by Dennis Dalman
As friends since second grade in Sartell, Sophie Wieland and Bennett Prose had so much in common. Both loved learning, enjoyed reading, excelled in sports and academics, and both worked hard to make all students feel inclusive.
Sadly, Sophie died tragically at age 14 on July 12, leaving best friend Bennett and so many others devastated. As 14-year-old Bennett struggled with the terrible loss, he began to develop a plan: to sell lemonade in honor of Sophie and to donate some of the proceeds to the “Suicide Awareness Voices of Education,” a suicide-prevention program also known as “SAVE.”
Bennett set up a lemonade stand by his “Morningstar” Sartell neighborhood at the corner of Fifth Avenue N. and 15th Street. For several days, he sold ice-cold lemonade, 25 cents a cup, and customers who stopped were very generous, many of them having known and loved Sophie and donating extra for the good cause in her name.
Bennett raised an impressive amount: $4,016. Of those proceeds he donated $1,200 to SAVE. The rest will be used to purchase and install a memorial bench and tree in Sophie’s honor by a biking path near Celebration Lutheran Church. That is where Sophie helped teach Sunday school, sang in the choir and ushered.
Bennett has had some discussions with city staff, and the bench-tree project was given a green-light go. They will be installed within a couple of months, Bennett said.
Bennett was so pleased about how so many people were so generous.
“There’s been some divisiveness in this community,” he said, referring to a controversy about a study contracted by the school board to study equity issues in the school district. “This (people’s response for a good cause) is a good reminder of how if we get together, we can make some good happen in the world.”
Bennett and Sophie were both in the Academic Extension program in second grade at Sartell’s Oak Ridge Elementary School, and that is where they met.
“She was an incredibly generous person,” Bennett said. “She spent time helping others with their homework, and she was one of the smartest people I’ve known, with a very dry sense of humor.”
The daughter of Aimee and Henry Wieland, Sophie Anne was a few months away from becoming a ninth-grader when she died.
Talented in so many ways, she used those talents to connect with others at school and in her church, helping people constantly.
She was a superb hockey player and also enjoyed soccer, cross-country and track. She volunteered for the Minnesota Wild Special Hockey program, helping on the ice. In fact, she was so well known for her love of hockey that when the tragic news of her death was released, many Minnesotans saddened by the news placed hockey sticks outside of their doors in her honor.
On a Facebook posting, the Sartell Youth Hockey Association stated, “We lost a member of our youth hockey family/Sartell community . . . A sweet girl, gone much too soon.” Condolences and tributes were also posted on Facebook pages from other youth-hockey associations far and wide.
Sophie also excelled at academics. She was a member of the Riverview Intermediate School’s Student Council, an Academic Triathlon participant, a Knowledge Bowl competitor, a member of the middle-school Tech Team and a co-founder (with Bennett) of the school’s Equity Club.
Music was another passion of Sophie’s. She played violin since she was 5 and performed in violin concerts with the St. Cloud Suzuki Studio and at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center’s nursing home, as well as at school concerts. She also played the flute in the middle-school band.
In her obituary, she was described by loved ones as “very kind, generous, thoughtful, funny, sweet and caring.”
She is survived by her parents and siblings Rachel and Jacob and many relatives.
Bennett is the son of Gina and Andy Prose (a third-grade teacher at Riverview Intermediate School). He has one younger sister, Harper.
Like Sophie, Bennett excelled at a wide variety of disciplines. He runs cross-country, loved to play cribbage, enjoys reading and gets good grades. His favorite subject – “by far” – he said, is social studies, though he also finds history fascinating.
Another deeply felt interest is school equity. He and Sophie co-founded the middle school’s Equity Club, an ongoing effort to reach out to students and to promote equity so all students feel welcome and valued.
“We want to educate students about equity and how it impacts them,” he said. “We want to make sure school is a safe place for students who feel they don’t fit in.”
Bennett recently applied to become a member of the school district’s upcoming “Educational Equity and Student Experience Committee.” Half of the members of that committee will be students, he noted. The purpose of the committee will be to study equity issues and to come up with recommendations to the school board to develop ways that can ensure equity for each and every student of every color, creed, culture and religion. The hope is to strengthen an all-embracing, inclusive learning experience in every school in the district.
Bennett’s goal is to find a job through which he can help; he is leaning toward a career in law.
Bennett said if he could talk to Sophie, this is what he would tell her: “You made a lot of difference and changed a lot of lives.”