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Charles City Rotary Club helping establish Ellen Bengtson Scholarship

Charles City Rotary Club helping establish Ellen Bengtson Scholarship
Ellen Bengtson participates in RAGBRAI in 2018. Submitted photo
By Bob Steenson,

The Charles City Rotary Club is helping establish the Ellen Bengtson Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of a club member and Charles City resident who was killed in a bicycle accident over the summer.

Charles City Rotary Club helping establish Ellen Bengtson Scholarship
Ellen Bengtson

The goal is to raise an amount sufficient to fund an annual scholarship in perpetuity, and the club is actively seeking contributions. The scholarship is being created with the Floyd County Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa.

Bengtson, age 28, was an environmental engineer at Cambrex Charles City. She was killed when her bicycle was struck by a pickup while riding near Charles City on Aug. 2.

A $10,000 commitment from Cambrex along with other individual donations have jump-started the scholarship fund toward its $50,000 goal, to support an annual $2,000 scholarship.

“Ellen’s engagement in the community was greatly admired,” said Randy Heitz, chairman of the Rotary Club’s scholarship committee. “She was able to bridge many different demographics in the Floyd County area and we were very pleased she saw the merits of being active with Rotary along with so many other organizations in the area.”

The Ellen Bengtson Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to a female student applicant who is pursuing a degree in engineering, math or chemistry at an accredited post-secondary institution.

Bengtson earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Yale University in 2014, and her master’s degree in chemical engineering from Columbia University in New York in 2019.

Peter Bengtson, her father, told the Press that growing up in Richland, Washington, Ellen had received a Rotary scholarship when she graduated from Richland High School in 2010.

“It did help provide her the inspiration to pursue a degree in engineering,” he said.

“When she got to Yale, she decided, ‘I’m not just going to have an engineering degree, I want to take the hardest engineering pathway that they had,’” Peter Bengtson said. “She loved chemistry, she thought engineering was the way to go and so she said, ‘OK, I’ll be a chemical engineer,’ and worked her tail off.”

Peter Bengtson said his daughter “wanted to push the envelope, explore new things.”

“She talked about in science the next discoveries. She always thought of herself as hopefully making a difference in the world and finding those new discoveries,” he said.

Ellen’s mother, Jo Ann, said her daughter was passionate about volunteering, and involved in volunteering in Charles City. She was an active member of Bethany Alliance Church.


“She really cared about people,” Jo Ann Bengtson said. “It was nice to make a difference in a place she called home.”

Peter Bengtson said, “She really, we felt, got her wings and was growing, maturing into a wonderful person there in the last five years in Charles City. It was her home. When we were there in probably the most difficult time of our lives, in August, we really felt the community pulled together and supported us.”

Jo Ann said, “They just wanted to help because they knew how much it hurt. It was very lovely.”

The Bengtsons are supporting the effort to create the scholarship and have agreed to pay $4,000 for the scholarships for the first two years until the fund can become self-perpetuating.

“Ellen had savings and we, of course, had money tucked away for a wedding or whatever, and those monies aren’t needed, so, …” Jo Ann Bengtson said, her voice breaking with emotion.

“It made sense for us to donate in her name because she would have donated anyway,” Jo Ann said. “She gave back monetarily, so why wouldn’t we continue that legacy for her?”

Ellen Bengtson also had a passion for music and began playing piano and double bass at a young age. She performed with many groups including the Mid-Columbia Symphony, the Yale Symphony and most recently in the Charles City Community Chamber Orchestra.

An anonymous donor, honoring her love of music, is offering a dollar-for-dollar match challenge to the members of the Charles City Community Chamber Orchestra to encourage donations. Members of the orchestra who donate will have their total contributions matched up to $500.

The Floyd County Community Foundation was selected to hold the fund because of its experience with managing scholarships.

“Our committee is excited to work with the Floyd County Community Foundation in establishing this scholarship fund to encourage active young women in Floyd County to seek a career in engineering, math or chemistry while showing attributes which Ellen demonstrated through her life,” Heitz said.

To donate to the Ellen Bengtson Memorial Scholarship Fund, contact Terry Gaumer, affiliate development director with the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, at (319) 243-1354 or

Donations to endowed funds with a qualified community foundation, like the Floyd County Community Foundation, are eligible for a 25% state tax credit on the total value of the gift through the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program. All qualified donors can carry forward the tax credit for up to five years after the year the donation was made.

More information about Endow Iowa can be found at