The American Cousins The story of the children of Beda Stenman & Elmer Benson, early 20th century Swedish immigrants to the United States, and how their descendents found their cousins in Sweden
Marsha Kay Benson Jovanovic
ÂŠ2010, Marsha Kay Jovanovic 10949 Rockwood Road El Cajon, California 92020 USA firstname.lastname@example.org Second edition
Dedicated to my father, John Benson, whose love of history, heritage, and family inspired us all.
Thanks to the following people who contributed to this book: Leah Benson Barnacle Hazel Benson Beatrice Larson Christiansen Melisa Christiansen Linda Larson Fuhrman Barbara Benson Nelson Ruby Mae McNeal Rentfrow Bonita Sweeter Zimmer
Produced using Adobe Indesign, Photo Elements, and Acrobat Printed by Digital One Printing 9512 Chesapeake Drive San Diego, CA 92123
The Ameri can
In 1905, Beda Emerentia Stenman, third daughter of Franz Mauritz Idolf Stenman & Charlotta Wilhelmina Persdotter, left Sweden to join her f iancé Elmer Benson (Hjalmar Gustav Bengtsson) in the United States of America. Beda & her father and three of her sisters exchanged letters over the years. However, contact with Beda’s family in Sweden was lost in the late 1950s. During a family reunion at Big Lake, Minnesota, June 2009, interest was sparked in exploring the family’s Swedish ancestry and possibly f inding relatives in Sweden. Through careful reading of translations of Beda’s letters f rom Sweden, contact was re-established in August 2009.
• • • •
Scenes from farm life
Abandoned farmhouse, Jackson, Minnesota, 1979 The family lived there in the 1920s Team of horses cutting oats, Jackson, 1927 Benson kids pitching hay, Jackson, 1927
Beda feeding her chickens on their last farm Clarissa, Minnesota, 1947
in Ameri ca
Beda Emerentia Stenman A farmer’s wife
Prologue Beda Emerentia, the third child of Franz Mauritz Stenman & Charlotta Wilhelmina Persdotter, was born 9 December 1885 in St. Olai Parish, Norrköping, Östergötland, Sweden. She passed away 3 February 1960 at Big Lake, Minnesota. Sometime while teenagers, she and Elmer Benson (Hjalmar Bengtsson), who was born 20 August 1884, in Ukna, Kalmar, Sweden, met and fell in love. The family lore is that Elmer, who was a poor farm boy selling flowers in Norrköping, won her heart by bringing her special wildflowers. But life in Sweden was desperate during those times, especially for folks without land like the Bengtsson family. America, with its vast expanses of land and its legendary “streets of gold” offered them hope. So along with thousands of other Swedes, one-byone, all the Bengtsson children, except for the oldest daughter, emigrated to America. In 1900, at the age of 15, with $10 in his pocket, Elmer landed in Ellis Island, then traveled to Illinois to “work off ” his passage, which had been paid for by his oldest brother, Johan. After he finished repaying his brother, he left Illinois and traveled west to the rich farmlands of Iowa. As soon as he could, he sent for Beda. She arrived in New York in December 1905, at the age of 20. She made her way to Iowa to join Elmer, and they were married 28 July 1906.
The “streets of gold” were not to be for Beda. Though she and Elmer loved each other, Elmer was a difficult man. He was bitter about many things. He did not want any contact with his own siblings, and he did not want contact with other Swedish immigrants. Their life was solitary without friends or family, except for their own eight surviving children. Beda and these children, with a few hired hands, were the laborers on the many farms Elmer rented or bought in Iowa and Minnesota during his lifetime. Bearing eleven children, Beda gave birth to all, except for the last child, at home with midwife assistance. A foreshadow of the severe diabetes she would later be diagnosed with, most of these babies were huge. The first born weighed 13 pounds (almost six kilos), and one of the last babies was so large his back was broken in birth, and another, a daughter, took too long to be born and died shortly afterward. Through the years of moving from farm to farm with her bad-tempered husband who worked his own children like field animals, placing farm chores over education, Beda was sustained by letters from her sisters and her father in Sweden. Tattered and torn, these letters survived these many years and now have connected Beda’s grandchildren and their children with the descendents of her beloved family in Sweden.
The early days
Country school class. John is the fifth child from the left. His younger brother Bob is next to him, 1915
John with his first car, 1926
John at age 12, 1919
John and Pauline with baby Sandra (b. 29 Sept 1939 d. 29 Mar 1940) and daughter Barbara
John and Pauline before marriage
John and Pauline, Barbara Johnny, Marsha, Andrea, 1947
John at his factory, Western Screw Corporation, 1958
John Benson First Son of the New Generation John Benson was born 14 August 1907 in Clarion, Iowa, the first of Beda and Elmer’s eleven children. He and his younger siblings Bob and Evelyn spoke only Swedish until they were school age. Then Elmer decided everyone should speak “American,” and only he and Beda continued to share the “secret language” of their homeland. School attendance was only allowed when there was no work on the farm. Nevertheless, John loved learning, and as a young adult taught himself general education and engineering. It was one of the great regrets of his life that he had so little formal education.
From farm boy to manufacturer John Benson, called “Jack” by his wife’s family and “Johnny” by his own, was well known for his dynamic upbeat personality. Life on the farm had been full of sad stories, but he always seemed to lace his stories with a humorous edge. He was an optimist, always looking on the bright side of things and situations. Being raised in a brutal, work-centered environment made John seek the pleasurable things in life as well as to work like a demon. While the Great Depression often marked people with stinginess and frugality, John became generous to a fault—big tips, big gifts, big loans, big everything. When he died suddenly 22 February 1991, his wife of more than 63 years said: The life of the party is gone. And that’s how everyone felt.
John was Elmer’s number one farm hand at a time when most kids are just learning to write their name. He drove teams of horses when he was six, and he was driving a tractor when he was seven! But he was not going to stay on the farm. He had bigger ideas and grander dreams. He bought his first new car in 1925, handed the payment book to his fiancée, Pauline Dorothy McClain, a young school teacher he met in Jackson, Minnesota, and he headed for Iowa looking for work. After he was hired by the Hart Parr tractor factory, he called Pauline to join him. They were married 11 May 1927, one week before Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. John was a natural engineer and an inventor. He used these skills to become a master machinist and setup man. He never returned to the farm, except to help during harvest times. After World War II, he started his own company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Western Screw Corporation, which propelled his family out of poverty and well into the middle class. He never retired; he was working as a consultant when he died at 83 years. John loved family. He and Pauline had nine children, with five surviving. He loved his parents, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews. He missed knowing his own cousins. In the 1950s he traveled to Illinois and South Dakota to meet as many of the Benson relatives as he could. His Swedish cousins were known only through a few photos sent to his mother Beda, and after her death there seemed to be no way to find them because of the distance and language barrier. That would be left to his children to do.
John Benson - later life
Forever young Youth isn’t a stage in life but a state of mind. That describes John Benson, my Dad. He may have aged as time went on but he never grew old. He was always on the go and planning his next adventure. Even when Mother was injured in that last car accident in 1990, Dad was planning a trip for when she was well again. And he had a sense of humor like no one else I have ever known. He saw the funny side of everything and told stories of the past (and the present) that made us all laugh until tears rolled down our cheeks. He was always fun to be with. Dad loved technology, too. He was as they say an “early adopter.” We had the first television when TVs came out (meaning I was raised on TV because we had it my entire life). We had the first dishwasher when they came out. He loved cameras, and always had the latest kind. He really liked Polaroids because of their instant results. One of the last things he purchased was a giant solar energy device that was installed on the roof of the house. Mind you, this was back in the 1980s. It looked like it could supply the whole neighborhood with energy! And he was way ahead of his time in adopting this kind of technology, especially in Minnesota. But more than anything, Dad loved his old cars and engines. He had stored his 1911 Maxwell for several years, then one day he decided he would bring it home. My husband Steve helped him clean it up and got it running again. Soon Dad was driving the Maxwell in every small town parade he could be in, all summer long. Steve would help him load the car up onto the trailer he pulled with his regular car, and off he would go. Mom, the kids, Steve, and I would then rush off to the parade to be waiting for him to drive by. We would yell, “Honk the horn”! And he would pull the wire of the squeaky Maxwell horn, surprising everyone around us because of its strange sound. My family and I have so many good memories of those parades.
