David William BenoitSeptember 11, 1925 ~ January 21, 2017 (age 91)
Family Man, Veteran, Athlete, Dancer, Teacher, Traveler, Artist
How do I put my father into words that represent all that he meant to those whom he touched for 91 years? I offered to write his obituary because I love him deeply and want to remember and honor him well, but I am finding this to be a most challenging piece to write as he was so much more than words and actions.
David is described by his family and friends as kind and gentle, playful and energetic, dependable. He was quiet and humble, proud and devoted, loving and supportive. There are things we know about him and so much we don't, but for those of us who were fortunate enough to be graced by his presence, we will surely carry him in our hearts and memories as someone we loved and respected.
David was born in Manhattan, New York to Ernest and Helen (Stevens) Benoit. His father was a window dresser for the Kraft Cheese Company and his mother was an active member of the Methodist church. He was their only child. He grew up playing stick ball in the street (and consequently dodging cars), sneaking into movie houses with his pals and taking dance lessons at a church on Sunday afternoons. He told me once that a swig of something potent helped ease the nervousness he felt approaching the ladies to ask for a dance. He was a good looking man and a smooth dancer, but apparently quite shy. His fondest memories as a child stemmed from the summers he spent in Annapolis, Maryland with extended family. There he enjoyed a different lifestyle which included crabbing, swimming and boating, and where he said, "the kids were never nasty to each other."
Some of you may know my father as Mr. Benoit, your PE teacher at Pines or Memorial School in Wilbraham, or he may have been your football or basketball coach. He was, indeed, a natural athlete, and at George Washington High School in Manhattan, where he was voted most athletic, he enjoyed swimming and basketball the best. He studied Physical Education at Ithaca College but did not pursue his career in teaching and coaching until the early 1970's. As an adult and well into his 70's, he continued to be active in athletics. He played men's basketball, was the head lifeguard at Spec Pond, skied both downhill and cross country, biked volcanoes in Hawaii and across Europe with his wife during their retirement years and played backyard football. He also spent many years playing tennis at the Wilbraham Tennis Club and with any opponent who would take him on, making them run all over the court with his wicked slice.
He graduated high school in 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Army so he could serve his country as his father had in WWI. My father was very private about his time in the Service. He rarely spoke of it, even when questioned. We know he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for having saved the life of an officer as well as the Purple Heart during the Invasion of Normandy where he sustained a wound to his arm. We know he convalesced in England and befriended a family (a mother and her daughters) who became lifelong friends. And we know the WWII memorial in Washington DC brought him to tears, perhaps the first and only he ever shed for the pain he suffered alongside his fellows on the battlefield and for the world at large.
In his youth, David learned to dance. As a young adult, he perfected his craft, especially when he met his partner, Violet, at Ithaca College. They shared a love for big band music, jitterbugging and doing the lindy hop. Music and dance brought them much joy. Although I wish I could have seen them dance when they were younger, I am fortunate to have witnessed their prowess on dance floors they literally cleared from weddings in Vermont to Beale Street in Memphis. I, too, love to swing dance and whenever I am in a dance hall, I try to channel their energy and ease of movement and can only wish to be as graceful and smooth as they were.
David married his dance partner, Violet Alice Kissel, in 1947 and upon graduating from college in 1948, they moved to Maryland where he received training to practice occupational therapy at the Walter Reed Medical Center. This is also where they started a family. Having reconnected with the Army, they were moved to Mittenwald (Bavaria) Germany where times were good and peaceful. As an officer, David enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, met lifelong friends, skied the Alps and travelled throughout Europe while being an attentive father to his first three children.
In 1955, David and his family returned to the States, living in New York City for a while before moving to the Springfield area where he joined an old Army buddy in the business of motorboat and scooter sales. His older children remember him coming home with motor oiled fingers and riding a scooter! Both of these images surprise and make me smile simultaneously as they vary so from the father I knew in my youth. In the late 60's, David managed the men's clothing department at Sears where he dressed in a dapperly fashion (which he wore well) and in the early 70's he donned his track suit to work at the Wilbraham grade schools as the PE teacher. This is where he finished his career in teaching and coaching in the mid 1980's and moved on to enjoy his life in retirement.
Whether he was on vacation from school or in retirement, David enjoyed travel and exploration. He bought the first incarnation of the VW "PopTop" Camper Van and in it travelled seemingly everywhere, crisscrossing the US and Canada from east to west and north to south, all the while with any combination of his children, wife, father and in-laws loaded in the back. Some of my fondest memories, and those of my siblings, involve these adventures with our father. Because of him, I became aware of the world outside of my home. I gained a perspective on my country and the people around me that has led me to travel and live and work in the ways that I do. In their retirement, David and Violet revisited Europe, ventured to Venezuela and took many cruises that brought them to countries in Asia that they'd never seen. Along the way, they met many new people, gathered trinkets and memories that David later put into scrapbooks.
Scrapbooking...who knew that this was a pastime of my father's? I certainly did not until after he'd died and I went digging through trunks and drawers previously unexplored. It seems that in his death, I am discovering his life. I now know that his favorite color was blue, his favorite flower a rose, his favorite season was Summer. His favorite author was Jack London and his favorite book was Call of the Wild. I am recalling memories of him singing "The Nearness of You" while I played it on the piano and crooning with Frank Sinatra on our last car trip to Vermont. He loved to draw and created very personal works for his children and his wife. He was soft spoken, almost absent of speaking sometimes, but certainly not of thought or heart. As previously said, there is much we did not know about David William Benoit, much we will never know, but that is the mystery of death. And of life.
David is survived by his beloved wife, Violet, of 69 years, his 4 children Suzanne Howard and her husband Tom of Montpelier, Vermont; Scott Benoit and his wife Helen of Berkeley, California; David Benoit of Ludlow, Massachusetts and Robin Benoit of Olympia, Washington; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His oldest son, Glenn, passed away recently and his daughter, Jeanne, died in 1977. A private burial with Military Honors will be held at the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Agawam on April 7. Wilbraham Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Red Cross.