Imagine taking on a project that is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that you are counting on donations to supply, many hours of paperwork and physical labor from yourself and volunteers, and believing in your community enough to help you achieve this.
Enough that you put up your own money first.
Imagine doing this in your 80s.
That is exactly what Harry Benjamin did, with the full support of his wife Jean. They will celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary on May 31.
It was November of 2016 when Benjamin brought his Carousel Rest Area of Shelby to light. And now, not even two years later, on Saturday, May 19, the lights will shine, the music will play and the carousel will turn during its Grand Opening, starting at 10 a.m., at the Carousel Rest Area of Shelby, located behind Pizza Hut.
“Jean has been behind me 100 percent on everything I have ever done,” said Benjamin. “The pipeline business, the tractor pulls I used to do for the little kids, all kinds of projects for 68, well, almost 69 years. At my age, there is no time to stall. I had to push to get this done.”
The big carousel project was no different, with Jean offering her full support while Benjamin initiated the project, purchased the carousel himself, sure that donations would come in to cover, once people saw it.
“People need to see it in order to visualize it,” said Benjamin. “When I was younger I was always working. I’d tell an employer, I’ll work for you for free for a week, I’ll make you money. Once they saw what I could do and I was making them money, I always had a job. People don’t work like that anymore, but they still need to see something.”
Benjamin advertised and shared his idea with anyone and everyone he could, and the word spread quickly.
Donations did start coming in and volunteers to repaint the animals and help restore the carousel stepped forward without hesitation.
Local artists Megan Benjamin, Shawne Matteson, Sarah Chandler, Barbie Alvestad and Jeff and Jeanette Jergens, Sarah Welker, Kari Benjamin, Jon and Sharon Dolan, Raquel Mayer, along with talented inmates at Core Civic, did a fabulous job of restoring and creating the carousel and its animals.
Yes, animals. The carousel not only features many beautiful and unique horses to ride, but giraffes, chickens and bear benches, along with others, just waiting to provide a rider the perfect seat.
Benjamin himself upgraded the carousel motor, changing it from the AC motor it came with, which only offers one speed, to a DC motor, having variable speeds. Benjamin wanted the option to be able to increase or decrease the speed of the carousel to the music or the need of the riders.
Other fun toys Benjamin has created or found over the years are also located in the enormous building encompassing the carousel for children to enjoy. Riding toys for the little guys seven and under, and a cool pedal-propelled helicopter for those a bit older, are just a few added bonuses to the carousel site.
The giant photos depicting the community displayed around the top of the carousel will have visitors pausing in awe. Benjamin took it upon himself to find and gather the photos, have them blown up at his expense, and placed them in their respective spots, having faith, again, that when people saw it, they would help pay for it. And they did.
“I put up all the pictures before the donations came,” smiled Benjamin. “Now, a lot of them have been paid for and donations came in.”
Benjamin has also had help when it comes to dealing with paperwork, being in compliance with the State and other agencies, applying for grants and decisions in general, from his board, comprised of himself, Don Lee and Gary McDermott.
With all the hurdles crossed, Benjamin shared there is still yet one challenge looming, that of finding a manager for the Carousel Rest Area of Shelby. Benjamin isn’t yet sure who is meant for the job, but he does have an idea of the kind of person it needs to be.
“I want someone who is interested in THIS,” said Benjamin, looking around his now almost finished carousel dream. “I don’t want someone who is just looking to collect a paycheck. There needs to be more to why they are here.”
Like everything else, Benjamin has faith the right person will come along, and until then he will just continue doing what needs to be done, getting paid in accomplishment, not cash.
“This whole thing has been paid for by the community, through donations,” he said proudly. “I’m not getting paid, but that’s alright, that’s not important. Everything else, the building, the contractors, everything is all paid for.”
Benjamin is wise to what’s really important in life and is excited to see children, families, people of all ages, enjoying his dream that has become a reality.
The Carousel Rest Area of Shelby is sure to be a popular stop for travelers and locals alike, with the bathroom and vending machine area open 24/7, and the carousel and concessions open six days a week during the warmer months of the year.
“We are open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday,” said Benjamin. “We’ll be closed on Sundays and during the winter it will be by appointment. It’s also available to rent for parties, reunions, it can hold up to about 100 people.”
Prices for renting the facility vary and more information is available by contacting Benjamin at 450-5279. Prices for riding also vary, but are very reasonable with a five-minute ride, on anything in the area, for $1, an hour’s worth of fun for $5 or an all day child’s pass for $10.
The concession stand offers ice cream and a few other selections and the vending machines in the facility are all priced at $1.
“It’s inexpensive fun,” smiled Benjamin. “We could charge more, the vending machine guys wanted to set the machines at $1.50, or even $2, because right now I don’t make anything off of them, but that’s alright. I don’t want to take advantage, money is not the whole game in life.”
“I’ve enjoyed it all, but watching the kids smile when they’re here, that’s the biggest reward,” said Benjamin. “Bottom line, bring it to Shelby, and they will come. It’s going to be fun.”