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Monday, May 7, 2012

1887-2012: Benson Nebraska Celebrates 125 Years

My family does not wait for “Small Business Saturday” to roll around to patronize small local businesses. The Benson Business District is located just blocks from our house, but unlike strip malls or developments in suburban areas, the business district and the Benson Community have 125 years of history. With the celebrations in 2012, there will be even more community activities and entertainment close to home. Being the second generation raised in the Benson area, I feel the roots of my family all around me in the neighborhood, in the churches where family and friends have worshiped, and in the buildings where my family has shopped for three generations.

The town was named for Erastus Benson who founded it in 1887.  It was annexed by the city of Omaha in 1917.

Benson is known as a “City in a City.” When my grandfather bought his first home in the Benson area in the 1945, he said that the city limits were 66th Street. In Benson, one can visit a salon, invest money, dine, create your own art or take yoga lessons. Treasures await those who have an eye for vintage and antique items. If you need to send a package, there is a Post Office right in the district where my uncle and neighbor both worked many years as a mail carriers. In addition, medical needs can be met at doctor’s offices, dentist offices, podiatrists, and therapists in the business district.

There is a variety of dining choices and bars in Benson. The Pizza Shoppe, which has a zesty something that I sometimes crave, has been the site of my families’ parties. It is a venue for local entertainers to perform and holds writers’ workshops. In April and May, they are hosting brunches to raise funds for the restoration of the historical Benson Theatre building where my mom viewed movies on the big screen. An area diner, Leo’s, has hamburgers that are true Americana. Espana is a restaurant brings the traditions of Spain right to Benson as it serves appetizers. Beercade is the new bar on the block and features pin ball machines and retro video games.

In addition to the banks in the area where my parents and I have accounts at now, there is also Metropolitan Building & Loan where you can earn interest on your savings. When my mom was a youth, she and the neighborhood children took the profits from their small carnival to purchase a Money Order made out to their charity of choice. At the time, the owner and founder, Leroy Brown worked at the bank with his son Ralph Brown. Now Ralph Brown who is in his 80’s works there with his son Skip Brown. Saving money there comes with personal service and a friendly conversation if you like. Using old fashioned registers and writing down customers’ records by hands are touches that I really appreciate. When tax season comes around, I trust them with my work. Real Estate and Estate Law are other services provided here.

Another place where my family never feels like a number is Jane’s Health Market. Every few to several months, I may make an outing with my parents to Benson, but I am a beneficiary every day that I partake of the vitamins and other items purchased at Jane’s Health Market. In addition to wide aisles of health products, there is also a Deli where you can purchase fresh items. It is such a lovely place as they restored the molded tin ceilings and use the floor space to be very inviting for gathering with tables near the deli and a sitting area in another section. If you time it right, you may be able to get fresh from the oven bread, which is baked in a building connected to their store.

Perhaps no place is steeped with as much history for my family as the Benson Branch Library. Checking out books as a child improved my mom’s literacy. When I was a child, 10 books over the summer in your reading level could earn me a little celebrity status when a certificate was delivered to my grade school wrapped in a ribbon. The basement is where my mom took baton lessons as a child. There are two people that I really associate with the library. My Aunt Anne Rickels who worked as a librarian at the Benson Branch before I was born. Through the years she patronized the library and from what I was told was never late in returning a book. Knowing how circulation at a library is important, she would have books brought from other libraries there for her to borrow rather than get them sooner by going directly to the source. When another new library in town was built, she said it should have been money used to enhance the Benson library, which she called the “step sister.” When Hal Daub, a graduate of Benson High School, was Mayor the library was enlarged keeping the integrity of the original building and matching the brick façade outside to the original. My aunt was said to have tears of joy when she witnessed this expansion.

Charlotte Hauser showed how much one citizen can do when they put their mind and heart into it. She may have read every book she get her hands on as a child and today children’s hands still wrap around books bought with funds she raised for the effort. She raised money with Garden Walks where people paid a few to see the greenery and blooms.

In addition, to individual gardens, Benson now has a community garden where citizens can volunteer.  The Benson area will be even more “green” with upcoming landscape additions to this urban area that will include more plants, trees, improved traffic flow, and better pedestrian accessibility.

Given the fact that the town of Benson in its inception supplied the needs of farmers in surrounding areas, it is fitting that there is now a Farmer’s Market right in Benson with fresh produce that changes as different crops come in season in our area.

The Benson Business District, Benson Neighborhood Association, students at Benson High and area Churches sometimes team together for open houses, parades and other socials. Going back to childhood, I liked going with my family to meet cousins at the Benson Sidewalk Sale on a hot day in July close to my Birthday. In addition to the usual traditions, there will be even more fun and celebration as Benson celebrates its 125th. The festivities kicked off in March. The weekend of July 27th will be filled with concerts in fireworks in Benson Park. Other activities include a pancake breakfast, interfaith Church service at Gallagher Park, and a Benson Days Festival with a Kids Zone area.

