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Dorothy Benson: Daughter”™s Tribute “I guess because they were hungry.”


Dorothy Benson, my mother, was a resident of the Phillips Neighborhood since the early 1950”™s. She and my father fought very hard against “Model Cities”** in the sixties which were trying to isolate and divide Phillips Neighborhood by building freeways like what happened to Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. They were both very immersed in the DFL (Democratic Farmer Labor party), politics, PNIA (Phillips Neighborhood Improvement Association), and Neighborhood activism.

Dorothy Benson

Philips Neighborhood is where she raised us; a family of six children. While the youngest was in diapers, the oldest was in college. My father worked a day job while my mom had a day care business along with the full time job of raising us, too. However, we were not the only children mom inspired along the way. My sister reminded me of the Christmases when mom took neighborhood kids in, five or six at a time, and they made homemade Christmas cookies from scratch. They would all take their treats home and mom would tell them to “send the next group of kids!”

My mother was very compassionate about the kids. She would always try to find time to read to them out on the porch, or ask them if they were hungry because she knew how important it was and what some of their situations were at home.

Just last summer, she told me a story about a man with a thick Eastern European accent. This man met another man at Peavey Park and brought him over to our house. Somehow he must have known ”˜that lady”™ was good. They were hungry, so mom fed them. The next week the same man brought another man to our home. I asked mom, later, why she opened her door to them. She just shrugged and said, “I guess because they were hungry.”  All the men had numbers on their arms*** and the man that met them at Peavey Park (between Chicago and Park Avenues along East Franklin Avenue) was trying to find them and the other men housing, and along the way, a bite to eat with that good woman in the house on the corner.

 My mother was a self-made woman who excelled in everything she did including door to door World Book sales, remodeling buildings, being a kind and forgiving landlady, starting and running a tax preparation business (until retiring at age 75); all while being a tough, loving, encouraging and understanding Mother and Grandmother.

My mother passed on October 18, 2019

Editor”™s Notes:

**Model Cities was a Federal, inner-city program of Pres. Lyndon Johnson”™s Great Society and War on Poverty. In 1966, new legislation led to the more than 150 five-year-long, Model Cities experiments to develop new antipoverty programs and alternative forms of municipal government. Model cities represented a new approach that emphasized social program as well as physical renewal, and sought to coordinate the actions of numerous government agencies in a multifaceted attack on the complex roots of urban poverty.  However, the nation moved to the right after the urban riots of the late 1960s. This led to a shift in goals to bricks-and-mortar housing and building projects. The program ended in 1974.

*** Numbers on Arms: Identification of inmates in German concentration camps was performed with identification numbers marked on clothing and tattooed on the skin. Mention of this may well portray how significant, poignant, and yet common place, it was to see this after WWII and particularly for someone with German heritage like Dorothy Benson.

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