OTIS L. BENTON. The permanent settlement and development of the West required the presence of personalities akin to "hewers of wood and drawers of water." Few of those who cast their lot with this region in the beginning endured to the end its torturing disappointments inflicted by the wild environments, but some, like the company of the Mayflower, dropped anchor on Kansas soil never to lift it again except to recast it at a more favorable or opportune place within the confines of the Sunflower Commonwealth and thus continue their labors as contributors to the civilization and enlightenment of the state. To this permanent class of settlers belongs the Benton family, of which Otis L., of Oberlin, is a distinguished representative and to this family and to his particular work is this brief article dedicated.
Otis L. Benton is a native son of Kansas. He was born in Pottawatomie County, where his parents settled as pioneers of our territorial period, his natal day being July 31, 1866. His Father, Almon Benton, took up a homestead in that county in 1859 as an emigrant from Spencer, New York, where he was born July 10, 1824. The father came to mature years near Spencer, and there married Miss Fidelia Lewis, also a native of New York. His wife was two years younger than himself and passed away at Topeka, Kansas. November 25, 1902, the mother of Carmi O., a cattleman who passed away in Kansas City in 1917, James O., Lucia O., widow of A. H. Case, of Topeka, Kansas, Lewis O., who died while yet a young man, but who, however, had made a great success as a merchant, and Otis Lincoln, the immediate subject of this sketch.
Besides his homestead Almon Benton entered a soldier's filing in Pottawatomie County and spent the first few years of his life in Kansas there as a farmer. He then became a prominent merchant at Louisville in that county, and was busy with large commercial interests until 1884, when he retired from business and took up his residence in Topeka, where he died September 17, 1898. As a citizen of his community he was very active in the work of the Congregational Church, and shared his time and the liberality of his purse with others in that field of religious work.
The earliest Bentons of this family were English and its remote American ancestor emigrated to our shores, it is known, about the time the first Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. The Benton home was first established in Connecticut, but newer generations scattered about New England adjacent to salt water, where, in Sheffield, Massachusetts, we find Carmi Benton's birthplace. That grand ancestor of Otis L. Benton was the father of Almon Benton and was born November 27, 1799, and became an early settler of New York, where he identified himself with education and achieved prominence in that field of literary effort. He married Miss Lucia Cowles and died at Spencer, New York, in February, 1879.
Otis Lincoln Benton grew up under commercial and business environment in his native heath, and his liberal education came from the high school of Louisville, from Washburn College and from Elliott's Business College, Burlington, Iowa. He graduated from the English department of Washburn in 1884, and left the business college with a finished course the next year, ready for the opening stroke of his strenuous life and in 1886 established himself in Oberlin.
Mr. Benton married in Eureka, Kansas, September 22, 1887, Miss Maude Durkee, a daughter of James J. Durkee, who married Mary Brewster and came to Kansas from Illinois in 1867. Mr. Durkee was the first president of the First National Bank of Eureka, Kansas. The first born of the children of Mr. and Mrs. Benton, Gerald D. Benton, is secretary and treasurer of the Benton & Hopkins Investment Company. He was born in Oberlin, April 14, 1890, graduated from Washburn College and from Elliott's Business College and is a lieutenant with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. The second son died in infancy. Harwood Otis, the third child of Mr. Benton, was born November 16, 1894, graduated in the class of 1917 from Washburn College and is a lieutenant in the World war. Pansy M., the only daughter of Mr. Benton, was born March 28, 1897, and is the wife of Lieutenant Gordon H. Banchor, of the United States army. She is a graduate of the Girls' School at Ossining, New York, and of the Fine Arts Department of Washburn College, Topeka.
Beginning his life in Oberlin, Mr. Benton did so as a clerk in a bank and with this institution his life has since been entwined. It is noteworthy that few men start with an enterprise or institution with which they grow up and to which they give the stamp of their personality as Mr. Benton has done. Not only this bank, but other interests akin, born from time to time, have been launched or encouraged into being by him and have felt his keen business touch and have exhibited an added business thrill from year to year until a whole bevy of financial or fiduciary concerns have grown to mature children of the old bank, or of Mr. Benton's financial family since his clerkship of thirty-three years ago began.
The Oberlin National Bank was established in 1886, as a state institution, and was nationalized in 1891. Mr. Benton was chosen its first cashier and promoted to the presidency in 1904. Mr. H. O. Douglas is its cashier. The institution is capitalized at $50,000 and has a $50,000 surplus, and its home is a handsome brick structure erected in 1887 at the corner of Penn and Commercial avenues.
