Bob Dotson, NBC News Correspondent, tells the unusual story of Fred Benson. Born in 1895 in Boston, he was abandoned by his parents at age 8 and was sent to live with Gurd Miliken and his family on Block Island. He died at age 101 and had served as police chief, fire chief, head of the rescue squad, high school baseball coach, builder, industrial arts teacher, commercial fisherman, taxi driver, welder, author of two volumes of island history and president of the chamber of commerce five times. For 25 years he ran the Square Deal Garage. He became known as Mr. Block Island and now a town beach is named after him.
He never married, never smoked or drank, but he led in many activities that improved life on the island. Once he won $500,000 in the Rhode Island state lottery and threw a big birthday party. He invited all the children on the island and announced he would pay the college tuition of any child who wanted to go. About 500 people, more than half the island’s year-round population, attended his 100th birthday. He dedicated himself to the people of Block Island for all his life, always thinking of what was best for his community.
What was especially odd was that at age 90, he was still living in the little room Gurd Miliken gave him. Five generations of Milikens grew up around him. They repeatedly invited Fred to join them downstairs where it was heated, but he refused.
Dotson was with Fred at about age 90, watching waves crash against rocky cliffs at sunset. He asked why Fred had done so much for his island. “When I was a little boy, the farmers used to meet for dinner on Saturday night. Each one would boast about their kids. Gurd Miliken had 8 sons and me. I sat way down at the end of a long table. Gurd rose from his chair one night and pointed a long finger past all his boys. He pointed right at me. ‘You fellas wait and see what Fred Benson does. He’ll be the best of ’em all.'” Fred stopped talking for a long pause, staring at the sunset. “I hope he knows how I turned out,” he whispered. Then he said it again, more intensely, “I hope he knows how I turned out.”
Most of us, I would guess, have a similar defining moment when someone special gave us a worthy goal, voiced a positive expectation or offered meaningful encouragement. Have you done the same for others? Have you communicated to anyone inside and outside your family that you really believe in her/him? Aren’t there others for whom you could do the same? It just might carry them through a long life of dedicated service.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey. All rights reserved.
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