Bob Bennyhoff: Columnist never lost his voice; newsman who covered the Korean War for United Press International, took pride in community
(June 8, 2004)
ORANGE PARK ACRES, Calif. -- At 59, Bob Bennyhoff decided to retire from United Press International, the news service for which he'd covered the Korean War and Bikini atoll atomic tests, to focus on his new hobby - writing stories for a tiny newspaper published by his wife, Anita, in rural Orange Park Acres.
"Best thing that ever happened to him," Anita said.
Bennyhoff, 82, who died at home Tuesday of throat cancer, drew fans with his straight-shooting columns for the Foothills Sentry, previously known as Common Talk. He also angered political activists who organized a boycott of the Sentry during the 2001 Orange Unified School District board recall.
Born in Oroville on Sept. 4, 1921, Bennyhoff started writing for UPI while still enrolled at the University of Nevada in Reno.
"He was very energetic, very enterprising, said Bill McFarland, 80, a retired UPI reporter who worked with Bennyhoff in the 1940s.
Bennyhoff made peepholes in the rafters when he heard the Nevada Legislature was conducting secret meetings, McFarland said.
"He could be annoying to some sources -- annoying to a lot of sources. But he got the news," McFarland said.
Bennyhoff joined the Air Force during World War II, and later covered the Korean War as a UPI correspondent.
He once sat in a sealed tank to observe an atomic bomb test 1,500 yards away. With dark glasses on, he could still see every bone in his hand, Anita Bennyhoff said.
In New Guinea, while trying to track down the missing son of a New York politician, a tribe treated him to a feast, which he later found out included human flesh, she said.
In 1979, the couple married and Bennyhoff moved into Orange Park Acres.
They led a quiet home life, tending to their fruit trees, vegetable garden and pets .. . a donkey named Sweet Pea, a dog, Sam, and a sheep named Sheep.
Bennyhoff loved to be heard through his Sentry editorials.
He criticized plans for an airport at El Toro, fought against proposed county jails near Irvine Lake and opposed a 2001 school board recall.
"He said the same things were happening in Washington," Anita Bennyhoff said. "It was just a smaller pond here."
He parked himself in the front row of every Orange City Council meeting. He spoke to politicians from the lectern and put copies of the Sentry at each council member's seat.
"We all read it," said Orange Councilman Mike Alvarez. People often asked Alvarez why he was looking down at his seat during council meetings.
"We would position the paper on top of the trash can and just read it to see what he was criticizing so that we kind of knew where he was coming from for that meeting." Alvarez said laughing.
In December, Bennyhoff was diagnosed with throat cancer. Radiation treatments marred his once-sharp tongue, dementia muddled his memory.
"I think he'd like to be remembered as a good newsman," Anita Bennyhoff said. "But he was also a bon vivant, a gourmet -- or maybe in his case, a gourmand."
Bennyhoff is survived by his wife and four daughters, Tani Robertson, Gretchen Cox, Lesley Gregory and Allison Dietz, and five grandchildren -- Jit Fong Chin/The Orange County Register
Click here for a 1996 interview that the late Dick Harnett did with Bennyhoff at his home in California.