What started out as a younger sister chaperoning her older sister to visit her boyfriend resulted in a marriage that endured all the highs and lows 70 years of togetherness can bring.
The couple plans to celebrate seven decades together with a private, family party on May 31. An open house for the couple will take place on Saturday, June 1, at the Carousel Rest Area of Shelby, from 2-7 p.m. The rides will be free all day but donations will be accepted for the carousel.
There will be music provided by the family and a slideshow sharing memories of days gone by will be on display.
Everyone is welcome to stop by and join in celebrating 70 year of marriage and the legacy Harry and Jeane have created, together.
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It all started during the Thanksgiving holiday of 1948, when Jeane traveled with her sister, Joyce, to visit her beau, Norman Benjamin. That was the first time Jeane and Harry Benjamin met and on May 31, 1949, they were wed in Colorado.
“We were too young to get married in Montana. We were 17,” said Jeane. “We could have lied about our ages, but we didn’t want to start out our marriage that way.”
Before the story goes any further, for those who don’t know, Jeane’s sister also married her Benjamin beau, six weeks prior to Harry and Jeane’s wedding, and the two were happily married for 60 years.
Harry and Jeane made the trek to Colorado to get married with Jeane’s mother as their chaperone. Harry’s father had given him the checkbook for the trip and other than the very last tank of gas on the way home, $75 covered all their expenses.
“My dad raised us to work as hard as he did, so he never wanted us without a checkbook,” Harry explained. “We had no reason to steal, we were provided for. We had $75 when we left Devon. We went to Colorado and back, making almost to Lewistown when Jeane’s mother had to buy the last tank of gas. That $75 paid for our marriage license, a place to stay, meals, all but the last tank of gas.”
Harry’s mother was already in Colorado with his younger sister, Lillian, who had been in the hospital there for several months struggling with diabetes. Jeane and Harry’s mothers were their witnesses, standing with them at the Justice of the Peace Office. At the time, Harry and Jeane didn’t realize the office was going to be closed for the next couple of days, if they hadn’t been there on the 31st they would have had to wait until the fifth.
“We got our marriage license and married the same day,” said Harry. “We had to rush because we couldn’t stay that long. We were gone a week, total.”
Upon returning home, the couple went to work on the farm and stayed until the fall work was done. The couple bought a two-wheeled, 16’ camp trailer from Harry’s brother-in-law and they lived in that for a year. Once the fall work was complete, the couple made their way with their mobile home to Seattle. Harry couldn’t find steady work and after a month, the couple was out of money.
Harry had worked the year before getting married in a service station in Spokane, so he called the boss and asked if he had a job for him.
“We had just enough money left to get to Spokane,” said Harry. “He said he’d put me to work so we went down the next morning and I went to work at two that afternoon and worked there for a year.”
Harry’s parents were trying to get the couple to come back to Montana and after the year in Spokane, they did. Harry and Jeane returned to the family farm and decided to rent Harry’s brother-in-law, Ralph Clouser’s farm.
“Ralph purchased the farm in ’46 with a GI loan,” Harry recalled. “A wheat farm, south of Devon. I started renting it in 1950, got a loan and bought his machinery.”
Harry and Jeane spent 60 years on that farm, but farming was not their only occupation. Throughout the years of their marriage the couple owned and worked many business ventures together, everything from a pipeline company to a restaurant to traveling the country to attend fairs with the pedal tractors Harry made.
Most importantly, they also raised a family, having seven children: Jerry, Lloyd, Clifford, Marlene, Marvin, Shirley and Steve. The number of children in the home grew by two in 1971, when the couple’s nieces moved in after the death of Harry’s sister, Marjorie.
“Harry’s sister, Marjorie, passed away in ’71,” said Jeane. “One daughter was in fifth grade, the other was a freshman. Marge had asked Harry and I if we would take the girls before she passed. Their father, Ralph, was killed two years later. Two years and two months, to the day, after their mother died.”
All the children helped work on the farm and to this day, Clifford is still there.
The Benjamins have two farms, one just a couple of miles from Devon, the other 18 miles east of town. It was in 1966 that the couple started hosting the Christian Church Convention at the farm, a tradition that continues to this day, with the couple’s grandchildren, Roy and Kaylee Benjamin, having taken over the event in 2011.
“Since June of ’66 to the present the Christian Convention has been there,” said Harry proudly. “It’s a highlight of our life to do it, we count our years from convention to convention, it’s always the third week in June. We use the farm buildings for it and have room for all, camp trailers and cars. It’s coming up here again soon.”
Although the couple haven’t been on the farm for a decade and haven’t recently started any new businesses, they have found plenty to keep them busy. Projects– everything from the Community Garden, to helping teach shop class at the high school, to creating Ferris Wheels and carousels–the duo does it all, together.
It was in 2013 that Harry was awarded his high school diploma from Shelby High School. Harry did not just accept the honor on his on behalf, but had his wife join him at the podium, sharing the honor with her.
“My wife Jeane is beside me, and has been right beside me in all I have ever attempted to do,” said Harry in his acceptance speech six years ago. “We’ve been together 64 years, as of two days ago. I took her out of her junior year in high school in Lewistown, Mont., in 1949, to get married and so she never got to finish school either, but she deserves this diploma every bit as much as I do, so we share in this honor.”
While many see Harry around town and he is the one in the forefront, Jeane is right at his side, sharing her thoughts and ideas while supporting him during his latest project. Teamwork is just one thing the two credit for the success of their marriage.
“Teamwork, honesty and communication,” said Harry. “All three are very important and those three things will take you a long ways. We have proven being honest with each other and the Lord’s counsel has blessed our lives over and over again. It has brought blessings and kept us together all these years. Being faithful to one another, it is a sacred thing, how the Lord planned it to start with. It works best when we do according to his teachings.”
“Hang in there,” added Jeane. “Before things get too far, discuss them together. We were taught when we were younger that if it’s worth starting it’s worth finishing and finishing right.”
“Fight your way through the problem instead of fighting your way out,” concluded Harry. “It’s easier to fight through and figure it out. There are usually more problems when you give up. Stick with it, don’t consider another option. You took an oath ‘until death do us part.’ Stick with it. If you follow up, there is a reward.”