by Bev Armstrong
Bill Benson, 74, a former officer of the Missouri Council of the Blind, passed away on Jan. 22, 2011. Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Bill and his mother moved to Mt. Vernon, Mo. when he was an infant. They lived on a farm with his grandparents, and that is what he called home through high school and college.
Bill entered the Missouri School for the Blind in the fall of 1943. He graduated in June of 1955 as salutatorian.
Accomplishments were numerous throughout his school years. Bill's interest in writing and music were apparent early on. I remember his writing the "I Speak for Democracy" essays. His interest in music showed in many ways. He played the trumpet in the school band, and in high school he formed a jazz band. His work with the jazz band continued for two years following graduation. He spent two evenings every week at MSB practicing with the jazz band.
Even as a freshman in high school, his thinking was of a progressive nature. He was a member of the newly formed Social Service Committee which was a forerunner of the Student Council.
Bill received a scholarship to attend the St. Louis Institute of Music, where he earned his degree in music education. Throughout his school years he had thought he wanted to be a writer, so he attended both what is now Missouri State University and Harris-Stowe College where he earned a degree in English.
Bill married Jo-An Dolce in April 1961. For the first 10 years of their marriage he taught piano and band at 12 Lutheran grade schools. For 39 years he entertained at the Cheshire Lodge in their Fox and Hound lounge, playing the trumpet and piano and singing.
Their first home was in Pine Lawn, Mo., and in 1975 they moved to Richmond Heights, Mo. Their current home is in Clayton.
Bill was a man with a strong Christian faith. One of his strengths was helping other people. He did this in various ways. In February 1984 MSB had no computers. Bill organized a 24-hour music-a-thon which was held in the Fox and Hound Lounge. Donations were sufficient to purchase computers for the school. Many blind students have benefited from this gift; some have secured jobs in the computer field.
Bill also did other fundraisers. They were held at St. Ann's Catholic Church. The first of these fundraisers was to benefit Native Americans in one of the western states. Such fundraisers continued for a number of years, the funds from each event going to a different charity.
In December 1984 Bill became president of the MSB Boosters Club; he served in that capacity until his passing. In 1987 Bill and Jo-An were part of a group of eight who organized the St. Louis Council of the Blind, where he served as secretary until two years ago, when he became president of the affiliate.
Bill also served MCB in a number of ways. He may be most remembered for being editor of "The Missouri Chronicle." He held this position two different times - for 10 years and more recently for 5 years until his death. One could enjoy his humor when reading "The MCB Rhymoceros" and become informed when reading "The Lower Lefthand Drawer." He also served as bylaws and resolutions chairman.
MCB recognized Bill's capabilities and awarded him with one of the organization's most coveted awards - the Ellis M. Forshee Award. The award was given especially for his work on behalf of the Missouri School for the Blind.
Bill's body rests in the Crystal Cathedral Memorial Garden Cemetery in Garden Grove, Calif. He has surely made the lives of those he touched richer; he will be sorely missed.