Pauline, Andrea, Maralee Goetz, Leah, John 1982
Dad always looked young for his age, partly because he was a very handsome man with his own naturally white teeth (which many people thought were false) but more because he was so active and lively, and he was young in heart and mind. One year when he was asked to give the King and Queen of the Howard Lake Nursing Home a ride in his old car, Dad told us he was going to give the “old people” a ride. In fact, he was older than they were! I cannot mention my Dad without saying he was a godly man, too. He read his Bible nightly and attended church every Sunday. Even when we were on vacation in a strange town and different state, if it was Sunday, he’d find a church for us all to go to. As well as God and family, Dad loved his pets. In his later years the animals ruled the house. But that wasn’t always so. When he was growing up there were no animals in the house, and that’s how he liked it at first. But after he married and had a family that changed. By the time I came along, we always had several cats and dogs in the house. And he cherished those creatures as no one could, and they were faithful companions to him until the end. My family and I were lucky to live only three houses away from Dad and Mother in Deephaven, Minnesota. So daily his example made a lasting impression on us. I learned not to be afraid of making new friends. My husband shared his love of old cars and now carries on the tradition on his own. My daughter Rachel saw her grandparents everyday and adopted her grandpa’s easy going style in her life. And my son Scott learned be quiet in church when sitting next to grandpa but more importantly to strive for the same zest for life that he had. —Leah Barnacle
Winter 1979 in Deephaven, John with his dog Ben
Johnâ€™s Offspring The Benson Five in 2008 John P. Benson (17 Jan 1946) Barbara Nelson (19 Apr 1932) Leah Barnacle (5 Jan 1950) Andrea Banker (6 Jan 1945) Marsha Jovanovic (5 Mar 1942)
Machines & Antiques John loved machines, including antique automobiles and steam engines. He owned a 1911 Maxwell, buying it in the 1950s when it was only 40 years old! He kept that car running until September 1990 when he missed a turn while towing the car from an antique trashing show in North Dakota. The car was severely damaged, and Pauline severely injured her already fragile back. They both never recovered from the trauma of the accident. John died from a heart attack five months later, and Pauline died in July 1991 from pneumonia after her back was once again broken in the convalescent home where she was living.
Celebrating 50 years of marriage in 1977 with all five children, their spouses, & their children In 2010, the family includes one more grandson, 11 more spouses, 21 great-grandchildren, & one great-great-granddaughter
Life in the Cities All four Benson brothers left farming and lived in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, during the 1950s. All worked in some form of mechanics. During the boom years after World War II, employment in industry was steady and lucrative work. John was the first to purchase his own home in a Minneapolis suburb in 1942, Stanley and Roland later purchased homes in St. Paul, jumping them and their families into the American Middle Class.
• St. Paul, Minnesota, near Bob’s garage (above) • Family ~1939 (left) • Delores & Janice ~1945 (right) • Bob in 1960s (below)
A wasted life Only two years apart, the brothers John and Bob trailed behind their pa whenever he went out. The suspicious Elmer didn’t like to socialize and when he had to, the boys followed his lead in everything. If he took potatoes, they took potatoes. If he ate chicken, they ate chicken. If he refused something, they refused it, too. They could not risk his wrath by doing otherwise. Underpinning much of Elmer’s unpleasant behavior was alcohol. When he drank he was particularly mean. And in the end, drink lead to his losing thousands of dollars invested in a rich farm in southern Minnesota. While most of the family recognized the evils of alcohol abuse from their father’s behavior and abstained completely, Bob did not. The handsome Benson brothers were popular in the small town of Jackson, Minnesota, where both of them met their wives-to-be in the 1920s. And like his brother John, Bob married young. In 1927, Lenore Anna Harris became Bob’s wife. They had two daughters together, Delores and Janice. Delores was Beda and Elmer’s first grandchild.
Ernest “Bob” Benson Bob was a brilliant mechanic. He could fix any engine. After World War II he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he started his own business, a car-repair garage. The business had every prospect of bringing the family a prosperous life; but Bob could not stop drinking. He eventually lost the garage as well as his wife and children, and he never worked again. He moved in with a woman named Millie and stayed with her until his death 5 October 1970 from cirrhosis of the liver. During the last years of his life, he was unable to walk. Among Bob’s personal effects were several old photographs of cousins in Sweden sent to his mother Beda by her sisters. (Millie gave these pictures to Ruby, and Ruby Mae gave them to Leah Barnacle. They are printed later in this book.) Bob’s siblings never completely abandoned him, although they were disappointed in him. John often visited him and gave him money as did his brother Stanley.
Why was Ernest called “Bob”? John, less than two years older than his little brother Ernest, could not say “brother.” The best the boy could do was “Bo-Bo,” which evolved into “Bob.” BIOGRAPHY Born 23 Feb 1909 Clarion, Iowa Died 5 Oct 1970 St. Paul, Minnesota Married Lenore Anna Harris in 1927 Children Delores Lorraine (Vacek) 24 Sept 1927 - 15 May 2009 (3 children, 1 grandchild) Janice Mae (Liberko) 6 Aug 1937 (3 children)
Pauline Benson, Evelyn, John Benson, John Larson, 1927
Evelyn in 1938
Evelyn, husband John Larson, Jeannine, Patty, and Joan, 1940 BIOGRAPHY Born 25 January 1911, Clarion, Iowa Died, 6 December 1999, New Brighton, Minnesota Married John Wilbur Larson 8 October 1928 in Jackson, Minnesota Children Jeannine Marie (Porter), 30 Nov 1929 (3 children, 2 grandchildren) Beatrice Christine “Pat” (Christiansen), 26 Nov 1931 (5 children, 9 grandchildren–3 adopted, 2 great-grandchildren) Joan Evelyn (Lemere) 28 Nov 1934 (6 children, 13 grandchildren, 1 great-grandchild) Linda Joy (Fuhrman) 22 Aug 1950 (3 children, 5 grandchildren) John, Evelyn, Bob, Christmas, 1947
Evelyn Benson Giving more than she got Being the second of four daughters born to Evelyn Benson and her husband John Larson, I witnessed up close this powerful female from age twenty, her age when I was born, to age forty, her age when I married and moved away from home. She was a remarkable, loving, and generous woman who worked tirelessly for her children and always cherished family, especially her parents and her seven siblings and their families. To me, she was one of the most amazing women of the 20th century! My mother was an energetic, 5’2”, brown-eyed lass with an easy smile, an infectious laugh, and a few freckles on her nose, which she hated. All of my friends loved her, and she befriended them. She wanted her daughters to have what she had not had growing up. She encouraged us to get education, she saw to it that we had music and fun in our lives. Having little money during the Depression years, she sewed feverishly, using feed sacks and other people’s cast off clothing to make colorful stylish garments for her girls, their dolls, and herself, all while keeping a clean house, filled with aromatic homebaked bread, sweet treats, and always three delicious meals every day. During World War II, living in Des Moines, Iowa, she worked part-time at JC Penney store, altering clothes. Later, after the war, when we moved to Minneapolis, she worked at a garment factory doing “piece work”—the faster you sewed, the more money you made. That was my mother, maintaining the nickname “Speedy” that had been given to her by her demanding father. She was driven to succeed, non-stop, but always caring for her family first. When I returned home for visits and the holidays, I recall being entertained and well fed by her, not only for my growing family, but also for numerous relatives and occasionally friends. Sumptuous meals were always on hand due to her hard work and creativity. Family was extremely important to Evelyn. Throughout her life she surrounded herself with her brothers and sisters and their growing families. What a magnificent memory of a magnificent woman. She always gave more than she got! —Beatrice Christine “Pat” Christiansen
No Time for Childhood Evelyn Benson was the first daughter of Beda and Elmer. She was two years younger than her brother Bob. With a poverty-ridden childhood, there were no toys and time to play was rare. As a girl, she dreamed of being a bare-back horse rider in the circus because she loved horses. She made dolls from hollyhock flowers and other natural items for herself and her sisters. As the oldest daughter, she was called upon to help with raising the younger siblings and to work on the farm, even after she left home. It was Evelyn who was with Beda while she was in labor with her last child and was rushed to the doctor on an icy winter night in 1928. And it was Evelyn who cared for her parents in their old age after they left their last farm and until they passed away.
Evelyn Benson - family first
A 20th Century woman Evelyn spent her early adult years in Jackson, Minnesota, and Hampton, Iowa, before moving to Des Moines, Iowa, and later to Minneapolis, Big Lake, and Monticello, Minnesota. She sadly spent her last three years in a nursing home in New Brighton, Minnesota, where Alzheimer’s disease would rob her of memories, functioning, and ultimately her life. During the dark years of World War II, she, her husband John, and their three oldest daughters lived in Des Moines. John spent a year in Tok, Alaska, working on the Alaska Highway. While he was away, Evelyn came into her own as household manager of everything and everyone. In spite of the difficulties, whether it was blackouts (for military defense) or food rations, she often recalled those years with a rather odd sort of fondness. She often spoke in glowing terms of her mother, Beda. But not so much for her father, Elmer. She talked of being the oldest girl and working as one of the boys. Although she was apparently given some leeway due to being a female – she didn’t get her first cow to milk until the ripe old age of six, while her two older brothers got theirs at three. Their father was a brutal task master, cruel to his wife, his children, and the work animals. Yet, when he was too old and crippled to work, Evelyn took him in as well as Beda. Elmer passed away in her Minneapolis home in 1953. Beda spent her remaining years with Evelyn, moving to Big Lake with Evelyn, John, and Linda in 1954, and passing away in Evelyn’s Big Lake home in early 1960. Evelyn’s true passion was sewing. She had a magic touch with sewing machines and was a natural designer. She would see a fancy dress in a department store window – go buy the fabric and whip up the dress on her Singer without a
pattern. Even though John was a plumber his income did not always provide a comfortable standard of living. So to make ends meet, Evelyn spent decades working in factories – she considered herself a sweat-shop slave. The work was terribly hard, the hours long. But when she was home on weekends during her working years and everyday after her retirement, she would sew the things she really loved – doll clothes or the latest fashions for her many granddaughters, even an occasional men’s suit for a son-in-law when he couldn’t afford to buy one. She owned a “power” machine – the kind used in the factories – because it could sew so much faster than her old Singer. She was also a gardener, but more because she loved the taste of fresh produce than the art of gardening. Together she and John planted enormous gardens, which John irrigated with his homemade irrigation system. They grew enough food to feed themselves, their families, friends and neighbors, with plenty to spare. Evelyn spent many hours preparing their annual bounties for canning or freezing. Their many storage shelves and enormous freezer were always packed. Evelyn also was a regular at her Lutheran church, serving at various times as president of the Ladies Aid, Sunday school teacher, and always as a volunteer for innumerable church functions. She was a member of the “Birthday Club” and Garden Club, and she and John were members of the Grange. After she and John retired they spent winters towing their little camper to warmer climates.
