Jean and Helen Benjamin

Jean and Helen Benjamin
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Jean and Helen Benjamin. Photo by Joanne Wojtyto

When Helen Benjamin, 80, first heard about property her father-in-law planned to buy and develop, it didn’t sound great. L. Walter Benjamin, Sr. took his two sons, L. Walter Jr. (deceased) and her husband Jean to see woodlands off San Jose Boulevard just south of San Clerc Road. The Beauclerc Country Club and golf course used to be located at that intersection, where Jewish Community Alliance and Villages of San Jose are now located.

“Around 1960 or so, my husband’s father drove his sons way out past Bolles High School to look at property,” Benjamin said. “They told their father that it seemed pretty far out from town to be building new homes.”

Dad Benjamin, as Helen called him, with his partners, the Coleman family of Coleman Printing Company and Ivan Smith of Reynolds, Smith & Hill Engineering & Architectural firm, developed approximately 30 homes on two streets that would be named San Bernado and San Remo. The neighborhood was called Beauclerc Manor.

“Jean’s older brother owned the first home built on San Bernado and lived there five years before selling to us. When we moved to the neighborhood it was filled with families and children. Our kids loved to play Ghost-in-the-Graveyard with their neighborhood friends,” she recalled.

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Age 8

Before Helen even met her future husband she had seen his father in the Downtown Atlantic Bank Building where she worked as a secretary. Benjamin, Sr. was an independent realtor who relocated to Jacksonville in 1934 with his wife Babette Altmayer Benjamin and their two sons. They weathered the Great Depression by living with relatives on First Street in Springfield. Jean and his brother rode their bikes or a city bus from Springfield to Congregation Ahavath Chesed when it was located Downtown at Laura and Ashley Streets.

Jean graduated from Andrew Jackson High School in1943 and served in the U.S. Army during WWII. Two years later he entered and graduated from the University of North Carolina before returning to active duty in the Korean War as a first lieutenant.

In 1953, he enrolled at the University of Florida to complete his MBA and met lovely undergraduate Helen Irvin in a university dining hall. The couple married in 1955. Jean had careers in realty with his father and selling life insurance. Since 2005 he has worked at the Duval County Courthouse. He and Helen owned approximately 85 Kiddierama Cartoon Theatres located throughout Jacksonville and other cities during the 1970s.

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1952 high school senior photo

“We were sure we were going to be rich,” they said. “The coin-operated theatres were about the size of a telephone booth with a movie projector inside. For a quarter a child could go in, sit down and watch children’s cartoons like Woody Woodpecker. We placed them at Sears, Montgomery Ward’s and Dairy Queens. Unfortunately, it was only about eight years before the stores didn’t want them anymore and electronic Pac Man machines took over.”

Helen Irvin Benjamin grew up on the most famous poultry farm in the Southeast, Pine Breeze Farm in Callahan with her parents James Lawrence and Esther (Boone) Irvin. Her father was the son of a piano and organ salesman who worked for F.O. Miller Pianos in Jacksonville at Forsyth and Ocean streets. Young Irvin, for unknown reasons, started raising a few chicks in one of his dad’s discarded organ shipping cases. He became a local authority and speaker regarding the poultry industry for 50 years. Helen had a front row seat on Florida’s poultry business when it was still mostly independent farmers.

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1955 engagement photo

“My siblings and I grew up on a 900-acre chicken farm in Nassau County, with 25 henhouses, 8,000 free-range laying hens, a cattle herd and tenant-employees who lived in houses my father built for them. We let chickens out in the mornings at first light and got them back in at night and spent summers working on the farm. I loved riding on the cart with the workers to feed twice a day. Dad was strictly in the egg business and only sold his chickens when they were too old to lay. He sold eggs to restaurants until Winn-Dixie needed all he could produce,” she said.

After her marriage to Jean, Helen was an at-home mother raising their four children, Walter George, Jimmy, Marian Esther and Carol Phyllis, until 1977. She then briefly worked as a secretary for an insurance company before becoming membership secretary for the Florida Academy of Family Physicians in the Koger Center on Beach Blvd. After 22 rewarding years there she retired in 2000.

The couple enjoy spending time with family which now includes three grandchildren. Helen loves music and learned harmony singing doing dishes at the kitchen sink with her older sister Lillian. She’s active in Friday Musicale and Jacksonville Masterworks Chorale. In 2010 she underwent surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer and is a thankful survivor.

The Benjamin family has a tradition of Scouting and generations of Eagle Scouts. Jean, his brother, cousins and sons all attained the honor. Jean was active with Temple Troop 12 and served as Scoutmaster for years. He also served as Temple Committee Chairman liaison between the troop and congregation. He has been a Mason since the 1950s.

By Greg Walsh
Resident Community News

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Helen and Jean Benjamin’s wedding

 

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