Jan. 1, 1938 - Mar. 14, 2014
John Robert Benson, loving husband, father, grandfather, storyteller and advocate for Imperial Valley agriculture throughout the world, passed away from congenital heart failure at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego, CA, on Friday, March 14, 2014.
A native son of Brawley, he was born in his parents, K Street home on January 1, 1938. Later in his childhood, his family moved to just north of town on Hovley Road, where he learned about the challenges of life in the country (which is why he raised his family in town) and the joys of working on the farm. In high school, he attended Boys State, graduating with the History Award from Brawley Union High School in 1955.
A life-long learner, John attended Stanford University, where he was a Phi Delta Gamma brother, rowed freshmen crew, was an officer in Naval ROTC and earned a BA degree in International Relations in 1959. After Stanford, he completed two years of service in the US Navy, rising from Ensign Benson to Lieutenant JG, with an honorable discharge in 1961. Sparked by an interest in the law while in naval service, John immediately entered UCLA Law School, his parents' alma mater. He thrived in law school, serving on Law Review and as junior class president. As a second year law student, John also made his best decision, marrying the love of his life, Carolyn Grace Fletcher of San Diego, CA, on March 2, 1963. John earned his LLB from UCLA in May 1964, where he was awarded Order of the Coif honors for being in the top ten of his class. He immediately passed the California Bar and returned to Brawley to become a third generation farmer.
John was passionate about farming and improving the soil. A well-respected farmer and employer, he was proud of his "Big John" and "Sweet Caroline" onions and often encouraged his fellow farmers to consider different crops and use the latest technologies. Some of the new crops he tried for the Imperial Valley included soybeans, cannery tomatoes, olives and popcorn, with most of his focus on helping to expand the cotton industry. John was President of Planter's Ginning Co. from 1964 until cotton left the valley in 2012. He also served for 44 years as a Director for Calcot in California and served nationally as one of Cotton Inc.'s Directors for 32 years. In addition to running a successful farming operation for 50 years, John followed in his father's political footsteps and was elected to Brawley City Council in 1968. He went on to serve Brawley for twelve years, and then was elected to the IID Board of Directors in 1980. He served for eight years, spending time on the Colorado River board and the California Regional Water Quality board. After leaving the IID, he followed soon after by another twelve years on Brawley City Council, including six as mayor, until retiring at the end of 2009. In all, he represented his community in elected office for thirty-two years. As his legions of friends and even politic rivals can attest, while not a naturally political man, John's focus on solving problems, thinking long-term, and improving the community made his longtime political service especially noteworthy. John was very involved in his local community as a member of Brawley Elks and Brawley Rotary Club. He served for many years as an Elder at First Presbyterian Church of Brawley, where he and Carolyn raised their four children.
He was preceded in death by his parents; Jack Harold Benson and Henrietta Benson Tow and his brother, Robert Henry Benson.
John is survived by his wife of 51 years, Carolyn Grace Fletcher Benson; sister, Barbara Benson Meyer of Alameda, CA sister, Kristin Tow of Gig Harbor, WA; daughter, Grace Fletcher Benson (Clyde) Edgar of Brawley; son, John Frederick "Rick" (Mary-Alice Pardee) Benson of Oakland, CA; son, Stephen Wallace (Ann Rahn) Benson of Brawley and daughter, Laura Whitney Benson (Brük) Vandeweghe of Culver City, CA; his fifteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
He will be missed, but his stories live on in all of us.
Services will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 22, 2014 at First Presbyterian Church of Brawley, immediately followed by a celebration of his exceptional life (and his stories) at Stockmen's Club.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in his honor to First Presbyterian Church of Brawley P.O. Box 1276, Brawley, CA 92227, Pioneers Memorial Hospital Foundation P.O. Box 1571, or Brawley Community Foundation P.O. Box 1344.