Benny Benson

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Benny Benson
Benny Benson holding the flag of Alaska that he designed.jpg
Benson c. 1927
Born(1912-09-12)September 12, 1912
DiedJuly 2, 1972(1972-07-02) (aged 59)
Kodiak, Alaska, U.S.
NationalityAmerican
Occupation(s)Flag designer, airplane mechanic
Years active1927−1969
EmployerKodiak Airways
Spouses
  • Betty Van Hise
    (m. 1938; div. 1950)
  • Anna Sophie Jenks
    (m. 1972⁠–⁠1972)
Children2
Benny and Carl's cubby-holes still exist in the former Jesse Lee Home in Seward, Alaska.
Benny Benson Memorial at mile 1.4 (km 2.3) of the Seward Highway in Seward, Alaska

John Ben "Benny" Benson Jr. (September 12, 1912 – July 2, 1972) was an Alaska native, best known for designing the flag of Alaska. Benson was age 14 years old when he won a contest in 1927 to design the flag for the Territory of Alaska, which became a U.S. state on January 3, 1959.[1][2]

Life[edit]

Early life[edit]

Benson was born in Chignik, Territory of Alaska, on September 12, 1912. He was a Qawalangin (Fox Islander) Unangan born to a Swedish-American father, John Ben "Benny" Benson Sr., and Aleut-Russian mother, Tatiana Ioannovna Dediukhina, from a village near Unalaska.[3] When he was three years old, his mother died, forcing his father to send him and his brother Carl to an orphanage, as Benson's father could not take care of them. Benson grew up at the Jesse Lee Home for Children in Unalaska and later in Seward.[4]

Fox Farm[edit]

After graduating from school in 1932, Benson left the Jesse Lee Home. He returned to the Aleutian Islands to work with his father fishing and, for a time, trapping blue foxes on Chirikof Island and on John's privately own Ugaiushak Island.[5] The rate for furs began to decline, so Benson moved to Seattle in 1936. He used the $1,000 prize from the flag design competition to enroll in the Hemphill Diesel Engineering School for Diesel engine repair. In 1938, Benson married Betty Van Hise. The couple's first child, Anna May, was born in October 1938. Their second daughter, Charlotte Abbot, was born in June 1940. Benson divorced in 1950 and moved with his daughters to Kodiak where he became an airplane mechanic for Kodiak Airways.[6]

Later years and death[edit]

Benson met his sister in the mid 1950s, 30 years after their separation. His sister died soon after. His brother Carl also died in 1965. Benson's right leg had to be amputated in 1969 due to circulatory problems.[5] Shortly after that, in 1972, he met and married a former Jesse Lee Home resident, Anna Sophie Jenks. Benson had several stepchildren and grandchildren. He died of a heart attack in Kodiak, Alaska, on July 2 of that year, at the age of 59 years old.[7]

Flag design[edit]

32 years before Alaska was to become a state, the Alaska Department of the American Legion sponsored a territorial contest for Alaskan children from seventh grade (12–13 year old students) to twelfth grade (17–18 year old students).[8] Benson's design was chosen to represent the future of the Alaska Territory. Up to that time, Alaskans had flown only the U.S. flag since the territory was purchased from Russia in 1867. His design was chosen over roughly 700 other submissions from schoolchildren territory-wide in grades 7 to 12. Most other entries featured variations on the territorial seal, the midnight sun, the northern lights, polar bears, and/or gold pans. For his achievement, Benson was awarded $1,000, an engraved watch and a trip to Washington, D.C.[9]

Benson looked to the sky for the symbols he included in his design. Choosing the familiar asterism he looked for every night before going to sleep at the orphanage, he submitted this description with it:

The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.

Legacy[edit]

  • Mount Benson, a prominent mountain overlooking Seward, was named after him in 1974.
  • Benson Boulevard, a major east-west thoroughfare in midtown Anchorage, was built in the 1970s and named for him.
  • Benny Benson Memorial is located at Mile 1.4 of the Seward Highway in Seward, Alaska.
  • On April 11, 2013, in honor of his centenary, the Alaska Legislature passed SB31,[10] which named the airport in Kodiak "Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport."
  • Benny Benson School in Anchorage on Campbell Airstrip Road is an alternative school serving the educational needs of students who have been deemed at risk and is part of the Anchorage School District SEARCH program.

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ India M. Spartz (2001) Benny Benson's winning design pages 8–9 in Eight Stars of Gold The Story of Alaska’s Flag Archived 2013-12-30 at the Wayback Machine (Alaska State Museums)
  2. ^ Manning, Elizabeth (2022-03-10). "Birth date of Alaska flag designer Benny Benson corrected a century later" (PDF). health.alaska.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-07-05. Retrieved 2022-08-15. March 10, 2022 JUNEAU – An inquiry into the family history of Benny Benson, the winner of the 1927 Alaska flag contest and creator of the Alaska flag, has yielded a correction to Alaska history. Contrary to the long-standing belief that Mr. Benson was 13 years old when he won the flag contest, he was in fact 14 years old. Research led by Dr. Mike Livingston, Cultural Heritage Specialist for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA), has determined that Benny Benson was born a year earlier than previously understood.
  3. ^ Livingston, Michael; Murray, Martha G.; Evans, Stenner; Soloview, Fyodor G.; Smith, Carol Larsen, Benny Benson's Hidden Unangax̂ Heritage. March 2022. Anchorage, Alaska.
  4. ^ "Alaska State Flag, and Song, Intertwined Around Benny Benson". The college of Alaska. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Potter, Velma Moos (1989). God flies Benny's flag : a story of Benny Benson & Alaska's state flag. Seattle, Wash.: Frontier Pub. p. 205. ISBN 0-939116-20-0. OCLC 21881469.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  6. ^ "Benny Benson - Alaska's Flag". Fairbanks, Alaska Information Site. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  7. ^ Alaska State Flag and Song Intertwined Around Benny Benson, Part 3
  8. ^ "The Contest".
  9. ^ "Benny Benson". The University of Alaska. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  10. ^ "28th Legislature (2013–2014)". The Alaska State Leglisature. Retrieved 16 July 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Potter, Velma Moos (1989). God Flies Benny's Flag: A story of Benny Benson & Alaska's state flag. Seattle: Frontier Publishing. ISBN 0-939116-20-0.

External links[edit]