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Life Story / Obituary
In many respects, Jack Bennett defined the meaning of devoted husband, father, and grandfather. His dedication to his students and numerous, dear friends was without end, and his passions and varied interests exemplified Jack’s one of a kind nature. Inspiring, creative, talented, and inventive, Jack was loyal and trustworthy, and he was someone with whom others could rely for an honest opinion and a positive word of encouragement. He lived fully and completely at every opportunity surrounded by those he held most dear, leaving a lasting legacy to be remembered always. A gentleman to all, his generous and kind, personable nature and fun loving ways will be deeply missed and treasured.
By 1935, life was greatly defined by the trials of the Great Depression, yet Americans forged on with lasting hope. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected to a second term while Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire danced their way into the hearts of many. Born on December 1, 1935 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jack Ramsey Bennett was the only son of Star and Freda (VanDam) Bennett. Having been raised alongside his older sister, Navarre, his family made their home on the west side of Kalamazoo on Solon Avenue before moving to a home on Sabin Street. Fond childhood memories for Jack also included growing up with his cousins, Jeff and LuAnn.
Jack’s father attended Parson’s Business School and worked as an accountant for many years. An avid photographer, he possessed a love for learning which he clearly passed on to Jack. Having also attended Parson’s Business School, Jack’s mother worked as an executive secretary. Both of his parents highly valued a good education and they strived to provide the best education and experiences for Jack and his sister.
Jack attended Western's Campus School through the third grade. In order to conserve gas during WWII, Jack was transferred to Country School on Nichols Road for his later elementary years as he could walk to school. From his earliest years, Jack enjoyed the friendships of many. He loved animals and spent much of his time playing tricks on people with his pet crow, Charlie whom Jack taught to talk. As a child he was a member of the Boy Scouts, and during his youth he taught swimming at the YMCA. He went on to attend Woodward Junior High before graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School on Westenedge Avenue.
After high school during the summers, Jack worked for Consumers Power as a lineman while furthering his education at Western Michigan University. There Jack completed his Bachelor of Science Degree, and attained his Master of Arts. Jack also acquired his forever helpmate and life companion while an undergrad at WMU when he met the love of his life, Elsie. With a deep, abiding love, the two were happily married at Kanley Chapel on the campus of WMU, the beginning of wonderful years in which they shared the love of family and experienced the joys of life together, hand-in-hand.
A lifelong educator, Jack primarily taught high school art for the Kalamazoo Public Schools for over 30 years, educating and influencing over 6,000 students. Jack first taught at "Old Central," the high school from which he graduated. It was during these early years when Jack and Elsie began a family of their own with the births of two children, Tod and Tammy. Jack not only influenced those around him as an educator, but at home he raised his children with nurturing, unconditional love. He was an example to live by, and he offered his children a good, solid foundation. One of Jack’s great loves in his younger years included riding his motorcycle. Great memories are fondly remembered when recalling the many exciting rides he took his children on around Kalamazoo during these unforgettable adventures.
As a young couple, Jack and Elsie took their children, along with the family dog on many camping trips all over the wilderness of Michigan. Jack’s love of nature and teaching were prevalent as he taught his children how to make sunglasses from birch bark, identified the various species and types of trees, pointed out how and why nature developed, and toasted countless marshmallows over their many campfires. In addition, their family enjoyed numerous trips to art galleries, museums, and historical sites all while exploring Jack's many intellectual loves. In the 1980s, Jack and his family traveled to Paris, France to visit the Louvre and other incredible sites.
Jack’s favorite times included enjoyable times at home having family backyard pool parties, watching his children and eventually grandchildren play, swim, and explore their beautiful wooded area. They were wonderful hosts when they entertained, and they enjoyed a very close, family relationship with Elsie’s sisters and their families. As a family they gathered often with their nieces and nephews where great times were always enjoyed.
Playing the banjo throughout his life was a talent Jack shared with his family, and he inspired his children to pursue music, as well. Jack's love of music and his picking talents were also loved by his grandchildren, too. Jack’s positive outlook in life truly motivated those who shared his company. He also loved sharing his wit and wonderful, silly sense of humor with everyone he met. While his puns often caused his family to roll their eyes, Jack always found a way to bring levity and humor appropriately to their lives.
