Junction City’s First United Methodist Church was filled to capacity Friday as community members from town and Geary County said goodbye to friend, family man, commissioner and coach R. Ben Bennett.
A community leader himself, Bennett’s funeral service drew many other local and area leaders. Present were 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley Commanding General Maj. Gen. John S. Kolasheski, Sen. Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia), and many others who Bennett touched during his 77 years of life.
“No God, no peace, know God, know peace,” Pastor Dirk Weiss said during the eulogy, a verse not found in any Bible but known as “Ben 3:16” to Bennett’s family.
The story behind the reference, as told by Weiss, brought joy and laughter to the solemn occasion.
Initially, he said, Bennett had intended to use Junction City as a stepping stone to something else, but he eventually became one of the community’s strongest advocates.
The pastor shared this and other stories from Bennett’s life — the type of stories Bennett loved regaling people with during his life — including how Bennett met his wife.
Shortly after his arrival in Junction City, Bennett attracted the attention of an outgoing older woman with a head of red hair, according to Weiss.
He ran into her everywhere and in short order began to find her “silly.”
“She acts like she not only knows you, but that you’re best friends,” Weiss said. “She shows up at the grocery store, she shows up at a burger joint with a couple of friends while you’re there. You think she is — for lack of a better word — silly. This woman is everywhere. And then there is the head football coach’s wife who insists on playing matchmaker.”
Bennett, he said, felt it was wise to agree to go on a date at least once with this girl who the head coach’s wife insisted he ought to meet. So he hopped in his orange 1965 Mustang convertible and headed out to meet his date.
He knocked on the door and who should answer but that outgoing older woman with the red hair — his wife Peggy’s mother and his future mother-in-law.
Weiss spoke of Bennett’s love of the local youth, of wrestling and of animals — especially horses.
“His energy and his enthusiasm almost always turned outward,” he said. “He loved his animals. Ben’s first name was actually Ralph. This was why he and Peggy named their dog Ralphie. He was proud of his involvement with the rodeo here in Junction City and Geary County. This love for animals didn’t even end when one of the horses kicked him so hard It left a blood clot the size of a football on his leg.”
Weiss talked — as many friends and family members have in the wake of Bennett’s unexpected death Dec. 12 — of speaking with Bennett not long before he died at home in his sleep next to his beloved wife.
He also told of the First United Methodist Church’s role in the Hometown Holiday celebration which took place earlier this month and which Peggy Bennett helped set the chimes for. Bennett had joined his wife and the pastor on the balcony while they set the last chimes of the night to play Christmas music as they had all throughout the event.
After they parted outside the church, Weiss turned back to make sure the Bennetts had made their way across the street without trouble.
He saw them there, holding each other.
“There they were on a cold, not so silent night, leaning into each other, holding each other, listening to the church chimes play Silent Night one last time,” Weiss said. “His treasure was safe.”
Bennett’s sister in law, Phyllis Huey, spoke on behalf of the family.
“Ben loved Junction City-Geary County … He believed in it, he lived it. “ she said.
Bennett took part in many aspects of the local community, but his heart was always with the young wrestlers of the community, she said, children who he once coached.
Huey invited the entire community to a wrestling duel between Junction City and Manhattan the evening of Jan. 16. The event starts at 7 p.m. at Junction City High School.
“The wrestlers were really a part of Peg and Ben’s lives,” she said. “It’s gonna be a fun time and I guarantee Ben’s going be there. So, if you want to have a good time and enjoy and support those Bluejays, Jan. 16 on Thursday. And I think we’ll have a good time.”