Eileen Agnes Bentley
Eileen Bentley had a rich and full life, matched by the richness and fullness of her big heart. She left this world on June 16th, 2020, but she will never actually leave, because the lives she touched in so many ways will in turn touch other lives, in helpful ways for time to come.
Born on a farm in Iowa in 1922, weathered through the Depression, sent to live at her grandparents' home because there were too many children at home, suffered through the loss of her parents' farm and subsequent move into their tiny town, witnessed her polio-afflicted older sister in an iron lung for a year as a teenager, traveled on a troop train with that same sister to California during WWII to live with another sister, met the love of her life at a cafeteria in Long Beach, CA, married him and raised four children: Eileen Agnes O'Brien Bentley knew how to fight and survive.
Eileen's grandparents came separately from Ireland during the potato famine, and landed not on Ellis Island, but in the Port of New Orleans in 1853. Her father, Thomas O'Brien, was born in 1886 in Illinois but then traveled to Iowa by covered wagon. Eileen's mother, Agnes Kelly, also born in 1886, married Thomas O'Brien in 1915.
Eileen's parents settled in Belle Plaine, IA, and seriously could have been the family portrait for the Grant Wood painting, "American Gothic." Stoic, strict Catholics, they raised their seven children to work hard, do chores and not complain. Grandma O'Brien cooked every day for the folks who worked the farm: food and pies in the afternoon, food and cakes in the evening.
Eileen, one of 3 sisters and 4 brothers, got the cooking gene. Her sister Margaret, the one in the iron lung in her teenage year, got the sewing gene (she sewed Eileen's daughter Colleen's prom dresses). Her oldest sister, Marcella, had already moved to California, and she got the traveling gene. Eileen and Margaret hopped a troop train during the beginning of WWII, loaded with Iowa fried chicken, corn and salad from Grandma O'Brien, and headed to California to be with sister Marcella to help her save the world during WWII. They shared that food with the troops and became favorites on the train.
A favorite story Eileen told is how during the war she had three dates every night. The first one she would have dinner with, then she would meet another guy and go to a movie, and then she would meet a third and go dancing. She performed these acrobatics until she met a special soldier.
The man who would become the Bentley patriarch, Robert "Sarge" Bentley, was born in Colorado Springs, Co, in May 1917-a football star in high school who said his on-field broken leg happened because he wanted to impress the cheerleaders. Handsome and witty, he was drafted into the Army in 1941 and was a waist-gunner in a B-17 for 35 missions, mostly over Germany during WWII.
Stationed in Fort McArthur in San Pedro, CA, he lived in the YMCA in Long Beach. He often went to Mannings Cafeteria on Pine Street in Long Beach. One day, Eileen, then working at Mannings, pushed aside the other gals, and said she would carry this handsome serviceman's tray.
They dated, then married in May 1947 in Las Vegas. Back in Long Beach, they had their first daughter in 1948, and their second in 1949 when Sarge was in the reserves. To mom's annoyance, he was called back to serve during the Korean War, spending most of his time in Japan. With two little girls in tow, she took the train to the Army recruitment station in San Diego and vigorously objected to the folks there on how she had to take care of two small kids with little support from the service. Like a good fighter, Mom got Sarge to come home about a year after his time in Japan.
Eileen was a mom, and then some. Friends of all of her children would regularly come over to the Bentley household on Fairbrook St., eat, talk and sprawl out, and the Bentley parents, remarkably, presided over the chaos with good cheer. They would regularly ask about all the kids' friends years later. Add to that the Bentley parents' broad roster of friends, and you have a house filled with activity, and most often, laughter, because all the Bentleys loved good times and good humor.
They had two more children, two boys, and settled into a middle-class life with mom staying home and dad working at the Ford Motor Co. plant. Came the late 1950s, and a plant shutdown, Sarge was unemployed for a while. Mom had to help provide for the family, and went back to work, leaving four children at home. The eldest at 10-11 soon learned-sort of-to cook, and Eileen went to work at the Park Pantry restaurant chain, soon moving to managing one or two of the restaurants/cafeterias.
She saw all the kids through high school, saw them move out (and occasionally move back in), saw some marry, some divorce, some to partner up, one to have a child. She dealt graciously and lovingly with Sarge's Alzheimer's, which deepened over his later years, though they managed to keep him at home, and he was happy and always recognized his wife with a smile until his passing in 2011.
She is survived by her daughters Colleen and Kathleen Bentley, and by her sons, Rick Bentley and his wife Cindy May, and Tom Bentley and his longtime girlfriend, Alice Bourget, her grandson, Zach King, and several nieces and nephews.
Speaking for all of the Bentley children, through the years, our mother would offer us good counsel, financial support when necessary, and love. We always willingly took the love, because we knew there would be more to come. To the end of her days, she never ran out.
Funeral Mass will be held at 10am on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at St. Joseph Church, Long Beach, CA, followed by burial at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach. Restricted attendance at the service and the gravesite because of Covid-19. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Pathways Volunteer Hospice, 4645 Woodruff Ave., Lakewood CA 90713. (562) 531-3031, or www.pathwayshospice.org.
Luyben Dilday Mortuary 562-425-6401 www.luybendilday.com