Deceased November 16, 2016
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Joe Benge, whose full and varied life journey began in a Chicago suburb and led to the Canadian wilderness, died Nov. 16 at age 85 at his home in Salt Spring Island, B.C.
At the last, Joe was bedeviled by increasingly serious COPD that literally took his breath away. He used a Canadian law permitting doctor-assisted suicide as the best ending.
Joe’s dear friend, Jill Swartz, said Joe “flew away” surrounded by “love, friends, music and laughter.” She added, “Joe’s life force and curiosity were boundless. His photography has just won the jury prize at the culture centre. A lifelong passion for birds, photography, history, literature, wilderness and music helped bring a wide range of good people into his life. COPD weakened his body, but his good mind, memory, curiosity and spark never faltered.”
Joe was a graduate of Evanston High School. At Amherst, he was a German major and was known for his drumming stints with the Delta Five. Joe continued his education at Northwestern University, earning a master’s degree in German. He eventually took advertising positions in Chicago. The highlight of his ad career was creation of the well-known Maytag repairman series.
Joe changed direction in 1972 when he became a manager for a canoe outfitter near Quetico Provincial Park, in northwest Ontario. He gave numerous talks about the park, asking listeners to write authorities in favor of banning logging and motor vehicles there. The campaign succeeded.
Subsequently, Joe and Jill worked as naturalists in Manitoba parks and spent several years teaching native children in reserves. Finally, Joe was employed by the Canadian Park Service in naturalist capacities in western parks. He retired in 1991 and bought his home on Salt Spring Island between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.
George Gates ’53