Monthly Archives: April 2017

Historical Notes: the ’40s

4th in a series

by Jimmy Jans


After a slow start and with the completion of the Benson underpass in 1941, east Benson’s growth took off in the 1950s. Gone were the turn of the century Smelter, the railroad round house and the cattle shipping pens. Now, with the paving of highway 86, which cut 80 miles off the trip east to Lordsburg New Mexico the building of east Benson began.

In 1941 all that existed in east Benson were two motels, the El Cochise motel, the Monterey motel, the Riverside Texaco, the White Kitchen café, the Benson Furniture store, and the Sierra Vista (Dixie) gas station. With the completion of the underpass and the paving of highway 86 east Benson growth took off. White Kitchen Café became Benson Café, Riverside Inn was built and run by two women Katy and Jean. A trailer park was built east of the Monterey and El Cochise Motels and later Garnet Barker built a roller skating rink. Sometime in the 1940s the Benson Furniture store became a grocery store and it burned. It would be rebuilt in the 1960s and become Richardson’s Mortuary. Between the Riverside Inn and the Riverside Texaco a new café, the Riverside café (later Ruiz’s Café) would be built. Dick Lopshire would move the B. F. Goodrich store from up town between the San Pedro Motel and Louie Dyer’s Texaco to next to the Riverside Inn and his brother Dale would build Lopshire’s Ford next to that which would require Kimbrough Trucking to move across the street. What was the location of a long closed Union gas station became Lopshire’s Ford’s new car lot. Also a Chevron gas station was where the present day lower Circle K is located.

Vern Arnold would start development of east Benson starting with the construction of Wilson’s Cash Market and Gila Auto Parts. Next Vern created a lake out of an expanded water tank which served a chicken farm which hea acquired and converted into a housing development, a trailer park and a beauty and barber shop.

On the north Comstock housing development would replace Dayton Graham’s slaughter house with several new homes. On the south along with Scott’s Machine shop, Benson Lumber (which became Wilharm’s Lumber Company), were the Sierra Vista Motel and gas station, Plymouth sales, Bill’s Trading Post, the Holsum Bread depot and the newly relocated Kimbrough Trucking.

On the hill to the west the Scott brothers, Bill and George started a gravel and sand operation and to the north a concrete batch plant owned by Pete Wilharm was opened.

East Benson was limited in growth by the large hill on the west, the railroad on the south, the San Pedro river on the east and ultimately I-10, in the 1960s, on the north. I-10 also was also the demise of east Benson since it replaced highway 86 and bypassed Benson altogether. In fact Benson, as a thriving tourist town, quit growing and became a bedroom community for Fort Huachuca and Tucson after I-10 was opened.

A Memory of Jerry Lee

From Steve McGoffin–

“Mr Lee” is what I called him for 30 years due to my profound respect for him.  I was probably 40 yrs old before I addressed him as Jerry.  I was 11 yrs old (55 yrs ago) when I met him in my first 5th grade PE class. He coached me in flag football, basketball, & track.

 My favorite sport was track even though I was much better at wrestling. I was on one of his state championship track teams in 1966.  Mr Lee made sports fun!  Everyone loved competing for him! He was low key and low pressure but he still got people to perform.  I’ve thought about why he was so successful with kids.  In my opinion it was his”loving kindness” that everyone responded to.  I never had another coach that loved his kids like Jerry P. Lee. He was a great influence on me concerning how to treat other people and especially kids. I can’t think of a better candidate to honor by naming the Jerry P. Lee Athletics Complex.

PS. I can remember being disappointed that he missed coaching one of our games because he had to attend the birth of his first child (Gary). I don’t think he missed any after that.

Memories of Benson: Tamales

One in a series

By George Potter

In summer, when the corn began ripen my mom and aunts would buy elotes, ears of ripe corn, to make tamales de elote, green corn tamales.  We went to Pomerene or St. David to buy the corn in large gunny sacks. My Tia Rachel had a hand grinder and all of us cousins would have to take turns turning the crank to grind up the corn kernels which had been stripped off the cobs by the women. That is how the masa, the dough, was made. Tamale making was a long process and many were made at one time. My favorite were the green tamales de elote. They were flat and besides the masa had only cheese and green chile in them.

Of course we made red chile, meat tamales also. They were always served after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. We would go to farms and pick green and red chiles and fill many gunny sacks for salsa and tamales.

Memories of Benson: White Rock

One in a series

By Bill Guerra (

Roaming and exploring Benson and the surrounding countryside was a major preoccupation of our young lives. Like everyone, our experiences grew in much the same manner as our maturing personalities. As youngsters our adventures were mostly confined to immediate surroundings or to places and diversions we could reach on foot or to which older folks might take us. By the time we were pre-teens, thanks to the increased mobility and range provided by our bicycles, our greater world had shrunk just a little; now, the entire town and immediate vicinity were easily in reach. But it was as teenagers — and thanks to the cars we drove — that we were really set free!