Standing outside their little trailer with John Benson
During these long drives, they stopped at many places where Evelyn tried new things–including when she hiked up her britches to “fish” for oysters in the Gulf of Mexico and got her bucket and spade and went diamond “hunting” in the Ozark Mountains. She loved to travel but she most loved the time spent with her children: Joan and her family in South Carolina, Jeannine and Linda and their families in Minnesota, and Pat and her family in Naperville, Illinois, or Erie, Pennsylvania. Evelyn loved and lived for her family and was a wonderful, doting grandmother. How she would love to be here today to play with all the new great- and greatgreat-grandchildren that she did not have the chance to meet, cuddle, and spoil. —Linda Fuhrman
In 1978, Evelyn and John Larson celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The photo at the top right shows them with their four daughters — Joan, Linda, Beatrice, and Jeannine; the middle with their grandchildren; and the bottom with their daughters and sons-in-law
For the love of family
Farming in Minnesota
Girls, Girls, Girls
Farming in southern Minnesota and Iowa is risky business. The weather is a headache farmers wrestle with constantly. Will the spring come early, will it freeze if we plant now. Will it flood from winter snow melting, will there be too much rain. Will there be a drought. Will there be hailstorms or tornados. Farmers have to gamble about the prices they pay to plant against what they’ll be paid for their harvest. Sometimes prices of crops and grain prices fall below what it costs farmers to produce. It all depended on when they bought their seed, fertilizer, and the other supplies needed to grow a crop. In the end, though, temperature and rainfall are the chief determinants of what sort of profit farmers make, and weather is always on their minds. In Minnesota during the 1940s and 1950s, almost everyone had grandparents or some aunt or uncle who still lived on a farm somewhere in the state. And summers grandchildren were sent to the farm to get out of the city and to help with the chores on the farm. Children and siblings of those still farming would visit their families on the farm to help at harvest, or just to enjoy a good hardy farm-style dinner. The city families often returned home with fresh garden produce, eggs, chickens, and sometimes even milk and cream.
In the old world tradition, Beda and Elmer preferred grandsons to granddaughters. But the family seemed “plagued” with girls. Finally, in 1935, Frankie Vachuska was born. Elmer had promised the only thing he had in his possession from Sweden—a small metal toy—to the first boy. While technically, Frankie was first, son John felt his son John, born in 1945, should have received the toy because he carried Elmer’s surname. But Irene prevailed, and the toy stayed with the Vachuska grandson. John’s son was the only biological carrier of the Benson name until Roland’s son Jeffrey was born in 1955.
Only Irene and Beulah of the eight children of Beda and Elmer remained in the farm life. Even fewer of the next generation farmed for a living. As farming became more technical and scientific, the cost of farming increased. Today farming is a profession and requires extensive resources to buy land and equipment, unless folks are fortunate still to own or inherit their family’s farm.
BIOGRAPHY Born 30 April 1913, Emmetsburg, Iowa Died, 18 March 1990, Sioux Falls, South Dakota Married Frank Vachuska 15 March 1929 in St. Cloud, Minnesota
Visiting the farm...Irene, Evelyn, & Pauline with daughters ~1945
Children Irene Francis (Caviness), 25 Jan 1930 Helen Louise (Showers), 29 Mar 1933 Frank Joseph Vachuska 13 Mar 1935 Carol Ann (Voss) 17 Aug 1938 Dorothy Jane (Mayberry) 30 Oct 1940-2 May 1984 Suzanne Evelyn (Kolander) 18 Sept 1948
Irene Gladys Benson Child bride and farmer’s wife Beda and Elmer had moved from several different farms by the time they arrived in Jackson, Minnesota, when Irene was a young child in the 1920s. Unlike her restless father, Irene would marry and settle in Jackson county for her entire life. Elmer had purchased the farm in Jackson through a government loan for $30,000. Unfortunately, during this time, he began to drink heavily, and he eventually lost the farm. His three oldest children had married and left home, and now it was up to the younger kids, of which Irene was the lead, to carry the load of farm work. Irene, who was mature for her age, began going with Frank Vachuska, who was 11 years older than she, and the son of European immigrants of Bohemian descent.
In 1928, after having lost the Jackson farm, Elmer decided it was time to move on, this time to northern Minnesota. So he conscripted his son-in-law John Larson and Irene’s now fiancé Frank to help him move the farm machinery and animals to Rice, Minnesota, where he had rented another farm. The two guys rode with the animals and machinery in the boxcar of a train. After helping them move north, Irene and Frank were married in the parsonage of a Lutheran pastor in St. Cloud, which wasn’t far from Rice. Evelyn and her husband stood up with them. Irene was not even 16 years old. The newly married couple then returned to Jackson. Making a living from the rich southern Minnesota soil with her husband, Irene grew from a child bride into a supreme farmer’s wife, mother, and community leader. The same workintensive upbringing as her older siblings, made Irene also driven in everything she took on— whether it was supporting her husband with farm work, maintaining a healthful farm home, or raising her children. She served as the school board clerk for 20 years. She was a member and leader of Jackson County Home Extension Groups. She was given the Jackson County Homemaker of the Year award, and she was a member of the Jackson Municipal Hospital Auxiliary. And, of course, the church—she was an active, involved member of Our Savior Lutheran church. Because of the strong influence of her husband’s large Bohemian family and perhaps because of her own father’s lack of interest in Swedish tradition, her own children grew up feeling closer to the Bohemian tradition. Irene contracted pancreatic cancer and died in the hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the age of 76. Her husband Frank survived her by one year. Their long marriage produced one son and five daughters, 15 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren.
A loving sister & mother Three of Ruby’s children at the Family Reunion June 2009: •
Kenneth McNeal with wife Joan
Mavis with husband Roger Hansen
Kathleen with husband John De Hoop (d. 2010), daughter Melissa Mae, and granddaughter Phyllica
Brother Roland Benson with Roe McNeal holding Donny, Kenny and Dale standing, 1943
1973 BIOGRAPHY Born 2 July 1915, Ringsted, Iowa Died, 1 October 1985, St. Paul, Minnesota Married Monroe Marshall McNeal 14 September 1935 in Rice, Minnesota
Grandkids on the Clarissa Farm 1944: Joan Larson, Marsha Benson, Donny, Kenny & Dale McNeal
Children Jeanette, 1936 died at birth Dale Marshall McNeal, 11 Aug 1937 - 8 Jun 2003 Kenneth McNeal, 23 Aug 1939 Donald Elmer McNeal, 19 Dec 1942 - 2006 Maxine Laura (Moseng), 4 Jul 1944 - 28 Mar 2000 (3 children) Sharon Judith, 24 Oct 1946 - 11 Oct 1976 Mavis Marilyn (Hansen), 15 Feb 1949 (2 children, 5 grandchildren) Douglas McNeal, 28 May 1952 - 26 Oct 2000 (3 children, 1 grandchild) Kathleen Lynn (De Hoop), 4 Mar 1954 (3 children, 4 grandchildren) Ruby Mae (Rentfrow), 6 May 1955 (2 children, 1 grandchild)
A Most Precious Gem Born 2 July 1915, Beda’s third daughter received a beautiful name with a beautiful meaning. And Ruby Benson lived up to the name—a quiet, steady, uncomplaining help to the family then and throughout her life—a most precious gem. Ruby was the oldest child at home after Irene left. She was 14 years old and would not leave the farm at Rice for another six years. Not too much is known about those six years because Ruby never talked about her home life. According to her youngest daughter, Ruby Mae, it was like pulling teeth to get any information from her, and that was very little. “My mother never said an unkind word about her family or anyone. I never heard her say anything about her father’s drinking and cruelty. She only said farm life was very hard.” But Ruby Mae would get glimpses of the life from her aunts. Pauline, John’s wife, who was always criticized by Elmer for not working in the fields (she had broken her back falling from a tree when she was a girl and could not do stoop labor), said Ruby could do the work of a man. A small woman, Ruby could lift the huge heavy milk cans onto shelves that were as tall as she was. Older sister Evelyn told how Elmer would not replace Ruby’s worn-out shoes, and that Evelyn gave her the shoes from her own feet. In 1935, Ruby married Monroe “Roe” McNeal in Rice. They would later move to St. Paul, Minnesota, where they purchased a modest home. Married life would not be easy either. Ruby and Roe would have ten children, with several of them having serious health problems, the first dying at birth. Much time and money were spent for treatment of the children’s illnesses. But just as the harsh home life with Elmer & Beda was tolerated without complaint, Ruby never complained about these problems either. Ruby was a creative homemaker who could “throw together whatever we had in the house to eat, and it was good,” Ruby Mae remembered. “She never measured anything when she baked. She always said you just know when it’s enough.” Ruby passed away 1 October 1985 from heart disease and diabetes. Marriage of Ruby and Monroe McNeal Rice, Minnesota, 14 Sept 1935 Beulah & Stanley Benson, attendants
Ruby Benson All of the first generation Benson children had very hard lives, and even though we are now exploring with fondness our Swedish ancestry, our old grandfather was really not a very nice man, sometimes even to his own grandchildren. Ruby would send her two oldest children, Dale & Kenny, to the farm during the summer to help the grandparents. When Kenny was asked about the grandparents at the recent Benson family reunion, the first words out of his mouth were: “they were not nice,” as he recalled the summers he spent working on the farm. Gratefully, Elmer’s mean spirit was not passed on to any of his children, especially to Ruby, who will always be remembered for her sweet spirit, surrounded by children—one on each knee and arms around as many as she could.
