A few years ago, at the age of 90, my father was trying to figure out how to get his motorhome in Arizona back home to Montana. He made an offer to his friend Al, who lived down the hall at Hunter’s Pointe in Helena: He would buy Al’s air ticket to Arizona if Al would help him drive the motorhome to Montana. Al said he couldn’t because he had macular degeneration. Dad’s reply was: “So do I! Which eye is bad? We can sit on opposite sides and use our best eye to see the road together.” And he was serious!
That was Bob Benson. He never lost his love of adventure or his appetite for trying new things. He was a computer repairman before most people knew what computers even were. His ventures in business included the Gambles Hardware Store in Boyd, MN, Bobcat Pasty Shop in Bozeman, and Red Barn Auto in Clancy. While in Boyd, he served as mayor and director of the Boyd Boatworks which built boats to support the town. Over his life he sold farm and construction equipment, as well as new and used cars for large and small corporations, and in “retirement” he owned his own used car business.
He had loved cars since childhood, and most conversations would eventually turn to automobiles. He loved working on them and could fix them with not much more than baling wire. One time, we were headed to Meadow Lake, near Ennis, in a bread van he had converted to a camper. As we started up the Norris Hill, the van sputtered and eventually died. After evaluating the situation, he had all of us kids start chewing bubble gum — which he used to mend the vehicle. It worked and we made it over the hill!
Dad was born in Kathryn, North Dakota, to Norwegian immigrants. He grew up on the family farm and left to attend Valley City Teaching College. It was there he met the love of his life, MaryAnn Kennel. After a year of teaching, they were married December 27, 1950 at the Little Brown Church in the Vale. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Marines and served during the Korean Conflict.
Mom and Dad were married 70 years. Four children were born along the way. They added two foster children to the fold, because they felt very strong about giving to others. Their journey together was focused on service, and Mom supported him as he pursued his many dreams (including, well into his retirement, serving as chef on a hunting charter boat out of Seward, Alaska). He was really lost after he lost her the year before he died.
Dad often remarked that he felt his greatest accomplishment was that all his children and grandchildren continue to go to church, and that all of his great-grandchildren were being brought up to love the Lord. He taught Sunday school, led teens in youth groups and taught adult classes, often leading services at his retirement home. As a member of the Clancy United Methodist Church, he was an avid member of the choir. He loved to sing. I remember many trips in the car, Dad leading my brother, sisters, and me in song to keep us entertained. He instilled a great love of music in all of us.
He always had a thirst for learning and helping others learn. Well into his 80’s, he coached Science Olympiad at Clancy School and received “coach of the year” as well as the Sharon Grace Golden Apple award.
Dad had a wonderful sense of humor and loved a good time, be it dressed in a can-can dress on the Clancy School stage or playing pie in the face with his great grandchildren. He was proud of his Norwegian ancestry and loved telling stories of or even dressing up as Ole and Lena. He always had a good joke, a story or a song to lift your spirits.
He was a storyteller, writer, and poet. Composing poems was a real passion for him to express emotions about special events. Here is a poem he wrote as he sat with his mother in her final hours:
“Now I lay me down to sleep.”
Words we children learned to keep.
Spoken with love in tender way,
She gave us Jesus at the end of day.
“I pray the Lord my soul to keep”
She knew God cared for her sheep.
Next line was hard to understand,
But we felt safe at touch of hand,
As she tucked us in and kissed us goodnight.
Safe in His arms until morning light.
“If I should die before I wake,”
Was the line I could scarcely take.
But now dear Lord, it’s very clear.
As I watch over Mother dear,
Who lies so ill at this wee hour.
And I raise to God in all His power,
This dear old prayer, lest she not wake.
“I pray the Lord her soul to take.”
Rest in peace, Dad.