Since television had not yet made its debut — at least, not (significantly) in Benson — our explorations led to many local discoveries and fun-filled excursions. The wash just behind the High School, in our jargon, was known as Cave Village. And just beyond that was the universally known landmark of White Rock.   I recall once exploring the White Rock area with my brother Bob and our older cousin Jack Comaduran. We came across a wild bee’s nest constructed by its inhabitants in one of the small crevices below White Rock’s summit. Jack, armed with his single=shot .22 rifle, decided it would be interesting to send a round through the exposed comb. Amazingly, the single bullet sent the entire works crashing to the ground — and also turned the bees’ focus to the three interlopers who were the apparent cause of their engineering disaster. With the offended inhabitants in hot pursuit, we all three ran yelling and screaming down the hillside while simultaneously trying to swat the bees away from our heads and exposed skin! Lesson learned; don’t mess with wild bees!

(Years later, along with Joe Hayes and Gailen Allwood, we had a similar experience at the town dump, except this time it was a cave full of bats we flushed from one of the many earthen caves excavated into the arroyos that fed the San Pedro. Wow! We were totally engulfed by a cloud of these tiny flapping creatures; we madly attempted to beat them away as they unintentionally ran into us while trying to make their escape!)

For Coach Jack Wilson and his boys’ PE classes, White Rock was also the turnaround point for some of our daily workouts. The objective was to simply run across the valley floor, clamber up the slope to the peak, touch the rock and then turn around and run back. Coach Wilson, meanwhile, well positioned at the top of the bleachers, and squinting in the bright sunlight through hand-shaded eyes, checked off the runners as they ascended to the peak.

In Praise of Coach Wilson

by  Fred Becchetti

 The world and Benson, Arizona, were still recovering from war when I arrived in Benson Union High School to teach in 1950.  Our school superintendent himself was a returning veteran who was able to recruit me to teach English and Spanish and other returning veterans to teach the sciences, civics and social science, American history, wood shop, agriculture, bookkeeping, typing and several grades in the elementary school.

We were all quite young and inexperienced as teachers.  Most of us still sported our military buzz haircut and all of us were in awe of Coach Jack Wilson.

Grizzled by the Arizona sun and his eyes crinkled from looking at distant horizons, Coach Wilson was in his gymnasium office when we arrived on the BUHS campus.   It seemed that he had always been there and that he would still be there even after we were gone.

Yes, he was one of the teachers, but, above all, he was the coach. He watched in quiet amusement as the new teachers fumbled around getting a handle on the 200 excited sons and daughters of the San Pedro Valley community who made up the BUHS student body.  With a professional eye he looked over the boys as they signed up for another year of school.

He was pleased to see that some of his six-man football players had beefed up during the summer so that he could count on a heavier front line to protect his backfield runners in the fall and winter season.  He even saw a strong looking freshman, just in with his “snow bird” family from Indiana, who might be an asset in the campaign of the Bobcats against the anticipated powerhouse Cowboys from nearby Willcox.

He was noticeably thrilled to see that most of his taller boys, gangly and uncertain during last year’s basketball season, had mastered their bodies and would make significant contributions toward Bobcat victories in the coming season. From his office, he could  hear the dribbling of his players already practicing their shots and their moves in the empty gym even though basketball was still a season away.

As for springtime baseball, he was pretty much counting on his seniors from last season, but he knew from experience that baseball always
produces surprises, so he would simply wait and see how his players developed and hope for good hitting and fielding during the entire season.

In true western fashion, Coach Wilson, didn’t say much.  He was always the quiet person in the room.  He coached the same way.  No great histrionics from him during the game.  In football he left it up to his assistant coach Lou Bulzomi to express any frustration with the way a play had been called, but even that was tempered by the calm that Jack projected.  His teams were always well-mannered and in control of their emotions, which was perhaps the secret to Bobcat success under his coaching.

Since I voluntarily did the public-address duty and even the sports reporting for San Pedro Valley News, I attended every game that Jack coached during the eleven years that I taught at BUHS, 1950-1961.  I even accompanied his teams in their games away.  In all that time and at all those games I never saw Jack lose his calm, no matter how crucial the game or the play was. Above all, I never saw him treat a player with anything but respect, and his players reciprocated with their own respect and and their admiration and confidence in his generalship.

Under Jack’s coaching, Bobcat teams never created any situations on or off the playing field to embarrass the town of Benson or the school.
Jack’s calm and his decency permeated the spirit of all his teams.  Jack didn’t make flowery or fiery speeches to inspire his teams.  They merely knew from his example what conduct he desired from them.

