June 10, 1922 - Nov. 17, 2013
Resident of Belmont
Barbara Benkman passed away in the early morning of November 17th at the age of 91 with her family at her side. She was able to stay in her beloved home in the Belmont hills until two weeks before her death.
Barbara grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota with her two brothers and sister, Warren, Truman, and Carol, all of whom she remained close to until their deaths. Her father and mother, Abner and Mildred Bjorklund, were children of Swedish immigrants. Her father was a dentist and died when she was 12 years of age in the middle of the Depression. Barbara had completed two years of college when World War II broke out. When her brother and other friends joined in the war effort overseas, Barbara joined the U.S. Navy, and was stationed in Washington, DC.
In 1946, with the war over, she and her close friend Joyce Jackson hitched a ride from Minnesota to California. She found a room in a boarding house on Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco and began work at the San Francisco Airport Weather Bureau where a young Captain just out of the Air Force named Walter Benkman worked as a meteorologist. They went out on a date in December, were engaged in January, and married in May. It was a whirlwind romance that she retold in beautiful detail in her 1984 essay "Times to Remember." After moving to San Francisco and meeting Walt, she writes, "I was so thrilled to be back in San Francisco after going home for the holidays...but I didn't know then what an exciting life I would be entering." And thus it began: the love of her life, three boys, many camping trips throughout the West and Canada, basketball and baseball games, music recitals, close friends and families, 27 years until Walt's death in 1974.
All during that time Barbara was involved in civic activities, an avid tennis player, and a fine poet. After Walt's death she continued working at the Belmont Library and after retirement volunteered in various organizations, including several years at Kaiser hospital. In the last decades of her life she supported dozens of environmental and socially progressive causes, took up golf, and travelled extensively, including one Christmas vacationing in the jungle near the border of Belize in a thatched hut with her sons and their families.
She was very proud of her three sons and seven grandchildren, all of whom she remained very close to. She is survived by her three sons and daughters-in-law: Noel and Valerie of Orinda, CA, Bryan and Gwen of Seattle, WA, and Craig and Jennifer of Laramie, WY. In addition, she is survived by seven grandchildren: Theresa, Walter, Katherine, Colin, Anna, Matthew, and Mark.
There will be a celebration of her life on January 1st. Please contact her son Noel at 925-639-2954 if you would like to participate.
Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Dec. 15, 2013