Several years ago, I kept erasing my thoughts about the changing face of Benson on an essay test, which was part of the English section of a standardized test because I really wanted to convey my feelings. There is so much more I would love to say and my description is by no means complete. I am continually finding something new and wonderful in Benson as we pass through the area. In this area so rich in history, one needs to bring a sense of discovery as he or she explores the “city in a city.”
-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2012 population-we, LLC 
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  1. I grew up in Benson, living just south of the Benson Post Office. I went to "Dr. Bob" at the Benson Medical Center; shopped at Ross' IGA for my Mom, had a savings account at Commercial Savings & Loan; shopped at Sprague's Pharmacy, Tober's, Haney Shoes, Ben Franklin's, Hested's & had ice cream at Hollywood Ice Cream. My sister worked for J.M. McDonald's clothing & I took baton lessons upstairs above the fire station. Oh, & my Dad used to have a 2nd, part-time job as a bartender at the Mussette.

    I was married in Immanuel Lutheran Church because the church I grew up in (First English Lutheran Church) had disbanded & oved out west to become Rejoice, but they didn't have a building.

    My Mom, in her younger days, also worked at Topp's & my sister worked at the Benson Florist during high school. She graduated from Benson in 1959 & I graduated in 1968.

    Wish I still lived in Benson, but now I reside in Iowa, but do go back as often as I can.

    1. My reply will be visible below once the moderator(Becky has a chance). Please scroll down to the lower comments. I had comments in between because this hadn't posted yet when I commented. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. As is often the case when I make a post, I am not able to encompass everything I want to say due to space constraints(they say a blog shouldn't be too long so I try to limit it). Therefore, I try to supplement in the comments.

    I would be very remiss if I did not mention the Benson Community Center. This links gives the history of this building, which was at one time the City Hall and Fire Station. It is located near the library. It has served the community offering classes. I took a noncredit Spanish course offered through through Metro Tech Community College there. As a youth, my mom weaved a basket there. I loved the dance recital where my lil' sis Becky Bohan Brown showed her "hill toe, hill toe" skills. Many a youth has shot hoops in the gym. A friend's son took GED courses there. Yet, this resource has not been used enough by my family and probably the community. Of course, there are many good things that happen there and in Benson of which I am not aware.

  3. Here is the link about the Community Center.,_Nebraska)

  4. What used to be there? My family often discusses this among ourselves and with others in the Benson area. A favorite landmark in Benson was the Hobby Center, where people could get supplies for their hobbies and also purchase fine toys. I hope this isn't too sentimental to post, but my mom purchased my last baby doll there. It was the prettiest doll I ever had and may have had a model pose for it. Many share my fondness and bond with this landmark where they dreamed of what they waned in their youth.
    Now Ella's is there.

    We used to go to the Pink Door for Ceramics but I am not positive where it was. It had a stage so it may have been where the theater was. We had good times taking turns over the summer painting a piece of our choice that would be fired for us. We found out that Brian Brown's mom also painted ceramics there(maybe Becky and Brian crossed paths then.)

    Jane's Benson Health Market was Sprague's Pharmacy when I was a youth. I purchased a lot of gifts there through the years and liked the friendly clerk.

    Ben Franklin was a fun place to go as a youth too as there were shelves of toys. It seems like they also had spools of thread towards the front. I think it was a five and dime chain store when it started. Later, the Hardware Store was there for a time. It is a very good location as a large parking lot is behind it. I think we often went in the back door.

    I am sad to see businesses go that have added a lot to the community. It is always exciting when something promising that will benefit the community opens.

  5. At Hargiss Stringed Instruments, you can get more history than I can relate as pictures are on the wall and the owner is very informed of the history. I am sorry to hear he may be moving out of Benson as he has been here for 20 years and so vital to the area. I wish him well and know that the Benson Community will carry him in our heart. Here is a link and you can see the wonderful architecture.

  6. Anonymous, it is so neat to hear your history. Immanuel Lutheran Church has a large place in my heart too as my mom was raised in that Church and my Grandma taught Sunday School there. Thank you for sharing! --Barb Bohan

  7. Benson Hair Design is right in the heart of the Benson Business District and the owner Roger Bennett provides wonderful service. He also is often in the know about what is good on the menu on the nearby restaurants. Having been in the area for 20 years, he has seen a lot of changes in Benson and likes the positive changes of late and feels that a person can have a nice time right at the dining choices here. He can usually tell what new businesses are coming whether it is a new art studio or any venue. Also, he can tell you where he has found great bargains and collectibles in the area. There is a nice ambiance there with his massive fern and plants in the arched windows and his Art Nouveau motif. From two happy customers.

  8. I thought I would elaborate on therapies available in the Benson area. I get a match in google for physical therapy in Benson at the Premier Physical Therapy and also at the Omaha Yoga and Body Work Center.