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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: ‘She helped anyone she could’

Joliet woman treated everyone as family

JOLIET – Elizabeth “Betty Joy” Benson of Joliet had two favorite sayings: “When you have family, you have everything in the world,” and “Grab a plate.”

And Betty Joy lived by those words.

Her husband, Ken Benson of Joliet, said Betty supported him when he returned from Vietnam, encouraged him to stop drinking and listened to him talk when he needed it. While Betty Joy scoured estate sales and resale stores for the Italian pottery she loved and collected, she also kept a sharp eye out for Coca-Cola memorabilia, which Ken has collected for decades.

“She’d give the blouse off her back to help you,” Ken said.

With her son, Shane Benson of Joliet, Betty Joy prepared up to 20 different varieties of Christmas cookies each year and distributed them to friends and relatives, Shane said. He intends to continue the tradition.

Betty Joy was in the delivery room when her daughter, Beth Ann Benson of Joliet, gave birth to her son, Nik Benson, now 12, and then helped Beth Ann raise him. Betty Joy also helped Shane and her sister, Gina Lopez of Plainfield, with their children, Beth Ann said. They are Antonio Benson and Christopher, Michelle, Meagan and Brittany Lopez.

“She helped anyone she could,” Shane said. “To know her was to love her. She was a great person.”

Beth Ann added, “She inspired me to be the best mother I could be.”

Betty Joy loved to cook. No one could refuse her fried pork chops and fried potatoes and Shane, who still prepares her recipes, said he’d never tasted roast beef like hers. Beth Ann said her mother, a true Italian, cooked true Italian food.

“In Italy, they top their spaghetti with tomatoes and cheese. There wasn’t red sauce,” Beth Ann said. “When my mom made ravioli or tortellini, she did it with olive oil or butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese.”

Anyone within earshot of the house was encouraged to join the family at meals, even when Ken was laid off, Beth Ann said. For instance, if Betty Joy had only a pack of chicken, she made chicken soup, she said, and she could work magic with a few hot dogs and potatoes.

“If you left hungry, it was your own fault,” Ken said. “She didn’t care who you were. The door was always open.”

“By feeding people,” Beth Ann said, “she was making their lives easier and happier. My mom tried to help as many people as she could. Just to see a smile on their faces brought her joy.”

Finding a new piece of Capodimonte pottery, especially the uncommon animal shapes, also could brighten Betty Joy’s day. She had pieces that had traveled from Italy, as they had belonged to her grandmother, Beth Ann said, but Betty Joy found others at auctions, garage sales and resale stores. A favorite piece is a 2-foot working clock Betty acquired five years ago.

However, Ken said, Betty Joy’s “pride and joy” was a 1940 pink, kidney-shaped couch, still in its original plastic, that took six people to carry into the house. Betty Joy was 64 when she died Dec. 23, 2013. It was Nik’s 12th birthday, Beth Ann said.

“My mom was in the delivery room with me when I had him,” Beth Ann said, “and he was there with her in the hospital when she passed away.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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