New Orleans Saints Owner/President Tom Benson and his wife Gayle were named the St. Charles Avenue magazine's "Activists of the Year."
The publication announced they are honoring the Bensons for their "time, talent and effort in the service of organizations that benefit our city."
Mr. Benson, who has owned the Saints for the past 25 years, has been a critical force in the region's recovery following Hurricane Katrina, supporting the area through New Orleans Saints Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, the Boys & Girls Clubs, United Way, the Saints Gulf Coast Renewal Fund, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Habitat For Humanity and other organizations and causes, but his philanthropic efforts have been a presence in this city long before August 2005.
Mr. Benson and the Saints have donated more than $15 million in charitable contributions, goods and services throughout the region; however, their contributions extend beyond the monetary. The Saints' road to success has been often paralleled to the city's road to recovery after the storm; the unprecedented surge of morale, faith and community presence that Mr. Benson and the Saints have brought to New Orleans is a kind of activism that can't be measured.
"The greatest impact over the last 26 years that the Saints have had has been in the community, and the club's charitable involvement has been among the most rewarding endeavors to me and my family since 1985," said Mr. Benson. "I think I realized immediately the Saints could be more than just a football team to the region, and that the club's players, coaches and staff were pacesetters when it came to volunteerism, involvement, donations and charitable outreach."
Mr. Benson's humanitarian work has included support of a multitude of organizations outside of the Saints. He recently donated $8 million to Loyola University of New Orleans to create the Tom Benson Jesuit Center; the Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation also donated $14 million to San Antonio Oblate School of Theology. The Foundation funded the building of Gayle and Tom Benson Field on the University of Incarnate Word Campus; additionally, Mr. Benson donated the Benson Memorial Library at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, Texas. He is currently working with Oschner Foundation Hospital on the establishment of a cancer center that will be named in his honor.
"Giving back is part of our learning and teaching over our lives," said Mrs. Benson. "It is a way of life and one of the keys to true happiness and complete self-fulfillment."
Many of Mrs. Benson's community endeavors focus on missionary, religious and theological work, both locally and regionally. She holds leadership roles with the Oblate School of Theology, the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Friends of St. Louis Cathedral and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, among others. Mrs. Benson also credits her family upbringing with the values she exhibits in her work.