Raymond O. “Ray” Benjamin, of 15780 74th St., passed into eternal life to be with his creator on August 7, 2012, at 8:45 a.m. at the
Ottumwa Regional Health Center. Attending at his side was his devoted son, Phil.
Ray was well-known as “Mr. Hy-Vee” of Ottumwa. Ray lived on this earth for over 96 plus years. He was born to Edgar “Ed” and Angeline Cooper Benjamin in Chillicothe, IA on April 15, 1916. He grew up in the Ottumwa area, farming with his father and then trucking with his Dad purchasing and selling fruits and vegetables to local small grocery stores within the Ottumwa area.
Deceased siblings were brother Lester Benjamin and sister Rose Mary Benjamin Bates. He was also proceeded in death by Phil and Rosie’s infant daughter Stephanie Rae Ann Benjamin in 1984. Ray married Cora G. Miller on December 21, 1941. They were devoted soul mates and had a much loved marriage for close to 71 years. Ray was a father to son, Phillip E. Benjamin and wife Rosie of Ottumwa and to daughter, Kay Ann Benjamin-Verna and husband Gene of Leawood, Kansas. He was grandfather to Bryan Edward Benjamin and wife Meghan, to Wesley Nicole Verna-Bush and husband Mark and to Bethany Rae Benjamin-Vasquez and husband Thomas. He was blessed with five great-grandchildren, Blaine Edward Benjamin and Brynley Cora Benjamin, Drake Kristopher Bush, and Maelei Rose and Maiya Rae Ann Vasquez.
Ray was a World War II Army Veteran serving in the battles of Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe. He received decorations and citations for The American Campaign Medal,Europe-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon, with one Silver Battle Star, a Good Conduct Medal, a Victory Medal, World War II Medal, one Service Stripe and three Overseas Service Bars. He was given an Honorable Discharge on November 25, 1945. After Ray finished military service, he worked for John Morrell & Co. until the union decided to go on strike, “I thought I’d find something else to do,” Ray said.
He started Green Cottage Grocery in 1948 in the 1400 block of Albia Road, a spot now occupied by Redwood Village Trailer Park. He rented the building, which used to be a gas station. “I started with a $500 inventory,” Ray has said. He built “Ray’s Foodland” at 1527 Albia Road, which is now Bridge City Bowl. He owned and managed this store until 1957. Ray then joined the company of Hy-Vee Food Stores of Chariton, IA. The store’s name was changed to South Hy-Vee Food Store and was enlarged to enhance business and sales.
When Ray started into the grocery business, everything was done by hand. Today everything is automated. Ray always said his association with Hy-Vee was great and that the company was “always good to me.” He loved looking at photos on the wall of his home of, The Green Cottage (1948), Ray’s Foodland (1956) and South Hy-Vee Food Store, 1957 thru 1969. Dwight Vredenburg, a founder of Hy-Vee was a close friend and Ray is quoted as saying, “Dwight was one of the smartest men I ever knew.” Both Ray and Dwight were men so down to earth.
Ray believed in people and his over 80 employees. He mentored and helped to develop many managers within the Hy-Vee Cooperation. Ray’s mantra was “personal service.” He believed in the philosphy of “A Helpful Smile in Every Aisle.” He designed the original black bow-ties inscripted in Red with Hy-Vee across the bows. Ray retired from Hy-Vee in 1969 and started a cow-calf farming operation with son, Phil. He continued farming and traveled with wife Cora across the U.S. and Canada in his motor-home. Ray was a 32nd Degree Mason and had been a member of Ottumwa Masonic Lodge #16 A.F. & A.M. He was founder of the “Ottumwa Family Outdoor Camping and Living Show.” He along with Paul Troeger helped to design and develop the Greater Ottumwa Parks. Proceeds from the Camping Show were used to construct shower and bathroom facilities within the park. He served for many years on the Ottumwa Chamber of Commerce Board in the interest of Ottumwa betterment. Ray was a charter board member of the Ottumwa Tenco Workshop Inc. An investor and board member, he helped to create the Ottumwa Cable TV Corporation. Blue-Grass Music was a love of Ray’s. A skilled banjo musician he played at many local festivals and was a member of the Plainsmen Blue-Grass Band. Both Ray and Cora are members of the First Pentecostal Assembly of God Church.
Ray will long be remembered for his friendliness and for his giving spirit. He gave graciously to help others. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He loved his country and was a true patriot. A witty person, Dad would say, “Folks, in lieu of donations, please forward all contributions to the Republican Party for the upcoming elections.” Our family will miss Ray, our loving husband, Dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa, much loved mentor and friend.
Funeral services will be 9 a.m. Saturday at First Pentecostal Assembly of God with Pastor Richard Schlotter and Pastor George Edgerly officiating. Burial will be in Shaul Cemetery with military services conducted by Walter B. Schafer Post #775 Veterans of Foreign Wars and O.B. Nelson Post #3 American Legion.
Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Friday at Reece Funeral Home with the family present from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday.
A memorial has been established to the Army Historical Foundation, 2425 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201.