life.
Stumps, except for a small thumb, were Benson's hands. With those, he managed to do almost everything that most people do with regular hands, including writing neatly and buttoning his shirt.
A lack of mobility in facial muscles made it impossible for him to smile, but those who knew him could assume that he often did, said his brother, Gregory Benson of Prior Lake.
Growing up, he enjoyed participating in water sports at the family cabin each summer.
"He had the best attitude," said his brother. "He was the upbeat guy."
He strove to live independently, and he accomplished that.
Benson attended Minnesota State University Mankato after graduating from high School in New Ulm.
As a young adult, he had a lot of fun in college, dating and joining a fraternity.
But he didn't complete his education in Mankato. So he went back to college and graduated from St. Cloud State University with a bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology in 1981.
His special education pupils "were his whole life," his brother said. "Everything centered around his kids."
On his own time, Benson regularly took his classroom charges on outings, such as up to his family's cabin.
"When Dave came over to see you, he brought one of his kids with him," said his brother.
In addition to his brother, he is survived by his half-sister, Christine Benson of the Twin Cities, a niece and a nephew.
Services have been held.