Thomas J. Benton

Nov 27th 1933 - Oct 14th 2012

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Thomas Benton possessed admirable traits which made him a likable fellow by friends and family alike. Through his tolerant and modest nature, one could see a rather quiet man who preferred the simple pleasures in life. Thomas exemplified a demeanor of humbleness and was a gentleman of integrity who will be dearly missed and remembered.

While the nation struggled through the worst year of the Great Depression, 1933 saw an unprecedented U.S. jobless rate of over 15 million. At the same time, great strides were being made in the culture of America as Radio City Music Hall opened and The Ranger, the first U.S. aircraft carrier, was launched. Along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Michigan, Earl James and Jacoba “Jessie” (Kalsbeck) Benton had much to celebrate on November 27, 1933 when they welcomed the birth of their son, Thomas.

Thomas grew up alongside his brother, Donald in their family home at 1565 Davis Street. His mother was a devoted homemaker while his father tended to their family business as the owner of Muskegon Paper Box. As a child, Thomas enjoyed a typical childhood for the times playing croquet and painting. From an early age, he took piano lessons, and mastered his skills with profound techique and clarity. Thomas was proud of his accomplishments in this area, along with fairing quite well as a dedicated Boy Scout.

Thomas played the clarinet in the Muskegon High School, Big Red marching band. He was also a member of the golf team. He went on to graduate from Muskegon High School in 1952, and later furthered his education from Muskegon Business College where he received his Associates degree in Business Administration in 1976. It was during these years in 1960 when Thomas and his family experienced the loss of his father. Following service to his country in the U.S. Navy, Thomas was soon involved in the management of the family business prior to his father's death. After his father passed away, his mother, Jacoba began running the daily operations of Muskegon Paper Box until retiring in 1964.

As an adult, Thomas enjoyed a multitude of diverse interests. He continued to play piano, and took in painting from time to time. Travel was a large part of his life, especially through his keen interest of world history, and boating on the family yacht always made for wonderful times. Thomas also thoroughly enjoyed delving into family history. He did extensive research into his genealogy, and traced his family line back to the mid-16th century.

Like his father before him, Thomas joined the Masons and was a member of the fraternity since 1959. He attained the level of 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, and was also a member of the York Rite branch. For five years, Thomas served as the organist for his lodge, and in 2001 through 2002, was awarded the title of Lodge Master. Although always very involved with his lodge, as a Scottish Rite Mason, Thomas was eligible for the Shrine, and joined the brotherhood of clowns. Adopting the name, "Popcorn" as his clown identity with the Scottville Clown Band, he participated in the annual parades which was his greatest pleasure. He chose to walk the parade route each year, even until 2009, the last year he was able to participate.

In 1995, Thomas' world changed in a profound way when he married his wife, Alice. Both were graduates of Muskegon High School, and Alice went on to marry and relocate to the St. Joseph/Benton Harbor area. Years later, following the death of her second husband, Alice reestablished a few connections in Muskegon, serving as an occasional caretaker of Tom's mother. During a bereavement visit after the sudden death of Tom's brother, Tom was quick to propose to Alice before the possibility of losing contact with her once again. It's fair to say Tom's mother, Jacoba played a role in matchmaking, encouraging their union with the highest regard. He also acquired a new family when Alice's children welcomed him into their fold.

Thomas and his Alice were very active at Ecclesia Church, their church home where they both sang in the church choir. Thomas especially looked forward to Sunday services. They also shared a love for travel, and all genres of music. Dining out was one of their favorite things as well as entertaining at home. Throughout the years memorable times were shared on their annual trips to Cancun, and times spent swimming and enjoying cookouts at the family house. As a family, they often gathered around the dining room table for a good game of cards. They always played "99", a fairly fast-paced game, and Tom amused all with his often reflective and introspective thought process while taking his turn. Each time he played a card, he responded with his own quirky version of, "Ahhhh . . . O-K . . . , and it wasn't long before everyone did the same, making it a family joke! No matter who played, "Pops" always won!

In spite of his actions, Tom was a quiet soul who lived simply and humbly. He enjoyed sharing his interest as a world history buff, and was most content pursuing his own interests independently or in small groups, especially after the death of his beloved, Alice. He loved going to movies, and sometimes took in three shows a day. He was a man of simple means who rarely complained or made demands. When it came to his accomplishments, he was modest and humble. Generally a very tolerant man, he was, however, extremely stubborn and stood his ground. When the opportunity presented itself, he was a lively and interesting conversationalist on a number of subjects.

Over the years, Thomas enjoyed his friendships with Bill Jannenga, and Sam Olsen who was the best man at his wedding. He also liked getting together with his Brother Masons, and his church congregation. For the last ten years, several family friends and former neighbors watched over Thomas. Katy, his Yorkie, provided him with company, too. Portraying "Popcorn" the clown brought out the kid in Thomas. Whenever he wore his silly hats, and burst into song without warning, he was in his element. He loved donning his clown garb for the children's worship service at Ecclesia. While quoting silly poems and riddles, nothing brought him greater joy than seeing smiles on the children's face.

Thomas began sharing, through quiet reflection, photographs of days gone by. His family was quite impressed with his genealogy research, and he never spoke of his accomplishments, yet they would have loved hearing more about his earlier exploits and adventures.

Whether family or friend, Thomas was a loyal and dedicated man whose generosity was derived straight from the heart. Truly a special man, he will be fondly remembered for all the qualities that made knowing and loving him all the more worthwhile.

Thomas J. Benton, age 78, died Sunday, October 14, 2012. SURVIVORS: Stepsons, Richard (Cyndi) Johns of SC, Mark (Shari) Johns of MI; stepdaughter, Vicki (Scott) Dial of TX; 12 grandchildren; one great-grandchild. He was preceded in death by his wife, Alice; brother, Donald, parents and his stepfather, Nicholas George. MEMORIAL SERVICE: Saturday, November 3, 2012, 11:00 AM with visitation one hour prior to the service at the Clock Chapel-Muskegon with Rev. Wally Harrison officiating. Interment at Restlawn Cemetery. MEMORIAL: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Ecclesia Church. Please visit to leave a memory or sign his online guest book.

Thomas Benton