A different kind of garden Beulahâ€™s youngest daughter, Bonita, an author and artist, and her husband Dale Zimmer celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, August 1998. At the right, in the garden of the Zimmer farm in Foley, Minnesota, are first cousins Ruby Mae Rentfrow, Marsha Jovanovic, Barbara Nelson, Linda Fuhrman, Joyce Wruck, and Leah Barnacle with Bonita who is wearing her original wedding dress.
BIOGRAPHY Born 6 April 1917, Ringsted, Iowa Died, 15 March 1965, Stearns, Minnesota Married George Sweeter 1936 in Rice, Minnesota Children Bruce Milton Sweeter, 14 Jan 1937 - 21 Sept 1997 Duane George Sweeter, 30 Jul 1940 - 23 Sept 2006 Joyce (Wruck), 21 May 1945 Bonita Jean (Zimmer), 14 Aug 1953 7 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren
Beulah, Beda, Evelyn, and Bob
Beulah, George, and Joyce
Duane, Bruce, Bruceâ€™s wife, Beulah, George, Bonita
Beulah Benson Gone too soon
Learning from her life Beulah Benson was born in Ringsted, Iowa, 6 April 1917, a few months short of two years after her sister Ruby. She married George Sweeter in 1936 and became a classic hard working farm wife until her death 15 March 1965. Beulah and George had four children: two sons and two daughters. She died when the youngest, Bonita, was only eleven years old. The older three had already married and left home. Beulah was the first adult child of Beda and Elmer to pass away. At 47 years, it seemed so unfair. She had worked so hard and had so little in the end. Her death was to have a profound impact on the young Bonita as her father in desperation attempted to replace the industrious, dependable, and beautiful Beulah. The second wife lasted five years; and the third wife lead George into alcoholism and his own demise. Beulah could not be replaced. George ignorantly denied Bonita the chance to attend university after graduating high school, not recognizing her gifts in art and language as things of value. This would not have happened had Beulah lived. Nevertheless, through a spiritual odyssey of her own, Bonita would eventually finish university with a Master’s degree in art education and become a teacher and writer. In 2003, she published the inspiring memoir called Reflections for Tending the Sacred Garden about how one can learn from experiences of life; she used examples from her mother’s life and her own to illustrate. Although Beulah’s life was cut short, we can all learn from it. Among her last words in a letter to her older daughter, Joyce, she wrote: There is no extra time for any other way and it does not pay. Always remember that “There is just one life, it will soon be past, only what is done for Christ will last.” Don’t ever forget it, will you?...
Beulah Benson was a dedicated farm wife who milked cows, raised and processed chickens, tended a large garden, baked bread, and still found time to care for her home and family. Generosity was a part of her hard-working nature. “Egg-money” was saved to purchase Christmas presents and little extras for the family (Father was very thrifty). Even though we had very little, she would gather up clothing we outgrew and gave them to the less fortunate in our neighborhood. On Sunday afternoons, she would make her famed fried chicken dinners and struggling families would “drop in” to visit and receive a hot meal. Mother was a Godly woman. I remember her singing hymns as she made frosted “Long Johns and Lady Fingers” and raised donuts. She would read from the Bible in the evening to her family and never missed church unless she was deathly ill. She died of liver cancer at the young age of forty-seven. —Bonita Zimmer
Family over the years
Stanley with John, Christmas, 1948 (above) Daughter Laneia, 1948 (left) Stanley and Hazel with Pauline and John ~1941 (above right) Stanley and Hazel visit Evelyn at nursing home with Leah Barnacle and Mae Rentfrow (right)
Like all the Benson siblings, family was always important for Stanley & his wife Hazel. Today, as the only survivor of the first generation Benson spouses, Hazel Benson, at age 90, lives alone in their Freemont, California, home. She remains in touch with many of the Benson nieces and contributed information and photos for this book.
Hazel Benson surrounded by her family
The Favorite Son
Stanley Benson entered into eternal rest on 12 November 2007 at age 89. He was the last of the eleven children of Beda and Elmer to pass away. Stanley was born 23 September 1918, in Ringsted, Iowa. He moved with his parents, farm-to farm, from Ringsted to Jackson, Rice, and to Wadena, Minnesota. Between 1938-1940, Stanley spent time in Charles City, Iowa, with his oldest brother John where he learned the machinist trade. When he returned to Minnesota, he worked as a machinist in St. Paul and commuted to the farm until 1941, when, at age 23, he married Hazel Skuza. Stanley was devoted to his parents and was always considered the “favorite son.” Sometime after the United States entered World War II, Stanley joined the US Navy. He was in the Pacific theatre during the last days of the war. His time in the Navy was a milestone event of his life, and he enjoyed telling about being at sea and traveling. After his discharge from the Navy, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. He and Hazel had two daughters: Laneia Beda, born in 1942, and Dannielle Ann, born in 1950. The daughters and their husbands moved from St. Paul to Northern California in the late sixties and early seventies. Stanley worked as a machinist throughout his adult life, and he loved machinery and tools. He was employed at the Twin Cities Arsenal, Brown & Bigelow, and Grain Belt Brewery. After he retired in 1979, he and Hazel moved to Fremont, California, to be close to their daughters and their families.
Stanley Benson Tragically, Dannielle, who was a registered nurse, passed away at age 40. What was thought to be a gall bladder problem was actually hepatitis, which she had unknowingly contracted while working as a nurse. Her death left her husband alone with three young children. Stanley and Hazel helped their son-in-law raise their daughter’s motherless children. Stanley is survived by his beloved wife of 66 years, daughter Laneia and her husband, Tom Bolle, of Castro Valley, California, and son-in-law Richard Vincench of Newark, California, six grandchildren: Michael Bolle, Jennifer Bolle ( Jesswein), Jason Bolle, Victoria Vincench, Jared Vincench, and Nathaniel Vincench; and two great-grandchildren: Nova and Zane Jesswein.
Off to war
Roland, Stanley, Beda, & Elmer, Wadena, Minnesota
1943 Uniform of the United States Merchant Marines, 1943
Jeffrey Benson, 1958 BIOGRAPHY Born 18 June 1922, Jackson, Minnesota Died, 8 January 1996, Las Vegas, Nevada
Roland & Lucille in their Henderson, Nevada, home six months before Lucilleâ€™s death.
Married Lucille Wilcox in 1946 Children Patricia Jean (Albertson), 16 Jun 1938 Gary Deane Benson, 22 Oct 1939 Judy Joy Benson, 8 Apr 1941 Sandra Lynne Benson, 5 May 1943 Delores Lucille Benson, 22 Nov 1944-1993 Jeffrey Scott Benson, 5 Oct 1955-19 Aug 1994 2 grandchildren
Roland Everet Benson
Las Vegas, Nevada
For the woman he loved Roland Everet Benson was born in between Beda and Elmer’s two lost sons—Gustav and Erland—on 18 June 1922 in Jackson, Minnesota. Roland was fair with Beda’s light coloring and blue eyes and curly blonde hair. He was only seven years old when Elmer moved the family to Rice in northern Minnesota. He watched as one by one, his sisters Irene, Beulah, and Ruby married. Not much is known about life on the farm after the girls left. The soil wasn’t as rich up north, and with only two sons to help, farm life was winding down. He and Stanley lived with their older brother John and his family in Charles City, Iowa, around 1938-1940. John got them jobs at the Oliver Farm Equipment Factory. Then the war started. After Stanley married in 1941, then joined the US Navy, Roland also wanted to join the war effort. So he joined the US Merchant Marines the same year. He was on several different merchant ships sailing from New York across the Atlantic. One was a hospital ship that was torpedoed by the Germans but did not sink. It was during one of his leaves when he was back in Minnesota that he spotted a beautiful woman in town with whom he fell immediately in love. Lucille Wilcox wore stylish clothes and high heels and lipstick. She was older than he was, and she had children! But Roland did not care. He told his brother John: I am going to marry her one day. After the war was over, Roland came back to Minnesota, found his lady love and married her. The entire Benson family was shocked. She had five children, and she was not at all interested in the farm or the mundane family life they all seemed to prefer. She wanted to live the big city life. Roland and Lucille lived in St. Paul, and he worked as many jobs as it took to give Lucille fine clothes, a beautiful house, a nice car, trips, and whatever she wanted. But Roland did not care. He loved her, really loved her. Her children became his children as he officially adopted them, providing for them as any natural father would do. Sometime in the 1950s, Roland moved the entire family to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they made a
living in casino support activities. In 1955, he and Lucille were blessed with their only son together, Jeffrey Scott Benson. Jeffrey grew up in Las Vegas and married in 1983. He had two sons of his own, Scott and Jeff Benson. But sadly, in 1994, Jeffrey died from a drug overdose, a parent’s worst nightmare. Roland and Lucille were heartbroken; neither really recovered from this tragedy. Lucille had heart surgery in December 1995 and passed away four days later. With the love of his life gone, Roland gave up his will to live and died a month later, 8 January 1996 at 73 years.
