Brodhead – Richard Louis Benesh, Jr. lost his battle with cancer and died peacefully on Tuesday, March 17, at the Monroe Hospice Home in Monroe, Wisconsin, one day after his 85th birthday. He was born in Oran, Iowa, the last baby to be delivered at home in that community, on March 16, 1935, the son of Richard Louis and Kathryn (DeRoos) Benesh. He married Michele Telford Riter on January 16, 1988, in Rock Rapids, Iowa.
Richard (Dick) wore many hats during his career. He enrolled at Iowa State University as an engineering major, but dropped out after a year because he also wanted to take literature and other humanities courses and they didn’t fit into the engineering curriculum. Because of his affinity for languages, he was accepted into Air Force Intelligence and trained as a Russian specialist during the Cold War years. Stationed in Germany, he determined to learn German while there and was invited into a Stammtisch, which is a group of German men who meet in a pub weekly or bi-weekly. They spent the first hour of each meeting teaching Herr Benesh German, and when he traveled to Germany decades later, he was often asked where in Germany he was born. Upon his return to the U.S., he attended the University of Northern Iowa and got his teaching certification, after which he was the first high school Russian teacher in Iowa, teaching Russian and German in Waterloo. After earning his PhD in German at Iowa, he was a German professor at both Coe College in Cedar Rapids and at the University of Iowa.
Next he joined the Vista program and spent time on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, and subsequently spent many years working with Indian tribes in Nebraska, and later in Wisconsin, where he was in charge of all of the Ho-Chunk casinos until they transitioned from bingo halls to hard core gambling, when he no longer wished to be involved.
Dick was also the CEO of a couple of small businesses in Iowa that manufactured educational materials, and then began his own business as a consultant for economic development to small towns and Indian tribes. During that period he spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C. working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
When he moved to Wisconsin, he worked with the Ho-Chunk and later accepted the German position at Beloit Memorial High school, where he worked until his retirement in 2006. He said it was the best job he ever had. His beloved students agreed and have held regular gatherings to honor Dick over the past 14 years. He said that all he wanted on his gravestone was, “He was a teacher.”
Dick loved photography, travel, music (especially classical and Dixieland jazz), building things, writing poetry, and cats. He and Michele exhibited their photography at art shows through the Midwest for about 25 years and received many judges’ awards. They organized groups of travelers for tours in Europe for many years.
Dick was also very involved in church and community groups. As a member of the Brodhead Congregational UCC church, he was a member of the church council, the Pastoral Search Committee, and the Land Use Committee. In the community, he was Project Administrator for the Pearl Island Recreational Corridor project and was a major advocate for the covered bridge at Putnam Park, which thankfully he got to see installed, and also had a dream of seeing a large waterwheel installed where the Mill Race flows into the “tail race” and then into the Sugar River. This project is in the works and he will have to observe it from above. He was also president of the Decatur Lake and Mill Race Association (DLMRA).
Dick is survived by his wife of 32 years, Michele, his mother-in-law, Jacqueline Telford, his children Jeff (Allison) Riter, Chad (Cindy) Riter, Aimee and Brian Fish, Joseph Benesh, and Jared Benesh, his 7 grandchildren, Brogan, Bailie and Benjamin Riter, Hunter and Conner Riter, and Anna and Kirsten Fish, his nephews Olof and Martin Nordberg, Rob (Mandy) Telford, and their children, Seth and Kole and countless former students from Beloit Memorial who meant the world to him.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Richard L. and Kathryn Benesh, his sister, Kathy Nordberg, his brother-in-law, Robert Telford and his father-in-law, Charles Telford.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Tax exempt memorials may be directed to the Brodhead Area Foundation for funding the water wheel (P.O. Box 35, Brodhead, WI 53520), the Congregational United Church of Christ (E201 23rd Street, Brodhead, WI 53520), or the Rapids Theater Restoration Project, a project near and dear to his mother-in-law’s heart, (1002 South Tama Street, Rock Rapids, Iowa 51246).
The DL Newcomer Funeral Home in Brodhead is assisting the family. www.dlnewcomerfuneralhome.com 608-897-2484
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