MORRIS COUNTY — Leslie T. Bensley, who built the Morris County Tourism Bureau from a mere idea in 1997 into a driving economic force in the region, was honored by the Morris County Board of County Commissioners upon the announcement of her retirement as Executive Director of the agency after 24 years.
Commissioner Director Stephen H. Shaw presented her with a framed Resolution of Honor on behalf of the board, followed by state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, who issued a state honor during the board’s public meeting.
“We are forever indebted. You put Morris County on the map and helped the local economy. It is phenomenal what you have done. Once again, on behalf of this board, and all the residents of Morris County and all the people who visit Morris County, it’s my privilege and honor to present you with this resolution, and to thank you,” Shaw said.
Bensley has been at the helm of the Tourism Bureau since it opened its doors across the street from the historic Morris County Courthouse with the support of the board, then known as the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and particularly then-Freeholder Frank Druetzler.
“I am very humbled and honored to have been the executive director for nearly a quarter-century,” said Bensley, praising Druetzler for having the foresight to invest in the Tourism Bureau.
“I remember when Frank hired me in 1997, he did something so remarkable. He saved and salvaged tourism because when it had started before, it had petered out, and he felt it was too important to this county not to do something,” Bensley explained.
Shaw noted that Bensley initiated the Bureau’s efforts to promote Morris County’s exceptional historic, cultural and recreational opportunities, helping Morris County tourism to grow four-fold and generate more than $2.3 billion in annual economic activity in 2019. The New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism estimates the county averaged 6.5 million annual visitors at the time.
Bensley initially focused on Morris County’s historic links to the Revolutionary War in luring visitors to the area through “heritage tourism.”
“That’s been my guiding star. That’s my loadstar. It says, tell the destination story,” Bensley explained. “No matter who else has American Revolutionary history, or Gustav Stickley history, or Thomas Nast history or the magnetic telegraph history, our story is unique to us. So as long as you are true to that, you will find an audience because it is worthy.”
Force of Nature
Bensley’s heritage tourism focus was so effective, she was appointed in 2010 to the Governor’s Task Force for Heritage Tourism, where she served as vice-chair and worked on the publication of the Heritage Tourism Plan for New Jersey. The document served as a roadmap for heritage tourism development throughout the state.
“Leslie is a force of nature. She can move anything, and she could probably solve climate change,” said Druetzler, who attended the meeting. “What was the visitor’s center before she came? In the lobby was a bulletin board with some flyers on it. That was it. … Morris County is really the true capital of the American Revolution and she made people realize that.”
Number One Cheerleader
Bucco referred to her as “the number one cheerleader of Morris County.”
“Not only did you represent millions of people that were coming into the county, but billions of dollars in economic revenue that your office helped to generate around the county — and that is so important for the economic growth of this area,” Bucco said. “So tonight I’m honored to also present a Senate and General Assembly Citation recognizing your work. I also have a Senate resolution which will be adopted on the floor of the Senate and the Assembly recognizing all of your achievements, so good luck and God bless you.”
The New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism honored the Morris County Bureau of Tourism’s marketing campaigns on many occasions over the years. Bensley was additionally honored with the 2013 Award of Recognition by the New Jersey Historical Commission for her many years of support, advocacy, and promotion of Morris County’s history and historic sites.
A Tour of the Tourism Bureau
Under Bensley’s tutelage, the Bureau grew by creating a membership program and obtaining grants beyond the county contributions. She also established historic kiosks and walking tours, as well as destination signs to guide visitors, and frequently created public events to attract attention to Morris County’s historic locations.
During her tenure, Bensley also served as the Treasurer of the Advocates for New Jersey History, co-founded the Coalition of New Jersey Destination Marketing Organizations, and served on the boards of both the Crossroads of American Revolution Heritage Area and the New Jersey Travel Industry Association.
Bensley lives in Morris Township with her husband of 36 years, Charlie, with whom she had two children, Eliza and Sam. She said she plans to spend more time in retirement being a tourist as well as spending time in Morris County with a new addition to her family: grandson, Graham McKenzie Folsom.
Visit the Morris County Tourism Bureau website.