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Lake Anne Benston a fitting tribute

Woman who made mark in cemeteries will have historical marker of her own.

It’s now been three weeks and a day since Anne Benston was spirited away from the Forest Glen Health Campus.

And as yet, there’s been no police report.

Blindfolded and in the presence of her second husband, Chuck, she was driven in a four-door sedan to a spot in Ferncliff Cemetery down-slope from where Kelly Lake sits on the hill like an epaulet, fringed by trees.

Because of a broken hip, her slender form was eased from the back seat of the car into a wheelchair, which then was pushed slowly in the direction of a small body of water of which the blindfolded Benston was unaware.

Beneath the heavy canvas tent of the sort used for graveside services, the wheelchair was stopped, her blindfold removed, and Benston found herself surrounded by … friends.

Virginia Weygandt, Kacey Eichensehr and Natalie Fritz were there from the Heritage Center, and genealogists Bob and Flossie Hulsizer and Ted and Linda Smith.

Standing against the back of the tent was Tami Dallenbach, whom Benston helped on her book “Ridgewood: In the Country Club District.”

In front of her stood Paul “Ski” Shanher, co-author with Benston of “Beautiful Ferncliff,” and co-conductor of the fall Ferncliff Tours since the year after Benston and cemetery Superintendent Stanley Spitler initiated them 11 years ago.

Shanher later described his relationship with Benston as a son to a mother, sometimes to the point of the familial squabble.

But this day, dressed in 19th century clothing, he paraphrased the most famous 19th century speech, announcing that God created Anne Benston fourscore and 10 years ago (90 for those keeping score).

In topcoat and tie, Dale Miller, president of the Springfield Cemetery Association, which operates Ferncliff, made the official announcement that one of the two lower ponds created by a recent expansion project would be named Anne Benston Lake.

Matching the spirit of sunshine that almost balanced the cool of the day, Miller also announced that Benston and her husband would have exclusive boating rights.

He also helped to present the metal plaque that will identify the lake and describe for passersby well in the future why it is named for Benston.

Helping to hold the plaque was Spitler, whose sincere regard and respect for Benston is as solid and lasting as the metal monument itself.

The plaque mentions Benston’s receiving the Clark County Historical Society’s Benjamin Prince Award. Otherwise, it related much of the same information contained in the proclamation Mayor Warren Copeland read declaring Nov. 2 Anne Benston Day.

The proclamation also managed to balance the formal “whereases” with more down-to-earth language just right for the spirit of celebration.

“Whereas, Anne Benston has tramped through cemeteries for the better part of her life …. unearthed a myriad of untold stories, dug out treasured genealogies and sifted through tales from centuries past …

“Whereas, when the muddy shoes come off and the cotton gloves go on, (she) is equally as impressive within the halls of the Clark County Heritage Center … it is most fitting that Anne Benston be recognized for her unwavering devotion to the retelling of history.”

Particularly Ferncliff’s.

Benston’s daughter, Michelle Brunner, made the trip from Alaska for the ceremony, and recalled a faraway time in childhood when, as a girl too ill to go to school, she tagged along, or was dragged along, on many trips to Ferncliff.

Her mother “loved the cemetery so much, the beauty of the cemetery, the peacefulness, the importance of the cemetery to the community,” Brunner said. “We would spend hours wandering around, trying to understand the importance of those who came before us and the contributions so many people made.”

“She did it for the love of doing it — and curiosity,” Brunner added.

“I guess it’s called nosey,” Benston herself added.

And her brand of nosiness sticks close to the ground.

During the first few years of the Ferncliff’s fall tours, Benston highlighted Springfield’s more obviously prominent citizens as the tram cars passed by and their huge monuments.

Then she came across Jerome Uhl, whose modest marker doesn’t come close to reflecting the richness of his contributions, and rethought her approach, seeking to include a wider range of more common folks.

One of Benston’s favorite dwellers in what an earlier generation called a “city of the dead” is Ada Adams.

Adams became a doctor after her husband returned from the Civil War a sickly man, then died in childbirth at a time the two were operating a clinic in the Pennsylvania House.

“I thought it was a crime” that her story had been forgotten, Benston said, “because all her life, she was giving to the church and to help children.

“There’s a story behind everybody.”

On Anne Benston Day, she was in her wheelchair saying how much she treasured the tales of common folks who had made uncommon contributions, when she was interrupted by a voice that said: “You know, that sounds a lot like somebody we all know.”

Her penchant for honoring the less honored makes the location of Lake Anne Benston particularly appropriate. Rather than being topographically upscale with the likes of O.S. Kelly, her pond is down-slope and abuts a pond being named for John Dick.

A Scottish immigrant who trained at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, then worked in New York and Cincinnati, Dick came to Springfield in 1863 to design the new rural cemetery that early provided a resting place for Springfield’s Civil War soldiers and later grew into Springfield’s most beloved hallowed ground.

During Dick’s 43 years as superintendent, he lost two children to diphtheria within 10 days, a wife to suicide near the first anniversary of the children’s deaths, and a second wife three years before his own passing.

Those interested will want to look for a notice in the spring, when the cemetery plans to formally dedicate or rededicate all three lakes.

And when that happens, it will be altogether fitting and proper that a woman who has made her mark recognizing the historical contributions of others will have a historical marker of her own.

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