Mr. Benton is financially interested in and vice president of the First National Bank of Norcatur; vice president of the First State Bank of Dresden; president of the First State Bank of Traer and of the First State Bank of Herndon; and is president of the Benton & Hopkins Investment Company of Oberlin.
The Benton & Hopkins Investment Company is one of the largest institutions of its kind in Kansas and was also established in 1886. It has a capital and surplus of $250,000, and has practically unlimited resources for handling farm loans and commercial paper. Its growth has been the result of its wise and conservative management, at the head of which is Otis L. Benton, who from its inception to the present has given a large share of his time and energy to this end. The cashier of the company is Mr. G. H. Lippelmann and its secretary and treasurer is Mr. Gerald D. Benton.
Otis L. Benton's name is associated with extensive land holdings in various parts of Northwest Kansas. His residence in Oberlin is one of the best in the state. It was erected in 1907 and possesses every luxury of a modern home. It occupies a beautiful site studded with trees and shrubbery and flowers, the best effort of the landscape gardener. Residence property in Topeka and business property in Kansas City, Missouri, constitute other investments of Mr. Benton.
In politics Mr. Benton has been an active factor in his region for many years. He began voting as a republican, and has given all his political aid to that organization. He was a delegate from his congressional district to the Republican National Convention of 1908 and at different times he has been a member of the State Republican Committee. He was the republican nominee for Congress from his district in 1916, but was defeated in the democratic landslide of that year because of the campaign slogan, "Vote for Wilson and a Democratic Congress and keep us out of war." As a citizen he has been liberal in his contributions of time and money in advancing the welfare, especially, of Northwest Kansas. In church affairs he is a Presbyterian, and has for many years been an official in his home church. He is affiliated with several fraternal orders, including the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Knights of Pythias, the Sons and Daughters of Justice, the Modern Woodmen of America and the Elks.
Mr. and Mrs. Benton became acquainted, as young people, when they were both students at Washburn College, and very naturally have been warm supporters of that splendid institution. Mr. Benton has been a trustee in the college for many years and has always been liberal in its support. Their three children are all graduates of Washburn, and, as the years go by, the affection for Washburn by the entire family is very noticeable Oberlin and the surrounding country has contributed a large number of splendid young men and women to the student body of Washburn College.
Mr. Benton has for many years been a member of the State Executive Committee of the Young Men's Christian Association of Kansas. He has for years been an active member of the High School Committee of the State Association and is liberal in his support of this work.
Mr. Benton has devoted most of the year of 1917 and 1918 to war work, having turned over a large amount of his business to his associates so that he could devote all the time necessary as a member of the army at home in the raising of funds and in the conservation of food so that our American armies and our allies could be well re-enforced from this country. Mr. Benton was chairman of the Council of Defense for his home county, and this organization had charge of every war activity from the beginning. It may be said also that Decatur County went over the top in every drive, Red Cross, Young Men's Christian Association, United War Work and Liberty Loans. In addition to this position Mr. Benton was field representative for this district of Kansas on the Red Cross, Young Men's Christian Association, United War Work, and campaigned all over this part of the state in behalf of these patriotic and philanthropic objects. At the time when there was apparently some hesitation as to the position this country should take, when letters were being written between this country and the Central Powers of Europe, when it looked as if there might be some compromise, in replying to a wire from the Federal Loan Committee, on October 14, 1918, Mr. Benton sent the following telegraphic answer:
|"As much as we desire peace and the safe return of our boys home, our people demand the unconditional surrender of Germany without further negotiations. Otherwise fight to the finish."|
These patriotic words certainly reflected the true American spirit, as subsequent events proved, when the Armistice was signed November 11, 1918, and Germany completed her surrender, unconditionally.
Mr. Benton's two sons, Lieutenant Gerald D. Benton and Lieutenant Harwood O. Benton, were both members of the Thirty-Fifth Division, which division immortalized itself in the Argonne Forest in that great battle from the 26th day of September to October 4, 1918. His youngest son, Lieut. Harwood O. Benton, was wounded in this battle and subsequently spent nine weeks in a base hospital in France. He was cited for bravery and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by President Wilson through General Pershing for extraordinary heroism in the face of the enemy, according to the following dispatch from the War Department, Washington, D. C., of February 8, 1919.
"Lieut. Harwood O. Benton 137th Infantry. For extraordinary heroism in action near Montrebeau Woods, France, September 29, 1918. When the advance of his company had been checked and forced back into the woods, Lieutenant Benton altho himself wounded, went into an open field and, under heavy machine gun fire, rescued two wounded comrades. He remained in action despite his wounds for three days, when he was ordered to the hospital by the battalion commander. Home address, Otis L. Benton, father, Oberlin, Kansas."
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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