March 23, 1931 – November 20, 2018
Since 1958, if you heard the sound of laughter or a cheerful Spanish song being sung throughout Albion or, in later years, in the halls of Battle Creek's Marian E. Burch Adult Day Care, most likely you found Gilberto Benavidez. At the age of 87, Gilberto, or Benny, as most people called him, was welcomed into the arms of his Savior, Jesus Christ, on Tuesday, November 20, 2018. Although Benny had spent over 50 years in Albion, Michigan, he was born in Harlingen, Texas and was raised by his parents Merced Campos and Francisco Benavidez and his birth mother Martina San Miguel, all of whom have preceded him in death. Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, Benny’s work life began very early. Throughout elementary school, he proudly worked at a laundromat/dry cleaner and bakery. While around the tender age of 10, he saved the lives of workers by alerting them to the overheating of a boiler in the basement of the facility. Young Benny, observant of the older workers’ earlier procedures, was even able to turn down the boiler to enough of a degree to stop an explosion before running for help.
Even as a child migrant worker, he was proud of working the fields because this was not only helping to clothe and feed his family but also his fellow Americans. Later in his adult life as a factory worker, he felt this same kind of fulfillment since he and his fellow workers were a part of building this nation.
His desire to protect others led him to join the National Guard and then the US Army. In the early 1950s, he was stationed in Germany, where he met his lovely wife Gisela Frenzel, a ballet dancer whom he adored. Gaining the trust of his fiancé’s family with his honest desire to learn about the German culture and to build a true friendship with her family, he wooed his future wife by playing the accordion and singing to win her hand.
Returning to the United States after honorable service to his country, he supported his wife and, eventually, his two daughters Cornelia and Sylvia working as a gardener, mechanic, foundry worker, and cemetery sexton. Not only was Benny talented at fixing all kinds of things with his hands, his Christian service touched those in need of emotional and spiritual support. In his later years, he volunteered as a Spanish Christian Radio Broadcaster at a local radio station. His cheerful voice and earnest reading of the Scriptures offered comfort to many Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers alike throughout Calhoun County. One person told him something to the effect that he didn’t know what Benny said, but it moved his Spirit.
A friend recently said of him, “No one was a stranger to Benny.” His love of helping people was a deep part of who he was and a natural response to his loving relationship with Jesus and his Christian faith. His command of German, Spanish, and English together with his gift of telling a good story went a long way in helping him to make people feel at ease. This made him ideal as a volunteer Spanish translator for the Albion Police Department and a dispatcher for the volunteer Ambulance Service in the ‘70s. Because he worked the fields at such a young age, he did not get his high school diploma until he passed his GED tests as an adult. Benny's love of education and for America led him to teach English to foreign speakers in the adult education GED program in Albion. He had a big heart for veterans too and spent his later years volunteering at the Battle Creek VA Center, the VFW, and the American Legion as well as St. Paul's Lutheran Church, where he and his family had been members for many years.
One of Benny’s favorite hobbies was collecting, polishing and delicately carving stones. His favorite was the Petoskey, the state stone of Michigan. He enjoyed reading newspapers, books and magazines about science and history and, of course, his beloved Bible. Benny enjoyed gardening, and his pink peonies in Albion continue to be gorgeous even after almost 40 years! In his retirement, he cherished traveling throughout Michigan with his wife Gisela visiting lighthouses and bird sanctuaries before she passed away in 2016. But his greatest joy had been and always will be singing, whether to himself, with family, or to the Lord. Keep an ear out now for a beautiful tune, and then let it inspire you to share a kindness with a stranger just as Benny would have shared one with you! Gilberto Benavidez is remembered by his daughters Sylvia Benavidez and Cornelia Benavidez (husband John Doyle and foster daughter Kaitlin); his nephew Diedrich (wife Renate) in Germany; his brothers Francisco and Domingo; his sisters Josephine and Guadalupe; his cousin Tony (wife Carmen); and many more relations throughout Texas, California and Michigan too numerous to list. A Memorial Service will be held in honor of Gilberto Benavidez at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on 100 Luther Blvd. in Albion on Sunday, December 2nd, at 3:00 p.m., followed by a light early supper.
Memorial donations can be given to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the Albion District Library’s Programming Department or Local History Room, or the Lewey Bodies Association.
Arrangements entrusted to J. Kevin Tidd Funeral Home, 811 Finley Drive, Albion, MI 49224
- Memorial Service Sunday, December 2, 2018
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December 3, 2018
dearest sylvia and cornelia,thank you for sharing the beautiful stories of your parents lives together. what a love story! your mom and dad both lived honorable,hard working and 'giving' lives, but their greatest legacy is in bringing up two wonderfully gifted, kind and honorable children that the world gets to enjoy. thank you gilberto and gisela. job well done.
Virginia Cram Martos
December 3, 2018
Some of my favourite memories of Albion are of Benny trying to teach me Spanish when I was 9 or10 years old and then of visiting Rieger Park or going to Lopez Taco with Benny, my husband and my children during our annual summer visits. Benny is no longer with us, but his memories, and the smiles that they bring, remain to warm our hearts.
December 2, 2018
I remember Benny as a warm harted and friendly person with a lot of wit. When he was in Germany after the war he was a good friend to my father and later to me, his nephew, even though we could not see each other often. I always adored how easily he could win other people's hearts, no matter their temperament or social background. Benny was a great man.
December 2, 2018
Cornelia and Sylvia, sending you love and condolences for the loss of your beloved father. May you find comfort in each other's arms during your time of grief. Deborah
December 1, 2018
We will have fond memories of a very kind man. Our peace and comfort is knowing we will be together again.
November 28, 2018
Absolutely loved caring for this adorable man. He was a great pleasure to be around always made me smile. I'll miss you my sweet guy! ❤️
November 28, 2018
Dear Cornelia and Sylvia,
I will always remember the night that Mr. Benavidez came to my house when I was giving a party in San Francisco. He was warm and gracious and entertaining. All my guests enjoyed meeting him and hearing his singing.
What a lovely man who will be greatly missed.
November 28, 2018
They both chose remarkable women to share their lives, they both chose the same sweet neighborhood to raise their families. They worked shoulder to shoulder swinging hammers to help build St. Paul's Lutheran Church and they often times stood next to each other singing in the church choir. I can't help but think our dads have already met up to greet one another in heaven. Holding you close in my heart, Sylvia and Cornelia. Sending love, Nancy Ruppel Gamble
November 27, 2018
My prayers are with you for the passing of your father, Your Father was a faithful church goer
when he was able. I missed seeing him these last couple of years.
Theresa Page Flores
November 25, 2018
Cornelia and Sylvia,
I am so sorry for the loss of your father. I posted on your mother's site and then thought I should look at the same funeral home and found your father. May God bless you and give you strength and comfort.
November 25, 2018
He had a beautiful voice, and my mother would come outside to listen when he was singing and doing yard work. He was a great friend and neighbor.
Retha Osborne Bell
November 21, 2018
So very sorry for your loss. Gilberto was a wonderful person and always had a smile. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you during this time.