Memories are… old photographs left alone in an ancient album conveying, love, family, friendship in past happy occasions.
The grass was always greener... Elmer’s farms Wall Lake, Iowa (rented) Graettinger, Palo Alto County, Iowa (rented)
Wild horses & runaways Elmer always bought wild horses from the Dakotas. They were cheaper. But they were temperamental and often difficult to handle. Almost every kid working on the farm had a runaway horse story to tell, including the author. My runaway got cousins Kenny and Dale McNeal into a lot of trouble because the horses on their run broke the hayrack and tore out yards of fence.
Emmetsburg, Palo Alto County, Iowa (rented) Ringsted, Emmet Country, Iowa (rented) Jackson, Jackson County, Minnesota (bought, then lost in bankruptcy) Rice, Benton County, Minnesota (rented) Wadena, Otter Tail-Wadena County, Minnesota (rented) Sebeka, Minnesota (rented) Clarissa, Todd County, Minnesota (bought, sold in 1952)
The lost babies Two years after Stanley was born, on 17 October 1920, Beda gave birth to another son. She called him Gustav. This child died at nine months from “summer complaint,” a severe diarrhea that babies contracted during hot weather. Then three years after Roland was born on 25 March 1925, she gave birth to her last son, Erland. Another huge baby, he had been paralyzed at birth when the doctor twisted his body to pull him out of the birth canal. The child got pneumonia and died before his first birthday. Beda’s last child, Donna Mae, born on 8 February 1928, was the only child Beda had in a hospital. She had been in labor for three days when Elmer came at midnight during a terrible blizzard to wake up Evelyn and Irene. He told Evelyn to go across the field to get the neighbor who had a car to take Beda to the hospital 10 miles away. In those days there was no antifreeze, so the neighbor had to put water in the radiator of the old car, and it steamed continuously as they went. He and Evelyn had to keep putting snow in the radiator to keep the car going, while Irene was in the back seat of the car with Beda, who was screaming in pain. By the time they got to the hospital, the baby was being born. The doctor and nurse took Beda inside using a stretcher. The baby, which was greater than 13 pounds (6-7 kilos), had been deprived of oxygen during the long labor and only survived two days. Donna Mae, as Beda called her, was Beda’s last child. She was 42 years old.
A letter written by Evelyn (Benson) Larson in 1953 to Beda’s sister Ida to inform the Swedish relatives that Elmer had died was recently discovered among some old things in the possession of Ida’s granddaughter Gun Hallberg Jonsson in Sweden. The letter is reproduced on the next page.
Epilogue After the Clarissa farm was sold in 1952, Evelyn took her parents into her own home to live. Bedaâ€™s diabetes problems worsened. She continuously had sores on her feet that would not heal. One sore became so bad that it turned into gangrene, which meant she had to have her leg amputated to save her life. Beda always maintained that she never gave permission to have her leg removed, and she hated being forever after bound to a wheel chair. When her beloved Elmer died from a heart attack, she was devastated and didnâ€™t want to live. But she lived for another seven years, passing away in 1960. Their oldest son John purchased their burial plots, which were next to the two plots where he and his wife Pauline would be buried in 1991. The four graves are on a slight hill near a big tree, which makes them easy to find in the big
Evelynâ€™s letter to Sweden North Minneapolis cemetery. Evelyn and her husband John Larson and their granddaughter Diane Porter are buried in the same cemetery but in another location. When Elmer and Beda came to America more than 100 years ago, their lives were typical of many immigrants. The streets were not paved with gold, but rather with intense physical labor. They would not enjoy the legendary riches most immigrants dreamed of before leaving their native places. Their riches would be in their children and their descendents. From the eight children of Beda and Elmer Benson comes an extended family whose talents are enormous. We like to think these talents came from our Swedish ancestry even as it mixed with other nations in the great melting pot of America.
JOHN BENSON Barbara Nelson
The following Barbara and Ed Nelson were married in 1950. They settled in San Diego, California, after Ed finished four years in the US Navy. They have two children: Darla and Edmund Eric, called Ric. Barbara was a full-time homemaker and mother until Ed was diagnosed with leukemia in 1970. Barbara returned to school at that time and completed both a BA and MA in speech pathology and audiology. She worked as a special education therapist and administrator in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School district until 1992. Ed retired from the telephone company after 33 years in 1984. He passed away in 1990.
Daughter Darla with husband Jeff Follett on one of their bike excursions. Darla is a social worker for troubled teenagers, and Jeff heads the San Diego School Districtâ€™s homeschool department.
Edmund Nelson (d. 9 Oct 1990)
Granddaughter Karen is a homemaker and volunteer for the disabled, and her husband Michael DeMarco works as a Business Assistant for United Cerebral Palsy. Mike is a three-time medal-winner for the USA Paralympic swim team. He has won 1 Paralympic Bronze (2004) and 2 Paralympic World Championship Bronze (2002, 2006).
Molly Michelle Day Follett
Grandson Derek Follett and wife Katie Day live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Derek is a high school math teacher, and Katie is a mechanical engineer for US Steel Corporation. Molly Day Follet is Barbaraâ€™s first great grandchild, born 27 Aug 2009.
Generations Son Ric and his family lived in Zaire, Africa, for several years, serving as Christian missionaries for Wycliffe Bible Translators; they then moved to Vichy, France, where Ric was French study coordinator for others going to francophone African countries. He is studying for a PhD in linguistics. His wife Cathy is a registered nurse. He, Cathy, and the youngest two children, James and Elizabeth, now live in Dallas, Texas. The older children are in college: Hannah attends University of California, San Diego, and Abigail and Andrew attend Houghton College in New York.
Barbaraâ€™s dogs: Charlesmagne & Rosie
New grandparents with Molly in Pittsburgh
Ric with youngest daughter, Elizabeth
Barbara has been a leader in the College Avenue Baptist church and the Spring Valley Womanâ€™s Club for many years. She is an avid collector and maker of dolls. She has collected more than 200 nativity sets from around the world, many of which she displays year round. She is a world traveler, having made many trips to France and other parts of Europe when her son and family lived there, as well as trips to Africa, Israel, Turkmenistan, and Asia. Barbara maintains the Swedish Christmas Eve tradition for the west coast relatives every year at her home. Her huge Christmas tree with its hundreds of ornaments takes a couple of days to decorate. The meal features Swedish meatballs, scalloped potatoes, homemade rolls, and other homemade specialties. The Christmas story is read from the Bible, those who play instruments play Christmas music, the kids recite poems, sing, or dance. Then the youngest kids pass out the presents and everyone takes turns opening their gifts.
JOHN BENSON Marsha Kay Jovanovic
Marsha and Misha Jovanovic and their children all live in the San Diego, California area. Marsha was trained as a social anthropologist and works as a science and technology writer. Misha emigrated from Yugoslavia (Serbia) in 1979 and owns and runs a travel company. Daughter Maralee Randall is a registered nurse at University of California San Diego; son Sasha is a city/transportation planner and daughter-in-law Ariann is an accountant. Grandchildren Jacqueline, Christina, and Matthew Randall attend school, and they enjoy making video productions, dancing, and playing soccer.
Squeaker & Donny Maralee & Nina’s birthday party, 2010
Sasha & Ariann’s South Park Bungalow, 2010
Marsha’s gang, August 2008
Sasha & Ariann’s Wedding Ceremony at the Semple Mansion in Minneapolis, Minnesota Maralee reading from the Book of Proverbs
Family at the wedding of Aleksandar “Sasha” Jovanovic and Ariann Russ, 24 November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Jacqueline, Marsha, Misha, Sasha, Ariann, Maralee, Matthew, and Christina
JOHN BENSON Andrea Banker
The following Andrea and Dave Banker live in Maple Grove, Minnesota, and have been married for 47 years. They have four children and four grandchildren. Andrea is a seamstress, floral designer, and wedding planner. She is also an ordained Christian minister. Dave manages food services for a privately owned supermarket.
Grandchildren: Ethan Whetstone, Emily Banker, Lucas Whetstone, and Jack Banker at the wedding of Andreaâ€™s daughter Michele, 16 August 2008 Below: The family at home, Andrea with son Brian, and Dave with daughter Michelle (next page)
Son Marty Banker and wife Amy are sales executives. They live in Anoka, Minnesota. They have two children: Jack and Emily.
Son Russell Banker (with cousins) is a lead assembler at an electronics packaging project and an avid fan of all sports, especially baseball and football.
Daughter Michelle Banker with husband Zachary Kope and sons Ethan and Lucas live in Minneapolis. Michelle has a masters degree in education from the University of Minnesota. She teaches English in The International Baccalaureate Program at Cooper High School. Zach is a bilingual customer support manager.
Son Brian Banker and wife Candy live in Everett, Washington. Brian is a senior valve technician and trainer for a company that sells industrial control valves throughout the northwestern United States. Candy is a regional program manager in social services. They enjoy sailing in the Puget Sound on their 28â€™ Newport sailboat, Estrella Norte.
