Vidakovich column: This nice guy finished first
I taught fourth grade with Jim Benson for 14 years, starting in 1988, at both Glenwood Elementary and Sopris Elementary school. Along with Fred Davidson, Bette Hart, Jackie Durrett, Paul Driskill, and Lesyle Grigsby, I felt like we had an all-star cast of teammates at that grade level. We were the Lakers of elementary education.
I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was very lucky to be surrounded by such caring and dedicated human beings.
When I first met Jim and his wife, Mary, who was brave enough to teach kindergarten, I walked away thinking these people are too good to be true. As the years wore on and the blind corners of life took their toll on us all, I realized that everything about the Bensons was genuine and true.
Up until the very day Jim decided to leave us earthlings behind, I never heard him utter a bad word about anyone. In return, I never overheard a negative word being spoken about Jim. His students worshipped him in every way. My goodness, even the kids who rode his bus loved the guy, and a school bus is a breeding ground for tomfoolery and all that goes with it.
Jim and Mary enjoyed attending the sporting events at Glenwood High School to watch their sons play for the Demons. Jim often drove the activity bus to many of our away games when my brother and I coached at Glenwood High School. Everything Jim did around the players was positive and out of concern for the well-being of those on his bus. He never had to be gruff or take disciplinary measures on any of our trips to such far-reaching places as Steamboat, Craig, Rangely, or Delta.
Jim Benson never demanded respect from anyone. It was always just there, and it was earned because of the way he treated all people.
I remember when their son Chris Benson played on our slow pitch softball team during the summers. Jim and Mary would dutifully show up in the stands and cheer right along with some of the other husbands, wives, parents, and various onlookers. Our team, coached by Bob Willey and named Cody’s All-Stars, was formed by Guy and Lynette Brickell, who had lost their son in a car accident when he was just out of high school. All of us, especially the Bensons, knew Cody Brickell well, so the team always took on a much bigger meaning than trying to outscore our opponent on the softball field.
When Mary’s health began to fail, she would still make the games with her husband. Those Tuesday nights at Two Rivers Park held special meaning to them, but not as much as it meant to all of us just to still see them there.
I think it was the old Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher who said, “Nice guys finish last.” If he would have met Jim Benson, Durocher would have changed that statement a bit.
I do believe God is always searching for 5-star recruits to help him out with conducting the day-to-day activities of eternal life in heaven. But as messed up as things seem right now on this planet we inhabit, I think we could have used Jim down here for a bit longer. Shoot, I guess God’s opinion actually does matter more than mine.
Jim and Mary were very religious and I know they were active in their church. The priorities of family, church, and community service were never lost on them as is the case with so many of us.
Jim gets to be with Mary now and he must be very happy, but I will miss his kind words and actions toward me that were never in short supply. He always would wave at me from his bus when I was out on my morning runs and sometimes even toot the horn of his big yellow chapel on wheels.
Jim Benson is one nice guy who finished first in everything that he did. I just wish now that I would have thanked him more for being the person he was when I had the chance.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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