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Verla Louise Benjamin, 92, of Onawa, Iowa, passed away Monday, October 22, 2018, at Pleasant View Care Center in Whiting, Iowa.
A celebration of life service will be 10:30 A.M. Monday, October 29, 2018, at St. John Catholic Church in Onawa, Iowa, with Father Michael Erpelding, celebrant, officiating. Burial will follow in the Onawa Cemetery. Visitation will be 5:00 – 8:00 P.M. Sunday, October 28, 2018, with a scriptural wake service at 7:00 P.M., followed by the Rosary, at the church. Arrangements are under the direction of Rush Family Care Service in Onawa.
Verla was born June 6, 1926, in Maple River, Iowa, in Carroll County, to Frank and Martha (Determan) Heisterkamp. At age two, she, her parents, and older sister Yvonne moved to a farm near Blencoe, Iowa, in Monona County, where her father began farming. She attended Blencoe Consolidated Schools and graduated as valedictorian of her class in May 1943. In high school she started her first paying job, managing the concession stand at the roller skating rink at Preparation Canyon State Park, where she earned $.50 per hour, a good wage at the time.
Verla received a scholarship to Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa, earning her elementary teaching certificate in January 1945. Education was her passion, and she loved teaching third grade because she said, “They know a little bit, but not too much.” She began her formal teaching career in Soldier, Iowa, educating 3rd and 4th graders. Many years later she would see these students in the grocery store, and they would give “Miss Heisterkamp” a big hug. After two years of teaching in Soldier, she moved to Sioux City and taught three more years at Hobson Elementary School.
On August 16, 1949, she married Maurice Louis Benjamin at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Blencoe, and moved to a farm between Whiting and Onawa. While they were dating, another teacher commented that their middle names of Louis and Louise would make perfect names for boy-girl twins. Those twins arrived prematurely the following April. Over the years six siblings joined them: Leo, Joseph, Edwin, Francis, Regina, and Matthew.
Throughout the next 40 years the Benjamins cultivated combinations of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, oats, potatoes, and sugar beets. They also raised cattle, hogs, chickens, geese, and ducks. Verla did all the bookwork for their farming operation and managed a large family garden. Even though she did not teach in the public school system, Verla used her skills to teach CCD classes for 30 years at St. John Catholic Church in Onawa, where she was a member and an officer in the Rosary Altar Society. She was also a Cub Scout Den Mother and an honorary 4-H leader. In December 1964 she, Maurice, and the children were featured on WOW-TV’s “Farm Family of the Week.” Verla was selected to represent Monona County at the Rural Homemakers’ Day in Sioux City in 1979. In 1982 an ABC Nightline crew interviewed Verla and Maurice, as part of the program’s national coverage of the farm crisis and the plight of the American farmer.
Verla also kept her elementary teaching certificate up-to-date by taking correspondence courses and classes on TV and eventually earned her bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in elementary education and a reading endorsement. She graduated from college the same day as her younger daughter, May 12, 1988. At an age when most people think of retiring, Verla returned to formal teaching in 1984 as a substitute for a home economics teacher, who was on maternity leave. In 1986 she began teaching full-time as the reading specialist for the Whiting Community Elementary School, retiring in May 2012 at age 85. When she wasn’t teaching, she enjoyed celebrations of friends’ and family birthdays, anniversaries, and milestone accomplishments, such as high school and college graduations. She loved family gatherings and enjoyed hosting holiday celebrations, especially those during Christmastime.
In January 2004 she moved from the farm into a house in Onawa and 12 years later into Pleasant View Care Center. While at Pleasant View, she loved reading the Sioux City Journal and watching the Weather Channel. Her children knew they could always catch her by the phone just after the noon news, “Market-to-Market,” or “Wheel of Fortune.” She also enjoyed numerous Saturday night pizza parties and Sunday dinners at Miller’s Kitchen in Onawa. When asked on her 90th birthday the reason for her wonderful, long life, she answered, “Faith and family.”
She is survived by six children, Louise Benjamin, Manhattan, Kansas; Leo (Diane) Benjamin, Whiting, Iowa; Joe (Carol) Benjamin, Akron, Colorado; Ed Benjamin, Onawa, Iowa; Frank (Laurie) Benjamin, Fort Dodge, Iowa; Regina (David) Bakker, Dodgeville, Wisconsin; four sisters, Yvonne Hanneman, Ardith Olson, Mavis Ryan, and Gayle Keele; two brothers, Franklin (Wanda) and Ronald (Geraldine); three sisters-in-law, Patricia Heisterkamp, Joanne Heisterkamp, and Bernice Benjamin; 14 grandchildren, Michelle Benjamin, Michael Benjamin, Anne (Cullin) Herwig, Katherine (Aaron) Garthwaite, Rebecca Young, Elizabeth (Cody) Spreeman, Daniel Benjamin, Thomas Benjamin, Zachary Benjamin, Sarah Benjamin, William Bakker, Maria Bakker, Mikaela Bakker, and Gerrit Bakker; and eight great-grandchildren, Skylar and Piper Garthwaite, Benjamin and Matthew Herwig, Adam and Vivienne Young, Bayleigh Benjamin, and Addison Spreeman; numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, other relatives, school colleagues, former students, neighbors, and friends, especially those who became her Pleasant View family.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Maurice; two sons, Louis and Matthew; one grandson, Andrew; three brothers, Delbert, Glenn, and Roger; four sisters-in-law and ten brothers-in-law, Rev. George Benjamin, Mary Benjamin, Herbert Benjamin, Virginia and Royce Beck, Paul Benjamin, Helen and John Ryan, Thomas Benjamin, Yvonne Heisterkamp, Quentin Hanneman, James Olson, Dwayne Ryan, and Dennis Keele; two nephews, Tom Heisterkamp and William Hanneman; and one niece Pamela (Beck) Casperson.
Memorials may be directed in Verla’s memory to the Whiting Elementary School Library, Whiting Public Library, or the Onawa Public Library and may be mailed to Rush Family Care Service 1629 10th Street Onawa, Iowa 51040.
Condolences may be left online for the family at www.rushfamilycareservice.com