JOHN BENSON John Philip Benson
John and his wife Linda have been married for 43 years. They have three children: Sara, Carter, and Bryce and three grandchildren. John has a masters of science degree in chemistry from Seattle University and is a sales executive for Thermo Fisher Scientific. Linda is a homemaker and former dental assistant. They live in the Madison, Wisconsin area and spend weekends and other free time at Curtis Lake where they have a second home. They are also world travelers and have made many trips abroad and in recent years to Japan to visit their son Bryce and his family.
With Marley, the Cat
With Mia & Vera in Japan
At Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
Daughter Sara is the Hewlett-Packard Global Real Estate Intranet Manager and husband Tony Watson owns SabreSoftSystems.com, an IT and web development company. They live in Wisconsin.
Son Carter is a professor of dentistry at Marquette University, specializing in prosthodontics, and is also in private practice in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He and wife Tammi have two golden retrievers and assorted cats who live with them at their country home at Holy Hill, Wisconsin.
Son Bryce is a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy and is captain of the USS Guardian based in Sasebo, Japan. Wife Alexandra is a creative homemaker and mother who bravely chose to live in a traditional Japanese-style house and send daughters Vera and Mia to a Japanese school. Their son Fletcher John was born 23 March 2010 and is the first grandson for John and Linda.
JOHN BENSON Leah Barnacle
Leah with Rachel, Allison, & Nicole
Finding her roots in Sweden
The following Leah and Steve Barnacle moved to Deephaven, Minnesota, in 1979—only three houses from John and Pauline Benson, looking after them until their deaths in 1991. Married for 37 years, they have two children: Scott and Rachel; and four grandchildren. Leah has worked at Wells Fargo Bank for 27 years, 16 of those years she was a personal banker. Steve was the first employee of Lettieri’s, a small food manufacturing company and is currently their maintenance manager. Leah’s hobby is doll collecting and cats. She currently has two Siamese blue points. Steve’s love is his 1930 Model A Ford. He is a member of the Twin Cities Model A car club. Summers he hires out as a chauffeur for newlyweds driving them from the church to their reception in his vintage car.
Grand Canyon Vacation with Rachel & family
With the grandkids
Generations Leah was instrumental in locating the Benson familyâ€™s Swedish cousins in 2009. In December of that year, she and sister Marsha Jovanovic traveled to NorrkĂśping, the birth place of grandmother Beda Stenman. There they met Lasse Stenman, Bedaâ€™s only surviving nephew, the youngest son of Birger Stenman. Lasse arranged for them to visit members of his own family as well as descendents of Ida and Tyra Stenman.
Son Scott Barnacle graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1997, then received an MD from the Uniform Services of Health Sciences in 2001. He completed specialty training in obstetrics-gynecology. He is in private practice in Frankfort, Indiana, where he lives with wife Stephanie, a homemaker and former statistician. Stephen Spencer is a second grader, and Sophia Grace is in pre school. Scott is a marathon runner in his spare time.
Daughter Rachel graduated from the University of Minnesota and has been a dental hygienist for 11 years. Her husband Mark Beutz owns his own business, buying and selling cars. Nicole Marie and Allison Pauline attend elementary school. The family lives in Rogers, Minnesota. They spend summers living on their boat on Lake Minnetonka and the Mississippi River.
EVELYN BENSON Jeannine Porter
Jeannine and Al Porter have been married 58 years. They are retired and spend time between their two homes, one in Stillwater, Minnesota, and the other in upper Michigan. They have two sons: Eric and Marshall and two grandsons. Their daughter Diane passed away in 1999.
Son Eric Porter and his wife Trudy and their son Alexander with Jeannine and Al in June 2009.
Jeannine and her sister Pat wore the same wedding dress, which was designed and sewn by their mother Evelyn. Sister Joan (next to bride) and first cousins John, Andrea, Marsha, and Laneia Benson were junior attendants. Evelyn also made the brideâ€™s maid and flower girl dresses. (1952)
Son Eric Porter with his son Alexander in June 2009. In June 1961, Eric, at age 4, was a junior attendant in the wedding of Marsha Benson Jeannine at the wedding of Aleksandar Jovanovic, son of Marsha Benson.
EVELYN BENSON Beatrice â€œPatâ€? Christiansen
The following Pat and Nymer Christiansen had retired and were preparing to move from Pennsylvania to Florida to be closer to their children when Nymer passed away in November 2004. They were married 53 years. They have three sons: Norman, Mark, and Eric; two daughters: Cristyne and Melisa; and nine grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. Pat now lives in Mississippi in a house built by her son Mark.
Pat with her five children: Mark, Norman, Eric, Melisa, & Cristyne in 2009 1951
Thanksgiving 2006. Pat with her children, their spouses, and grandkids except Andrew (Bryce was not born yet)
Son Norman lives in a suburb of Cleveland, as do his two children, Andrew and Beth.
Daughter Melisa lives in southwest Louisiana with Huey LaGrange and his two daughters Andrea and Lisa; oldest daughter Kristin married Sean Folse in September 2009.
Daughter Cris and her husband of 33 years, Chris Yanity, live in Brookville, Ohio. They have two sons: Brian and Jason. Brian lives with his wife Rebecca in Columbus, Ohio with their 4-yearold daughter Alaina and 18-month-old son Bryce. They are expecting a third child in early 2011. Younger son, Jason, lives in Brookville also.
Twin sons Mark and Ericâ€”Mark and his wife Donna (left) live next to mom Pat in Mississippi. Eric (2 minutes younger than Mark) lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, with his two children, Nathan and Tayne (right).
EVELYN BENSON Joan Lemere
Joan is a retired music teacher. She has six children: Amy Jo, who passed away in 2001, Philip, Steven, Andrea, Kenneth, and Patricia. She has 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Joan lives in Virginia when she isnâ€™t traveling around to visit her children and grandchildren.
Son-in-law Gary Johnson, grandson Andrew Johnson, granddaughter Katie Jo Johnson and her fiance, son-in-law Peter Kearns, and daughter Andrea Kearns in June 2009.
Joan with grandsons Sean & Austin Lemere, son Kenny Lemere, and granddaughter Jaime Armstrong & her husband Kenny Armstrong
Son Kenny with his wife Terri and their sons Sean & Austin
Joan with grandson Joshua Lemere, son of Steven and his wife Teresa
Granddaughter Katie Jo with Joanâ€™s first greatgranddaughter, Bailey Jo Dahlke, born in March 2010
Daughter Andrea with her husband Peter and their daughters Jaime Armstrong & Maddie Kearns
EVELYN BENSON Linda Fuhrman Linda and her husband Kenny Fuhrman live in Big Lake, Minnesota, in the old Evelyn and John Larson home. Linda has a masters degree in healthcare administration and works for the Minnesota Department of Human Services in St. Paul, and Kenny has his own company. They have three children and five grandchildren. They love to travel cross country to visit their kids and grandkids.
Generations Daughter Jennifer with husband Matt Rasmussen, a California Highway Patrol officer and their four children: Jordan, a US Marine recruit; Madison, a star 9th grader; Bryn, a 4th grader dead-set on being a pilot; and Lochlyn, a little cowgirl. They live in Morgan Hill, California.
Son Cris Kelly is a member of One Horse Shy, an Alt-UrbanAmericana-Country-IndieRock group. He and Collaine Brooke Faddis have one child: Calysto Zennan Corvidae Kelly. They live in Portland, Oregon.
Kennyâ€™s pontoon boat on Big Lake
Daughter Leah Bader. She lives in Sacramento, California.
STANLEY BENSON Laneia Bolle
Laneia & husband Tom Bolle are retired and live in Northern California. They have three children: Michael, Jennifer, and Jason; and two grandchildren.
Back: son Jason, Tom, son-in-law Richard Jesswein, son Michael. Middle: Michaelâ€™s wife, Elizabeth, Laneia, daughter Jennifer Jesswein Front: grandchildren Nova & Zane Jesswein Below: son Michael surfing in Monterey, California (photo by wife Lisa Robertson Bolle)
STANLEY BENSON Dannielle Vincench
Dannielle married Richard Vincench in November 1974. They had three children: Victoria, Jared, and Nathan. Dannielle passed away suddenly 29 April 1990 at 40 years. Her husband, who never remarried, was assisted by Dannielleâ€™s father and mother, Stanley and Hazel Benson, in raising her children. Victoria Vincench
Nathaniel Vincench & wife Jami Newcomb, Hazel Benson, Jared Vincench & wife Erica.
Family Reunion The four daughters of Evelyn (Benson) Larson: Linda Fuhrman, Jeannine Porter, Beatrice â€œPatâ€? Christiansen, and Joan Lemere. Pat, with help from her daughter Melisa started planning the event in December 2008. They invited every member of the Benson & Larson families they could find. In the end, about 75 people gathered at the Big Lake home of Linda and Ken Fuhrman. This is the same house in which Evelyn lived before retirement with her husband, daughter Linda, and her mother Beda.
A pre-event get-together was held the day before the reunion at the Lutheran church that Evelyn and John Larson attended for many years, the same place that their 50th wedding anniversary party was held. Everyone who had gathered pictures and videos brought them to share. Joan is looking on as Linda adjusts the photo collage she brought.
Linda and Pat sort more old pictures of the family in the living room of the house where Evelyn and John Larson lived and where Beda Benson died in 1960. Linda and husband Kenny have lived in the home since Evelyn and John retired.
