January 1927 - December 2009
Ben L. Lingle, 82, died peacefully in his sleep at his Skagway home on the morning of December 13, 2009.
It was a quiet passing for a man of such unbridled energy who raised a big family and turned a small hardware store and air service into successful year-round Skagway businesses.
Benny was born on January 7, 1927 in Hudson, North Carolina. The family’s one-room schoolhouse is now preserved in a state educational forest near Lenoir, NC. His mother and father moved the family to Ohio and then California when he was a young boy.
He entered the U.S. Army before graduating from high school, serving with a railroad battalion in Korea. He later moved with his family to Skagway, where his father George, mother Beulah, brother Gus, and sister Mary Jane had settled. He finished high school here and was initially employed by the White Pass and Yukon Route for several years as a chief mechanic.
About 1960, he began helping out at Skagway Hardware for the Dewar family, working part-time alongside Bea Hillery O’Daniel.
“I would like to buy this store,” he told Bea one day. “Will you marry me?”
Bea said she didn’t know right then that she would “stop getting paychecks and become part of the inventory.”
They eventually sealed the deal with a marriage on June 9, 1961. This merger resulted in one of the biggest – and many would say the loudest – families in Skagway, with her four children, Mike, Kathleen, John and Dorothy, and his daughter Robin. And they even took in some neighbor kids for a while.
During one family feud, Benny ended up with a spatula of frosting in his beard, and then took off across the street after young Mike, who ran Benny right through a mud puddle. And there were many other chases, involving all the children.
Benny eventually ruled the Hardware at 4th and Broadway. He was famous for shouting down instructions in colorful language from the balcony above, but would also come downstairs and help customers with just about anything. Behind the scenes he was generous to those in need, and had a sweetness about him.
One night, as he was closing up the hardware store, he heard a whimper from the back in the dark. There he found a young girl with a fish hook stuck through her ear lobe. He took some wire cutters and carefully snipped the barbs off the hook so it would come out easily, and sent her home.
The hardware business grew into the building next door, and they also bought a lumber yard from Hans Soldin just across the alley.
Eventually the day-to-day operation was turned over to his son John D., and now his grandson John L.”O’D”. Benny still had an office in the building and checked in often while he still had his health. He stopped coming in when he couldn’t remember if he was there to shred mail or shred people.
He also was fond of flying and in 1964 filled a valuable need in the community, establishing Skagway Air Service with Eric Selmer and Gil Meroney. Benny eventually took over the business entirely, running it with his son Mike for many of its 43 years. They also established offices in Juneau and Haines and flew to Gustavus as well. They retired the business in June 2007. The last flight arrived under an arch of water from two Skagway fire trucks.
There were many memorable flights. One involved carrying a Juneau band back home after playing the New Year’s Eve dance on Dec. 31, 1973. The band chipped in to buy a 400-pound pig during a service auction, and wanted to fly it to Juneau with them. “Not in my new airplane,” Benny told them. But seeing how they were now in a jam, he bought the pig from the band. Benny then took it over to Jack Brown’s garage, but got a call later that the pig had eaten everything inside the garage. They finally butchered the pig and cooked it in Wes Nelson’s smoker, which had been used that summer for salmon. Those who ate that particular pig recall it had a funny taste. It either tasted like fish, or something worse, as the swine had resided at the old city dump.
The Lingles loved to socialize. From fun times at Moe’s after work, to bowling with the Hardware “Everything from Nuts to Nipples” team at the Elks, to their Christmas Eve fudge and egg nog parties which have become a community tradition, they knew how to have a party. For many years, their home on Third Ave. was the place to be on New Year’s Day, with all the chili and hangover salad you could eat and an open bar to cure any survivors from the night before. Those parties lasted until they began their winter moves to Arizona a few years ago.
Benny and Bea never really retired. They were always on the go. They would drive their big motorhome down to Mesa for the winters, and spend long summer weekends at their Carcross cabin or camping in the Yukon. When their families started a canoe trip on some Yukon river, Bea and Ben would show up in their camper van “Awesome” to see them off. But their base was always Skagway.
And when his health started failing him this fall, Benny made the decision to stay home this winter. He had a great Thanksgiving with family. Until the end, his mind was still sharp, and when he could get the words out, he would recall many Skagway memories from working on the railroad, to flying adventures, to the toga party at the Elks where he ran off the teachers (all was forgiven in that incident, and he eventually became Exalted Ruler of BPOE #431).
He loved his sports, especially baseball on TV, and his season over, it’s now time to pass the remote.
Benny was preceded in death by his older brother Gus Lingle, and sister Mary Jane Hanousek, and by his beloved daughter Robin in 2007.
He is survived by Bea, his wife of 48 years; younger brother Bob of Midpines, Calif.; sons Mike (and Sylvia) O’Daniel, and John (and Janet) O’Daniel of Skagway; daughters Kathleen (and Bob Deitrick) O’Daniel of Juneau, and Dorothy (and Jeff) Brady of Skagway; 16 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren; many, many nieces, nephews and cousins; and the entire Skagway Hardware and Skagway Air extended family.
At his request, there was no memorial service. The community gathered at the traditional egg nog on Christmas Eve at the Hardware, where they viewed more than 100 family photos and shared more memories about Benny. – Compiled by Jeff Brady for the family