FARGO — Vern Bennett, a longtime Cass County commissioner and longest-serving superintendent of Fargo Public Schools, is receiving hospice care.
Bennett, age 86, told The Forum he has discontinued kidney dialysis treatments and doctors have told him he has inoperable heart problems.
“They haven’t given me a long lifespan,” he said Wednesday, Sept. 11. “So my life expectancy is 30 to 90 days.”
Bennett said he is comfortable and is staying on top of his duties as a county commissioner, following developments.
“I plan to continue as county commissioner,” he said, participating in meetings via phone. “I’ll see how things go.”
In fact, he said, “If I’m feeling pretty good, perhaps I can be transported to a meeting once in awhile.”
Up until recently, Bennett was attending public meetings and appeared healthy. But he said he began receiving dialysis in February, the same month surgeons inserted a heart stent.
His condition since has deteriorated.
“I’m really not feeling horrible at all,” Bennett added, noting for instance that he has no nausea.
But, he added: “My heart’s giving out and they can’t repair it. I’m doing as good as can be expected.”
Mary Scherling, chairwoman of the Cass County Commission, said members value Bennett's experience and contributions to the board.
'He was just up in the courthouse a few days ago working hard and doing great as usual," she said. "It's not unlike Vern to keep working even when he's not feeling 100 percent. Right now our concerns are for him and his family."
Bennett was first elected to the Cass County Commission in 2002 and served until 2014, when he was sidelined by term limits. He returned to the commission in 2016, winning a four-year term that he’s still serving. Bennett is the longest-serving of current commissioners, Scherling said.
In 1971, Bennett was named superintendent of Fargo Public Schools, which he led until retiring in 1999. His 28-year tenure is the longest among Fargo school superintendents, according to district records. Bennett Elementary School, 2000 58th Ave. S., is named in his honor. It opened in 2000.
Bennett is credited with playing a crucial role in launching the Trollwood Performing Arts School in 1978, an education program of Fargo Public Schools now located at Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead.
Bennett became a member of the Fargo Dome Authority board in April, and has served over the years on a multitude of community boards and task forces.
As a member of the Cass County Commission, Bennett’s portfolios include the state’s attorney, NDSU Extension and veterans services. He also serves on the county’s social services board, road advisory committee, personnel overview committee and park board.
As an alternate member of the Metro Area Diversion Authority board, he has been a staunch supporter of the $2.75 billion flood diversion project.
Until recently, Bennett said, he has enjoyed robust health. That prompted him to quip, “When you get to 86, watch out.”
More seriously, he added, “I’ve got a lot of support and a lot of family.”