Big Lake, Minn
June 26-27, 2009
Benson First Cousins: Marsha Jovanovic, Bonita Zimmer, Leah Barnacle, Andrea Banker, Linda Fuhrman, Pat Christiansen, Joan Lemere, Jeannine Porter, Kathy De Hoop, Kenny McNeal, Mavis Hansen
Benson-Larson cousins & their families coming from all over the United States to meet at Big Lake, Minnesota
Studying the yards-long family tree compiled by Melisa Christiansen: orange for Larsonâ€™s, green for Bensonâ€™s, and yellow for both. Those attending the reunion, signed the tree. Other features included a video interview of Evelyn Larson by son-in-law Nymer Christiansen (d. 5 Nov 2004); a video of John and Pauline Benson and Evelyn and John Larson made in 1989; and a live demo of the family tree online (ancestry.com ).
The Hagaborg House
The letters speak
Lars “Lasse” Stenman with his wife Margit
House of Franz Mauritz Stenman & Charlotta Wilhelmina Persdotter in Hagaborg, Norrköping, Sweden, circa 1900. Stenman Family is in front: Ida, Beda, Jan, Elvira, Gerda, Tyra (front); Birger, Wilhelmina, Franz Mauritz (back)
Finding the cousins
For nearly 50 years, Beda’s sisters Elvira, Ida, and Gerda as well as her father, Franz Mauritz, and niece Malva, daughter of Ida, wrote her dozens of letters, which her heirs found in her personal effects. Because use of the Swedish language had been lost over the years, no one could understand their contents. In 2006, granddaughter Leah Barnacle, paid for a Swedish translation of the single letter she somehow had in her possession. Then granddaughter Linda Fuhrman, who had most of the letters, paid for translation of about 50 more letters. There remain nearly another 50 that have not been translated. These letters give unique insight into family life in Norrköping, Beda’s hometown. Beda’s family members were city dwellers and not farmers like the Bengtsson family. Her father was a skilled bricklayer and active in the labor union. As time passed into the mid20th century, their lives improved, and they were in a much better position than their daughter/sister who lived in the United States. We do not know what Beda wrote to them; but they longed to see her and pleaded with her to return to Sweden. Sometime in the early 1930s, after he sold his house in Hagaborg, Franz Mauritz sent her $3,000 to return. But it was at that time Beda became gravely ill with diabetes, and the money was spent paying hospital bills instead. Beda never returned to Sweden. At the family reunion granddaughter Beatrice Christiansen organized at Big Lake, Minnesota, in June 2009, interest was generated in the family ancestry and perhaps making a pilgrimage to Sweden. Leah was especially interested in locating Swedish cousins. Through her research using the letters and family tree, she made contact with Lars “Lasse” Stenman, Beda’s nephew, son of Birger Stenman. His name and birth in 1938 were mentioned in one of Franz Mauritz’ letters. Rolf Hallberg, one of Malva’s three children, was mentioned by name in an earlier letter. From these names, the American-Swedish Institute in Minneapolis gave Leah telephone numbers f rom the public telephone directories for Norrköping. She found Lasse Stenman on her f irst call. By accident or fate, Lasse was born more than 30 years after Beda’s f irst child, John Benson, was born, which has given the American Cousins a unique, contemporary connection to their Swedish ancestry. Lasse located Rolf Hallberg, his sisters, Ulla-Brit and Gun and their families, a more diff icult task for a non-Swedish speaker like Leah. Lasse already was in contact with the only other surviving f irst cousin, 91-year-old Svea Enström, daughter of Tyra, Beda’s youngest sister. Tyra and Birger, being the youngest siblings, were not close to Beda, and there appeared to be no correspondence with her. Lasse also helped build out the Stenman family tree by conducting extensive research into the old church records. To date the Stenman family can be traced back to 1714 in Sweden. Samples of the letters and the photos sent to Beda are reproduced on the following pages.
News from home
Hagaborg 7/11/1915 Dear Beda and Elmer and children, A thousand thanks for your dear letter. It was good to hear from you. I will start by telling you that we are all well and healthy and I hope that you are the same. But my dears, you are wearing yourselves out with such hard work. Here is Sweden you would need ten pairs of arms to do the work that you have done alone. We have had a hot and dry summer this year with no rain for a long time. The crops that have not dried up will freeze, so there will be a bad harvest again this year. I have just heard some thunder and we have had a little rain here and there, but it won’t help the crops. I understand that some parts of the country are having very hard times. Yes, I can see by living through these times of war, that man’s eternal slaughter of others will never end. The Germans have done so much harm that the whole world must rise up and crush the huge dragon, but the stupid Swede, what does he do. Yes, he sends everything that is good enough to eat and then raises the prices on our food, and in exchange the Germans sink our ships to the bottom of the sea and what a government and king we have here. The factories and ironworks are busy with manufacturing for the war, but we building workers don’t have anything to do. I have never lived through anything worse. Birger is still doing his military service. God only knows how long they will keep him. He was home for Easter, but since then he has not had any leave, but we have permission to send a bit of money occasionally. He does not get very much to eat in the army. There are many who have already died is this war. You say that you are going to move to South Dakota, but that is a big desert according to what George Anderson has told us. I hope you will find a good place there. When are you coming to Sweden. Will it be while we are still alive. I don’t have anything more to write this time. Mother Bengtsson send her greetings. I think Hjalmar could write once in a while. Don’t forget to write soon. Much love from all of us to you and the children. Written by your devoted father F.M. Stenman
Elvira, Ida, Gerda, & Malva
Translation of the letters was costly and problematic. The Swedish used was archaic and without punctuation. But what was translated provides an intimate look at the Stenman family. Translation of a letter from Franz Mauritz sent in 1915 is shown on the previous page. His letters typically were matter of fact and often contained surprising pieces of news not shared by the sisters. The sisters, on the other hand, wrote about domestic issues, and often complained that Beda did not write back often enough. Elvira frankly told Beda she should find out about birth control because it wasnâ€™t necessary to have so many children because it was not good for her health. Obviously, Beda did not or could not find that information!
The pieces come together
Puzzle of the pictures
An early postcard from Elvira Månsson, Beda’s oldest sister. Elvira wrote many letters to Beda complaining about the life in Sweden and about her treatment by her father, Franz Mauritz Stenman. During research of church records, Lasse Stenman discovered Elvira was a baby born out of wedlock to Charlotta Persdotter and adopted by Franz Mauritz, which may explain some of Elvira’s perceptions that he did not care for her. The postcard shows the building where Elvira and her family were living in 1912.
Going to Hagaborg
The family home On the way to Hagaborg on grandfather’s birthday Erik, Elvira, Gerda, Gustaf Tyra & Svea
Stenman house in Hagaborg around 1915 Franz Mauritz Stenman, Tyra Enström and daughter Svea, Maja Månsson, daughter of Elvira, and Malva Stafstedt, daughter of Ida
Franz Mauritz Stenman
• • •
Tyra with husband Erik Enström Ida Stenman
Life in Sweden
These pictures were all we had, and until we made contact with the Swedish cousins, we did not know who was pictured unless it was written on the picture. •
Stafsted summer house
Fritz & Ida Stafstedt
First birthday party (1954) for the son of UllaBritt, Stephan Gustavsson; other child is the son of Gun, Claes Jonsson. Both were only children.
Ida with Ulla-Britt, Stephan, & Gun
Finding our Swedish roots
In the summer of 2009, Leah Barnacle had begun planning a family group trip to Sweden for 2011, but she wanted to not only visit places but also find living relatives, inspired by the memory of the desire of our father, John Benson, to meet his cousins. The communications she began with Lasse Stenman added to her enthusiasm for planning a group trip. I, in the meantime, had become totally absorbed in, almost haunted by, the family history, spending countless evenings doing research until the earliest hours of the morning. After one restless night reliving the lives of grandmother Beda’s family, I wrote to Leah: Why don’t we just go? Go now, not wait until 2011. I don’t feel like waiting. And, to my surprise, she said: Yes! So on December 4, 2009, we met in Newark, NJ, and flew to Stockholm together, then took the train to Norrköping, Östergötland, in eastern Sweden, during the darkest month of the year. There, thanks to Lasse and his wife Margit, we would see our grandmother’s birthplace and meet for the first time more than two dozen people related to our greatgrandfather, Franz Mauritz Stenman, including his only surviving grandchildren, first cousins of our father: 90-year old Svea Enström and Lasse, himself. Beda Stenman emigrated to the USA in 1905 and became a typical immigrant farmer’s wife in Iowa and Minnesota. The only member of her family to leave Sweden, she was never able to return. So in her honor, Leah and I visited the graves of her parents and sisters and brothers, carrying with us a small rug Beda had made during her old age as a token of bringing her back to Sweden, 124 years after her birth, December 9, 1885—a magical, mystical moment.
