The Encore Years: Ed and Fran Benz
This is an inspiring article on Ed & Fran Benz that is in the March 2, 2018 issue of the Grosse Pointe News. Their lives reflect a dedication to serve others as well as each other. Ed & ran are role models and we are proud Ed is a member of SMCGP.
Life continues to be an adventure for City of Grosse Pointe residents Ed and Fran Benz.
The two met on the SS South American, a Great Lakes steamer. He was a busboy and bellhop while he worked his way through school, then after serving in the U.S. Army, he returned and served as a bartender.
“Every year a nurse would do medical records and draw blood,” Ed Benz said. “That was (Fran).”
They met in the dining room and argued about Ayn Rand, Fran Benz said. It was the start of a long-lasting and eventful relationship.
After they married, they applied to the Peace Corps and were ready to head to North Bornea, “but that was the week we found out I was pregnant with Brian,” Fran Benz said, so they were unable to go. “Three years later we found out about Extension Lay Volunteers, which is like the Catholic Peace Corps. We spent a year (in Rowena, Texas).”
They also had a third child in Rowena, Lizzie, who followed her sister, Bridget. “When we were young, we just functioned. We didn’t think much,” Fran Benz said.
When they returned to Michigan, Ed Benz taught at several schools while finishing his master’s degree at University of Detroit.
“The same month I graduated, our fourth child (John) was born,” he said. He began substitute teaching in Detroit before eventually landing a full-time gig at Cass Technical High School, where he worked 22 years until retiring early due to health problems.
“Then I began visiting prisoners one on one with a church program, speaking with people who were stressed out in jail,” Ed Benz said. His Wayne County Jail visits led to a job teaching inmates to prepare for their GEDs. He’s still in contact with a few teachers and even a couple former students, he said.
“Ed is a wonderful mentor,” Fran Benz said.
After the jail job was discontinued by then-Gov. John Engler, Ed Benz resumed substitute teaching, which he did until age 79.
During their marriage, Fran Benz worked as a registered nurse 22 years at Beaumont Hospital. She continues to volunteer in the hospital’s Spiritual Care Department. She was awarded for her work with a DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses at age 79.
The couple, who’ve been married 56 years and have been active members at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church, have run a married couples spirituality group 53 years.
“It’s the largest couples group in the Catholic Church no one’s ever heard of,” Fran Benz said.
Added her husband, “We were the first one in Detroit. Now there are more than 30 in the metro area.”
The Benzes have fostered four children and 37 years ago started the Chili and Cheer block party during the holidays — a tradition that continues in their City neighborhood.
The avid sailors traveled on a replica tall ship that had been used in the film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie.
“We love sailing,” Ed Benz said. “Our first date was on a sailboat. … I kind of knew what I was doing.”
“But not really,” Fran quickly added.
They’ve owned a series of boats, including a trimaran they raced in three Mackinac races. They also sailed from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas, where they spent a month.
Ed Benz, 84, is an active committee member of the Senior Men’s Club of Grosse Pointe and participates in Detroit Rowing Club competitions.
“I enjoy it and it motivates me to stay in shape,” he said.
Both have been members at L.A. Fitness more than 35 years. Seven years ago, they “walked the Camino,” starting in Spain and walking 125 miles with backpacks to Santiago de Compostela in Portugal.
“It’s an amazing religious experience,” said Fran, 86. “In Europe, it’s the thing to do.”
The couple spent a month as missionaries in Africa with friends, Bud and Sue Ozar. Ed Benz taught while Fran Benz offered nursing.
The Benzes also are avid skiers and noted they skied on their honeymoon.
“We ski almost every year,” Ed Benz said. “We are blessed to be able to be active. We try to stay that way by getting exercise three times a week.”
In addition to exercise, the Benzes support Detroit Repertory Theatre and Stratford Festival, as well as visit friends almost every day, for wellness checks and to give marital advice. Ed Benz, who formerly tutored at Detroit Literacy Center, hopes to resume tutoring again elsewhere.
Their three children — their youngest, John, passed away from pancreatic cancer — and six grandchildren occupy “a great deal of our time,” Ed Benz said.
“We are so lucky and so blessed,” Fran Benz said. “Life is not easy. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, but the years go by very fast, so carpe diem.”
Added Ed Benz, “Bloom where you’re planted. If you’ve been given gifts, don’t put your light under a basket. Keep your head straight and rise above.”