DEL CITY —
More than 100 members of the Benne family gathered Saturday for their biennial family reunion, but this year, among the Dymeks, Wellses, Morrises, McDaniels, trays of comfort food and fellowship, the clan converged to honor their most revered, Earl Benne.
“If one person deserved this recognition, he did,” said Vicki Wells, 59, of her uncle. “He is the patriarch of this family.”
The longtime Edmond resident, Benne, 97, is a living reminder of the city’s roots. The self-described “country boy” farmed fields in Deer Creek, drove a team of horses for the oil industry and answered the nation’s call during World War II. As the oldest of 12 children in a close-knit family, Earl provided an example for his younger brothers and sisters even after the passing of their parents.
“It is hard to put into words,” said Oneta McDaniel, 72, of her brother and the admiration she feels for him. “He made sure we were all taken care of. We were like his children. He has been very generous.”
Circumstances could have been very different for the Benne family. During his enlistment in the Army, Earl was part of a group of 34 men captured following a battle in Italy. He endured captivity from May 12, 1944, to April 22, 1945. The family had no knowledge of Earl’s whereabouts or condition until his first letter arrived at home.
“It was a very stressful time for my mother,” McDaniel recalled prior to the letter’s delivery. “The mailman started out at the end of the block honking his horn. He knew it was going to be a very important letter.”
More letters would follow until Earl’s eventual return home. It would be several years before Earl recovered from his war experiences, but it did not hinder him from embracing the love and support from the family.
“Uncle Earl opened his house to everyone,” Wells said. “It was so much fun, and he loved to tease all the kids.”
After a lifetime of giving to his loved ones, the Benne family selected their reunion and, more appropriately Flag Day, to show Earl how much he has meant to them.
Back in March sisters Joyce Dymek, 64, and Linda Morris, 66, discussed the idea of constructing a Quilt of Valor for their Uncle Earl.
“We thought it would be good for the reunion,” Dymek said. “So we called around to make sure Earl would like it.”
Quilts of Valor began as a project by Blue Star parent Catherine Roberts. She was inspired by her son, Nathanael’s, deployment in Iraq. She sought for a way to welcome home veterans with “love and gratitude.” According the Quilts of Valor Website more than 95,000 quilts have been constructed and presented to the nation’s veterans.
The response was overwhelmingly positive and the quilters began in March.
Several months later the quilt was completed and reunion planned. The largest roadblock to the presentation might have been Earl himself.
The former oil field worker is very modest and does not like the spotlight turned on him.
“I appreciate everything,” he stated. “I’m just an old country boy. I don’t want anyone to know too much about me.”
While Earl will not say it or even acknowledge it, his brother Carl, 82, has no problem voicing it for him.
“He deserves it … for all he has been through over the years,” Carl said of the reunion recognition. “Family is important. They come first. He has meant the world to us.”
FOR MORE information on the Quilts of Valor visit www.qovf.org.