All of us teachers contributed to the development of the good men that Benson Union High School produced from about the thirty new boys who
entered high school each year during my eleven years in Benson.  However, Coach Wilson had a more profound influence on the boys because of their participation in the after-school sports activities of football, basketball or baseball which brought them under the direct influence of Wilson after the academic schedule in the late-afternoon daily practice sessions, in the games themselves and in travel to games away.

There are many BUHS graduates who owe much of their maturity and quality as good men in great part to their association with Coach Wilson. Some of them that come to mind are Jim Blankenburg, Charley Shrode, Jerry Coons, Larry Dempster,  Jim Judd,  Ambrose Hernandez,  Andy Hesser, Ernie Hansen, Jack Hawes, Pete Hesser,  Don Lewis,  Fernando Mendivil,  Jim Hansen,  Robert Mendivil,  Ralph Horyna,  Eddie Estrella,  Jim Teak,  Eddie Meza and Lloyd Vian.

There are many more, and all of them reflect in their lives the decency and quiet wisdom of their coach, Jack Wilson, who drove down Five-Mile Hill every morning from his beloved Triangle-T Ranch in Dragoon to show his boys how to play games, how to win games with grace, how to lose games with the same grace, how to respect oneself,  how to respect one another, how to bring glory to one’s school, how to guard your school’s reputation and, above all, like Coach Wilson himself, how to do good and do the right thing without talking much about it.

Jack would have been the last person to admit to being a teacher, but he was actually one of the best.

Memories of Benson: Perry’s Pond

One in a series

By George Potter

When we were in about the 6th or 7th grade we often went to Perry Trian’s ranch about a couple miles from town — me, Bobby Caballero, Conrad Caballero, Joey Cota, all cousins — and others as well. We would mainly fish, but also we built a small raft of wood planks by tying them together, that we’d take turns with in the pond.  We caught mostly perch, using baloney as bait, but if we kept real quiet or left our lines in the water for a while, we might get lucky and catch catfish.  We always took our sack lunch and made a day of it.

This pond had lots of cat tails and reeds so was best for fishing. A hundred yards away was another pond — maybe a tank to water the cattle — that we swam in. A few times we picked out one of the smallest calves, got it in a head lock and mounted it to ride it like a rodeo bronco.

The ground was soft when we fell off.

There was an artesian well on the ranch that flowed water continuously. It produced the best tasting water and at just the right temperature. Adjacent to it grew wild a type of green vegetable that we ate. In Spanish it’s called berroJ.  In English it’s water cress.

Perry was an old codger and would show up once in a while. He was mean. His wife was Bobby and my first grade teacher in Pomerene. She was old and petite and genteel; he was old and rough and gruff.

One night we attempted to sleep there out at the pond. We told lorona stories, and I could swear we saw her lurking in the mesquite trees that were faintly lit by the fire we built.

Late that night, we’d had enough. We got on our bikes and headed for home without lights-or maybe a hand held flash light. We went weaving all over the pavement, as there was no traffic, but after a mile or so a cop came by and told us to stay to the right side of road. We ended up at Larry and Emilio’s house. (They lived by themselves at a young age for the summer, or maybe it was just for a few weeks.) We spent the rest of the night there.

President’s Message

Happy New Year to all,

I hope that you all received the information and that many of you were able to attend the ceremony during Benson’s final home football game for the season where the sports complex was named the Jerry P. Lee Stadium. What a wonderful tribute to him, his family and his contributions to our Benson Schools both as an alumni and as a teacher/coach. There are plans in the works for other similar celebrations which we will keep you informed of as they happen.

Now that winter has arrived, our Bobcat football, cross-country and volley ball seasons have come to an end. The football team made it to the semi finals state playoffs & the girls cross-country made it to state but didn’t place. The football team also kept the Seney-Lohan trophy by beating Wilcox 52 to 0.

We have moved on to Basketball and Wrestling. The High School Basketball Holiday tournament was held December 8th through the 10th and the Benson Wrestling Invitational was held on January 6th and 7th.

The middle school Volleyball won the CAC going undefeated the whole season, girls cross country placed 3rd at CAC and the girl’s softball team has won the CAC 6 years in a row, they have a new coach this year, Mike Sherman, but are 6-0 so far (82-0 overall) so off to another good start. The Middle School Benson Invitational was held on January 14th.

A Junior at BHS, Madison Furnas, has made news promoting a message of Don’t Text and Drive. You could find more information on the News-Sun website – an article ran about 2 months ago. She is on a national committee, went to DC last summer for training, and is on the Governor’s Youth Council.

Since this is the first newsletter of 2017, I would like to remind you all that your annual dues of $10 are due and payable in January. This could be your last newsletter without being current on your dues. Also just a reminder that we will once again be awarding Benson Bobcat Alumni Association scholarships depending on your kind donations. Remember we are now a 501c3 non-profit organization and therefore, any and all donations maybe be tax deductible. You should always verify with your tax person for confirmation.

