I never knew a kinder or gentler man than Bennion Redd. He was a familiar and comforting presence in Monticello for more than eight decades. I was lucky and honored to know Bennion for almost 25 years.
When I was a seasonal ranger, the law enforcement division (such as it was in those days) had to endure a week of annual “refresher training.”
Bennion was the local federal magistrate and each spring he gave us his standard one hour lecture on the Code of Federal Regulations and an update on any procedural changes that might affect the way we issued a ticket to tourists who illegally picked wildflowers or carved their names in a rock.
Bennion, always the gentleman, never kept us past his allotted time. In fact, he made a point of letting us out early for lunch, which made us love the man. And each year, in his very quiet way, he would invite all of us to come by his office in Monticello whenever we were in the vicinity.
“Fellas,” he’d say, “I’ve been a widower for a few years now and sometimes I have more free time on my hands than I’d like. So if you ever want to stop by for a chat, the door is always open. I’d be glad to see you.”
A few months later, remembering his invitation, I stopped in Monticello to say hello. In fact, when I pulled up to the curb, Bennion was outside, sweeping his sidewalk. I learned later that this was a Bennion Ritual. He was genuinely pleased to have a visitor and though I doubt he remembered me from the Park Service training, he took me inside and he asked about my life and my job like a man who was really interested in asking. He never forgot me after that visit.
Years later, when I decided to buy a little cottage in Monticello, I stopped by Bennion’s office for his advice. I described the property and his face erupted in the broad smile that Bennion displayed so often.
“Yes, I know that little home very well. It belongs to my sister and her husband. You know the house next door that looks like a barn?”
“That’s where I was born,” he said proudly. “I gave that little house next door to Marilyn and Doyle as a wedding present. The house was an old CCC barrack. I had it hauled up here from the canyon and we made it a home.”
Bennion smiled. “And now you want to buy that little house?”
He called Marilyn and Doyle, told them he had a prospective buyer and asked if they could come down to the office. A few minutes later — everywhere in Monticello is just a few minutes away — his sister and brother-in-law arrived.
We sat in the hardback wood chairs and haggled for about two minutes. Doyle told me the asking price. I made a counteroffer. He made another. I made one more. Doyle thought about it, looked at Marilyn and said, “Okay. We have a deal.”
We shook hands and gave the particulars to Bennion. “I’ll draw all this up and have it ready for signing in... how does four weeks sound?”
It sounded fine to all of us.
The next day, when I told my friends of my sudden and unexpected purchase, they were without exception, skeptical.... how much earnest money did you put down? Did they sign a letter of intent to sell? Did you get the terms in writing and is it notarized? Did you get ANYTHING in writing?
We sealed the deal with a handshake, I said. They thought that was pretty funny.
“A handshake?” one buddy gasped. “It’ll never happen.”
I tried to explain. “I want to live in a town where a handshake does matter. If the deal falls through, then I wouldn’t want to live there anyway.”
One month later, Bennion, Marilyn, Doyle and I met again at the office. The paperwork was ready. I handed them a check. We signed on the dotted line. The house was mine.
I’ve never forgotten that handshake.
So I became a Monticello Man and almost every day, I’d see Bennion sweeping his sidewalk and each time we bumped into each other at the post office, he would smile and stop and ask me how Life was treating me on 300 East. He was one of those rare individuals who genuinely cared about people.
When he died on March 31, Monticello lost one of its best. But this little town can be proud that such a man was one of them, and in many ways, a reflection of the many people who loved him.
I may be a late arrival, but I’m proud too.
(Jim Stiles, a San Juan County resident, is publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr. A new issue of the online magazine can be found at www.canyoncountryzephyr.com)