Elizabeth (Liz) Benedum, a strong and passionate woman, known for the positive impact she made on her community in the far southeast corner of Minnesota, left a lasting impression on her family, friends, and customers. Liz passed away on September 3 after a valiant battle with cancer.
For 48 years, she called the lush green hills of Southeast Minnesota home. Liz grew up in the hamlet of Bratsberg, where her mother still resides, and attended school in Rushford. As a young adult, she moved to the town of Houston along the Root River, where she raised her son, Marley Benedum, and operated the town’s only coffee shop.
Affectionally known as the “coffee lady,” Liz purchased the Barista’s Coffee House 12 years ago from her employers, creating a sense of place that reflects her interests, values, and personality.
During a recent visit to the Coffee House, it did not take long to see the results of her values infused in her business. A customer stopped in a few minutes after closing to purchase some baked goods. Fellow barista and friend, Marissa Bailey, did not hesitate to wait on the customer.
Friend and business colleague, Vicki Breeser, remembers Liz as “a lovely, lovely person who was a very private person, but if she let you in, it was very special.”
Liz’s personality is not only reflected in the drinks and dishes she creates for her customers but also in the Coffee House’s décor. For example, Liz’s collection of teapots is housed on the top shelf of the bookcase for everyone to enjoy. Every time a pot is purchased, she relished selecting a new one to add to the collection.
Each spring, a truckload of flowers arrives. The flowers add color and warmth to the bright blue building in downtown Houston. Currently, sunflowers, Liz’s favorite flower, adds a touch of sunshine to the patio and the shop’s tables and counter.
The Coffee House was the former community barbershop. Appreciating the building’s history, she was determined to incorporate the barbershop’s relics into the restaurant’s décor; thus, creating her unique style.
The Coffee House is frequented by visitors to the International Owl Center and bicycle riders on the Root River Trail. During the town’s owl festival, Liz pulled out special owl mugs to serve coffee in. Bike riders appreciate the fresh veggies served at the restaurant.
The Coffee House is so much more than a place to buy coffee; it is where residents gather. One group of women gather each Tuesday and Thursday morning, and another group of women gets together each Wednesday morning to socialize. The coffee guys come in every morning.
Bailey shared several examples of Liz’s selflessness.
She enjoyed making donation baskets for all the community benefits and fundraisers. Her employees plan on keeping the tradition of making donation baskets.
Bailey pointed to the bookshelf and explained that the funds raised from the sale of Liz’s books all go to the local library.
She loved supporting local musicians and would host music on the patio during the summer.
“Her first passion was saving cats,” explained Bailey. “She was known as the ‘cat whisperer’ because, over the years, she saved, brought in, and found homes for hundreds of cats.”
Employee Hayley Carr eagerly shared a story about Liz’s cat rescue missions. There was a time when she rescued a two-week-old abandoned kitty, and Carr, who lives on a farm, took the baby home. Another time, Liz found a litter of kittens and asked Carr if she would take them home to raise.
It was not uncommon for Liz to pay the fees to have “her” cats spayed. She also fed the stray cats that called the Coffee House home. To help continue her mission, please consider donating to tabbytownusa.org in Westby, Wis.
There is still time to donate to the “Love for Liz” fundraiser. The fundraiser was created by her friends to assist with medical expenses. Bailey explained, “The benefit was a huge step for Liz to come open about her cancer and accept help. We had a great benefit with love and donations sent from all over; funds are now being collected to help with final expenses.” Donations can be dropped off at the coffee shop or sent to Bremer Bank, PO Box 518, Houston, Minn. 55943.
As the new owner, Liz’s son will make sure that the Coffee House remains as she envisioned and that all her hard work will continue. Stop by Barista’s Coffee House at 110 N Grant St., Houston to find out what makes this place so special. They can be reached at baristascoffeehousellc.com, or call them at (507) 896-5282.