If you would like to see something in the newsletter, please contact Janet Hearn.

Thank you for your support,

Judy Thompson, President, BBAA

Class of 1970

Whatever Happened To?

Michelle (Montroy) Freeark, class of 1996In high school, Michelle was active in band and FBLA. She served as a class officer, FBLA officer and was the statistician for the baseball team. For two years she was one of the high school’s drum majorettes. She enjoyed participating in band competitions, recalling the very long, yellow bus ride to Las Cruces, NM to participate in a large marching band competition. Benson Schools are very special to Michelle-she attended Kindergarten through 12th grade in Benson schools. There were several others in her graduating class who had been to school together since preschool at the Presbyterian Church.

After graduation, Michelle attended Northern Arizona University where she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science. Michelle returned to the Benson area where she went to work at Apache Nitrogen Products, Inc.

She spent 6 years at Apache working as an environmental supervisor.

While working at Apache she met her future husband, Justin Freeark. They were married in 2000, welcomed their first child Grant in 2004 and their daughter Jillian in 2011. In 2013, they relocated to northeast Tennessee for Justin’s career.

Michelle began working for Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. (AEPCO) in 2005. She joined AEPCO as an environmental planner and has been promoted over the years to positions with increasing responsibility. In the fall of 2016 she was promoted to Executive Director of Legal & Corporate Services. In this capacity she supervises the legal, environmental, safety, land services, resource planning and transmission planning departments.

Much of the compliance effort involves monitoring, commenting on and working with agencies on proposed federal and state regulations. She has also worked closely with state legislators, members of Congress, and other public officials and policy makers.

Michelle is actively involved in the National Rural Electric Environmental Association having served as President for two years. She also sits on other advisory committees in the electric utility.

Her greatest accomplishments in her career include being a published author in an industry journal for a patented emission control technology, having served on advisory boards for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), been interviewed in New York City by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post on issues surrounding environmental regulations facing the electric utility industry, and successfully negotiating with the EPA an alternative to the $200 million emission control technology upgrade imposed on AEPCO.

She gives much of her credit to the outstanding teachers she had while in the Benson School

Judy Worden Lee, class of 1956

How does one fit a lifetime into a couple of paragraphs?

I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember.  Over my school years, I wanted to be a lawyer and eventually become a judge working in the area of abused women and children.  I got sidetracked somehow and became a teacher.  Loved all 34 years that I taught.  And I did manage to do some writing along the way.

 I’ve written several books and still have not been able to say it all.  But, here goes, the condensed version of a long life.  .

We moved to Benson in 1948 from Tucson.  My dad started at Apache Powder, my mother started at the Horseshoe and I started at Benson Elementary. I loved every minute of school in Benson.  Great teachers, great friends, dances, chorus, band, drama and my BFF Helen Critchley.

I married an Airman in 1956, moved to Tx, Okinawa, SC, again TX, IN, and the last AFB was in NY.  Stayed in NY for 15 yrs. Along the way I had three children, Pam, Cindy and Rebecca, in NY I adopted three children, John, Jim and Denise.  Got a degree and teacher cert.  Developed a business in Fire Service Education and spent seven years traveling the country teaching a Train the Trainer program to fire departments.  Moved back to Benson in 1985, and taught in SD for 15 years.  Moved to PHX in 2000 and taught at Shadow Mt. HS and Paradise Valley Comm. College.  Moved to the Dallas area after my husband Rudy Casillas passed away.  Taught there until 2014 when I returned to Benson.  I’m home.  Bought a house on the hill, and got involved with the community.  I belong to Benson Rotary, Retired Teachers, S.D. Historical Soc. and I am president of the Benson Museum.  I also lecture on the Cochise Brown Bag Lecture Series.

One of the results of having six kids, they multiply.  As of today’s date there are nine grandkids and eight great grand kids.   Seems as if every time I get a phone call there is another baby on the way.

I can honestly say that I have had a very happy and rewarding life.  And enjoying every minute of my golden years.  I love Benson, its people, its people and every rock, tree and cactus.

About Joe Hayes: 

Jody Dagget, class of 1970, says:

I just read the article on Joe Hayes.  I watched his stuff on YouTube and was blown away.  He has amazing talent.  

I remember Joe very well.  I’m about 6 or 7 years younger than Joe.  He was in my brother Jan’s class.  I liked him because he was really good to me.  He talked to me like I was a real person; not just a kid.

Joe mentioned Billy and Bobby Guerra, George Potter, and Bobby Caballero.  I still look up to those guys like older brothers.  They probably don’t know it, but they were teaching me.  Thanks guys.

Jody Daggett (1970)