After retiring from Loy Norrix High School in 1988, Jack taught classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, sharing his skills with airbrush. During his retirement he also taught as an adjunct instructor as a University Coordinator for intern teachers at Western Michigan University. Many of Jack's former students kept in contact with him through the years, sharing their successes and the impact he had on their lives and he derived great satisfaction from these connections. He was honored with art awards and many commendations from students. Through his artistic talents, Jack donated three, large scale artworks to WMU, including, "The Big African", a wood sculpture housed in Bigelow Hall, "The Three Masks", metal sculpture hung in the WMU Student Center, and a 52-foot mural he designed and painted along the wall in the WMU Student Center cafeteria, although it has since been removed during renovations.
Jack was very creative all his life, not only through art, but through creating, inventing, and fixing things by hand. Jack's love of engineering and design led to many projects out in his Art Barn. He not only crafted beautiful wood sculptures, but he also built many replicas of cannons and other military items inspired by his love of history. Jack had an insatiable passion for reading-everything from history to current events to fiction. He also shared his love of travel with Elsie when later they traveled to destinations such as Germany, France, Austria, Hungry, and the Czech Republic creating lifelong memories. He adored sailing with Elsie, and together they joined a racing club with their sailboat that took them on a tour of the beautiful Michigan lakes where they spent much time both in and out of the water! Their favorites remain Crystal and Torch lakes in northern Michigan followed closely by Lake Michigan. They eventually bought a second home near Lake Macatawa, joining the yacht club there.
Lifelong friends with a group of Loy Norrix teachers, Jack traveled annually to northern Michigan for "hunting trips", often arriving home with artistic finds from Gwen Frostic studios, intriguing pieces of nature, and many great stories. He also enjoyed and valued many longtime friendships from high school, college, and his years of teaching. Some of these special people include Les Greene, Dave and Norma Hills, Stan and Mary Jones, and the Macleod brothers, Gerard, David, Bob, and George.
Jack's creativity, humor, love of reading and nature live on strongly through his children and grandchildren. Most importantly, Jack was a lifelong educator, reaching, teaching, and touching thousands of young lives. His family cannot go anywhere without hearing "I had Jack Bennett as MY teacher in high school!", and it became a family joke that they couldn’t take him anywhere without running into someone he knew from school, yet Jack enjoyed the teaching profession immensely and many of his students became lifelong friends he fondly remembered.
In the heart of Jack Bennett there remained a deep love for all things good. He was musically talented, inspired by history, intellectual and creative, and artistically talented. For Jack, the glass was always completely full as he explored life with a zest and passion all his own. Deeply missed, he will be remembered fondly and with joy.
The full and compelling life of Jack Ramsey Bennett ended on Friday, February 26, 2016 at the age of 80. He was preceded in death by his parents and one sister, Navarre Bennett. Jack is survived by his wife of 55 years, Elsie Irene Bennett; two children: son, Tod (Susan) Bennett and daughter, Tammy Douglas. He leaves three wonderful grandchildren: Sunny Bennett, Alyssa and Kendall Douglas along with special family friend, Lucca Russell. Jack is also survived by nieces, nephews, and cousins. His sister-in-law, Doris (Charles) Miller and MaryJane (Tom) Evans were not only relatives but very close and dear friends; close family relatives: Greg (Amanda) Miller and Christy Miller, Tom (Joy) Frazier and Tim (Kathy) Frazier and their children; cousins, Jeff (Susan) VanDam and LuAnn Turner and their children.
The family wishes to thank Dr. Robert Lefevre for his many years of service, the Southwest Michigan Hospice Service (Nurse Jody), and the Kalamazoo Cancer Center for their kind, professional care.
Jack’s family will have an open house to greet friends on Saturday, March 5, 2016 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM at the Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler-Kalamazoo, 6080 Stadium Drive (375-2900). Memorial contributions may be directed to the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Ransom Public Library or Hospice Care of SW Michigan. To share a favorite memory or photo of Jack and to sign his online guest book, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.