Meeting the Cousins
Beda’s nephew, Lars “Lasse” Stenman, youngest son of Birger Stenman, Beda’s younger brother
Beda’s niece, Svea Enström, only child of Tyra Enström, Beda’s youngest sister
Lasse is holding greatgrandfather Franz Mauritz Stenman’s walking stick
From Svea we learned that all letters & photos that Franz Mauritz had received were burned after his death
When Leah called the number she received for Lasse Stenman from the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Lasse himself answered the phone. Introducing herself as an American trying to find relatives of her grandmother’s family surprised Lasse. He was at first skeptical, thinking it sounded like one of those Nigerian scams. But when she asked if he knew Birger Stenman, he knew it was not a hoax. And he answered: he was my father. Thus, began the Swedish cousin connection. Through Lasse’s research and planning, Leah and Marsha’s December trip to Norrköping was a rich family experience. Not only did we enjoy a part of the holiday season in Sweden, Lasse’s wife and children entertained us in their homes and accompanied us to many sites as well. The warm friendship truly brought the Swedish and American cousins together. Pictures previous page: Christmas candles (left)
Graves with Beda’s rug (left) Inlet from Baltic Sea Industrial Landscape, Norrköping Site of Hagaborg house (red shed) Sunset at 3PM from Lasse & Margit ’s window
Pictures at right
December 4-13, 2009
Exchanging gifts at Lasse’s house upon our arrival After Julbord (Christmas time smörgåsbord): Lasse’s son Per, his wife Lena, & daughter Melinda, Lasse’s wife Margit, grandson Mathias Holmlund, and Leah & Marsha
Second Cousins & families
Birger Stenman Gustaf & Lars
Two Daughters of Gustaf & Gunvor Stenman
Sons of Lars & Margit Stenman
Brigitta Byrge with her daughter Mia (top)
Per Stenman with Sexten, the dog (top left) Lena Stenman, his wife (top right)
Gunilla Jonsson (left)
Their children: Melinda & Christoffer (left)
Gunillaâ€™s husband, Rolf Jonsson (left)
Daughter of Gunilla & Rolf, Pernilla Jonsson with Ulf Andersson and their children Madicken & Linus (below)
Mathias Holmlund, son of Johan Stenman with his cousin Melinda
Fredrick Stenman & his wife Asa and their children Felix & Filippa
Ida Stenman Stafstedt Malva Hallberg
Second Cousins & families
Children of Malva & Erik Hallberg Gun with husband Nils-Erik Jonsson (top left) Son of Gun & Nils-Erik, Claes Jonsson & his wife Karin (top right) Grandchildren of Claes & Karin: Erik, Henrik, & Carl (middle left) Gun with Stephan Gustavsson, son of Ulla-Britt (middle right)
Summer 2010 (left) Gun, Ulla-Britt, & Rolf Hallberg (front) Rasmus Gustavsson, son of Stephan, Stephan, Berthold Gustavsson, husband of Ulla-Britt, and Ann-Britt Hallberg, wife of Rolf (back)
Family Tree 2010
Franz Mauritz Stenman
Maja 1905 Sigurd 1906 Karin 1909 Ingrid 1913 (no information)
+Erik Hallberg Gun 1925 Nils-Erik Jonsson Claes 1950 Karin Jonas Erik 2002 Henrik 2004 Carl 2007 +Ulla-Britt 1926 Berthold Gustavsson Stephan 1953 Janet Malin Rasmus Rolf 1928 Ann-Brit Ann-Charlotte Ma-Christina
1888-1918 (accidental death)
+Pauline Barbara 1932 Marsha 1942 Andrea 1945 John P 1946 Leah 1950
+Bob 1909-1970 +Lenore +Dolores 1927 Janice 1937
+Evelyn 1911-1999 +John Larson Jeannine 1929 Beatrice 1931 Joan 1934 Linda 1950
+Irene 1913-1990 +Frank Vahuska Irene 1930 Helen 1933 Frank 1934 Carol 1938 +Dorothy 1940 Suzanne 1948
1ST GENERATION 2nd Generation
Spouse/partner 3rd Generation 4th Generation 5th Generation 6th Generation + deceased
+Monroe McNeal +Dale 1937 Kenneth 1939 +Donald 1942 +Maxine 1944 Mavis 1949 +Douglas 1952 Kathy 1954 Ruby Mae 1955
+Beulah 1917-1965 +George Sweeter +Bruce 1937 +Duane 1940 Joyce 1945 Bonita 1953
+Stanley 1918-2007 Hazel Laneia 1942 +Danielle 1950
+Lucille +Jeffrey Scott 1955 (see bios for generations beyond third)
+Gunvor Birgitta Byrge 1937 Cicilia 1956 Lena 1957 Bo Sandin Johan 1985 Tove 1996 Mia 1960 Serefi 1992 Isak 1994 Inge 1940 Kirsten Lars-Inge 1961 Joakim 1965 Gunilla 1941 Rolf Jonsson Liselott 1966 Michael Lekander Kalle 1996 Kasper 1996 Pernilla 1973 Ulf Andersson Madicken 1996 Linus 1998 +Kristina 1943 Helen 1964 Melinda 1990
+Brita 1921-2005 Nidmund Oias Lena 1953 Anders Sigland Henrik 1986 Hanna 1988 Hans 1963
Margit Per 1961 Lena Christoffer 1988 Melinda 1990 Johan 1965 Mathias 1994 Michaela 1990 Fredrik 1971 Asa Filippa 2003 Felix 2004
A Personal Odyssey When I started working on the Benson family tree in the summer of 2009, I didn’t expect to be captivated—or more accurately captured—by my ancestors as well as their living descendents. But searching old records for one’s history is addictive for some peculiar reason. Most people cannot understand your fascination with all that old stuff. But there are many people out there doing this same thing, and you quickly meet up with them and exchange information and experience. Mariana and Jeff Benson in Orland Park, Illinois, were my first contacts. They had gone to Sweden in search of the actual places where the Benson (Bengtsson) ancestors were born and had lived. Jeff is a descendent of Grandfather Elmer’s oldest brother, Johan, the one who sponsored him for immigration. Jeff is a watercolor artist who paints rustic scenes and old houses. I remembered that I had a picture of a house that I had always been told was the Benson house in Sweden. I scanned the picture and enlarged it to look at it more closely before sending the image to Jeff, thinking it might be a house he had seen the ruins of. It was then I noticed all the people standing in front of the house—a family. Still believing it was the Benson’s, I couldn’t get the people to fit my grandfather’s family. In the meantime, Jeff informed me that it could not be the Benson house. Then like spirits, the Stenman family jumped out at me! I saw Grandma Beda surrounded by her sisters and brothers and her parents. It gave me chills and brought the first of many tears to my eyes. This was my family, the family in Sweden that we had heard about but never knew. The Benson-Larson family reunion came, and thanks to the persistence of “first cousin once removed” Melisa Kaye Christiansen, I decided to fly out to Minnesota for the event. Melisa and I worked together to build out the family tree using ancestry. com, and Melisa made a giant hardcopy tree to bring to the reunion as well. After the reunion, I re-read all of the translated Swedish letters. This time I had faces to go with Elvira, Gerda, Ida, and Franz Mauritz Stenman. I began to feel like I was part of a human drama, which was not unlike the drama of life most of us experience. In the process of this careful reading, I noticed greatgrandfather Franz Mauritz write that her brother Birger and his wife got their little Lasse. The date of
Notes from the author the letter was 5 March 1938. (Four years later on this same day I would be born!) I dutifully entered the name into the family tree, and a few days later my sister Leah noticed it and excitedly commented that we needed to find this Lasse. How could we do it. I really wasn’t interested in “finding” lost relatives in Sweden. I was merely recording their existence. She persisted, and the rest is history. I am so glad she didn’t give up. Lasse has become a wonderful friend and co-researcher in our family history. He has sought out other relatives and retrieved the first “round-trip” letter—the letter sent to Ida from Evelyn telling of Elmer’s death. Early after our contact with Lasse, I began to feel an urgency to go to Norrköping to see Beda’s birthplace, to return to Sweden for her. Leah agreed, and, thus, we made our first family pilgrimage back to our roots in December 2009, the same dark month in which Beda Stenman was born on the 9th day in 1885. Writing this short history of the Elmer BensonBeda Stenman union and the lives of their eight surviving children for our Swedish cousins has been a bittersweet journey. What I thought I could dash off in a few hours turned into many days. Each cousin has a unique story, but with similar themes throughout: work and family. The children of Beda and Elmer were driven. Without exception, they were creative, artistic, enterprising, and ambitious. They sought better lives for their children, and most of their own descendents have realized the American Dream with amazing success. The pain our Grandmother Beda suffered leaving her entire family in Sweden, never to see them again, is difficult to imagine. Her sisters and father wanted her to return so badly. We don’t really know if she was happy in America... but she never complained. Her last days were as an invalid because of the diabetes that plagued most of her life. One leg was amputated. She hated that. She lost her vision. She hated that. She had worked all of her life, and in the end, all she could do was crochet. She became a human crocheting machine. She made dozens and dozens of round rugs. She eventually could not remember anything as her circulatory system hardened and starved her brain of blood. She died the year I graduated from high school, finally free to unite with her family she left so many years before. — Marsha Kay Benson Jovanovic
The American Cousins The author, Marsha Benson Jovanovic, attributes her interest in anthropology to an early fascination with her Swedish grandparents and the “mysterious” language she heard them speaking to each other.
Beda Stenman Benson with the author, 1947
Using the internet-based genealogy web site, Ancestry.com, the author had begun building out her own family tree prior to the 2009 family reunion. As information was accumulated for the reunion, she enlisted help from family members to fill out the tree. Inspired by her father’s intense commitment to family and history, she undertook the writing of this 20th century immigrant story after the lost Stenman cousins were located in Sweden in 2009.
Enlarged image of the Stenman family that captured the author’s imagination and drove her interest in knowing more about her grandmother’s family
Bringing Beda home... the author placing Beda’s small crocheted rug by the graves of her parents, sisters, and brother in Old St. Johannes Cemetery, Norrköping, Sweden, December 2009