Vera Boyle Benjamin

By Victoria Register-Freeman
Resident Community News

Vera Boyle Benjamin is a lifelong resident of the historic district. Born in the early 1930s, she grew up on Lydia Street, a short distance away from her school, St. Paul’s Catholic.

After high school, she went to Florida Community College-Jacksonville (FCCJ) and Jacksonville University and then became the administrative assistant to Dr. Merrill Anderson, the founder of St. Vincent’s Family Practice Center. Remembering the legendary doctor, she is quick to say, “He was such a gentleman as well as a fine doctor.”

Growing up, Benjamin’s family lived in a red brick bungalow on Lydia Street, the last house standing behind Walgreens Drug Store.
Benjamin recalls, “My family, six of us, moved to Jacksonville from Chicago in 1936. I was four years old and the youngest of four children, Mary Etta, Ellen, Jimmy and Vera. My parents were Jim and Vera Boyle.

“After renting for two years, we bought our home on Lydia St. in 1938 for $3,600. The house was quite large compared to others in the area. It had many features other homes did not have at that time.

Mort and Vera Benjamin

Mort and Vera Benjamin

“Our home had an oil-burning furnace that provided steam heat in radiators throughout the house. We had a fully tiled bath and half-bath. Having more than one bath was quite nice for a family of six which would grow to eight as the years passed.

“Almost all of the rooms opened into a very wide hallway. There was an attic door which pulled down to disclose a ladder leading to a floored-in attic.
“This very wide hallway served us well during WWII when there were air raid warnings and blackouts. Yes, they happened. We could shut all the doors and have an inner room where we could stay. In the built-in bookcase in this hallway we kept water, food, flashlights and candles for such an emergency.

“We had cedar-lined closets in all bedrooms, and a spacious breakfast room with built-in sideboard and china closet. Our father built a table for the breakfast room that would seat eight comfortably. He was a finish carpenter and mechanic extraordinaire. My mother was the homemaker and a terrific financial manager.
“Unbeknownst to my father, my mother doubled up on house payments and paid off the mortgage for their 25th anniversary in 1945. I remember we had a scavenger hunt for my father to find the deed and it was hidden under the sofa cushions. It was one of the few times I ever saw my father cry.

“We had a formal dining room and large living room with an ornate fireplace and hardwood floors throughout. We would cover our floors with area rugs in the winter and then when summer arrived we would send them to be cleaned and then store them in our attic.

“The house originally had an open front porch and wide steps anchored by two large cedar trees. My brother, Jimmy, and his friends would make ‘rubber guns’ and take the berries off the cedar tree for ammunition.

“My two older sisters, Mary Etta and Ellen, were married at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, but their wedding receptions were held in our home. Both weddings were in the 1940s and since it was war time, weddings were simpler and receptions were held at home. We decorated the fireplace in our living room with magnolias and other flowers.

“My brother Jimmy suffered from asthma and was not able to participate in sports (as they said in those days) so he had many hobbies. One of his hobbies was constructing model airplanes. He would often do this up in our attic where he had his own workspace and also we did not have to be exposed to the smell of his airplane glue. To this day he maintains an avid interest in flying as well as being a licensed nautical Captain who spends most of his days on the water.

“My treasured memories are many: having an ice man and milkman; being able to leave our doors unlocked until our Dad shut them for the night; playing hopscotch and dodge ball in front of our house.

“When I was a teenager, I enjoyed watching the boys on the football team from St. Paul’s march by my house on the way to practice in Willowbranch Park. Of course, other girls from St. Paul’s joined in the watch. The boys would be quite spry on their trip to the park but coming back was another story after hours of practice.
“My two younger brothers were born in 1941 and 1943 and my sister Ellen and I delighted in helping our mother with childcare.

“Of course, with the advent of two new arrivals, we had to re-arrange bedroom occupancy and make room for all. At this time, my father built the side glassed-in room off our living room to make a bedroom for one of my brothers.

“My two younger brothers, John and Jerry, born in 1941 and 1943 enjoyed climbing in the Japanese Plum tree we had in our back yard and climbing the huge camphor tree in our side yard.

“After the war, my father converted our double garage into an apartment for rental income. All of my brothers helped him with this project. We were a family that worked together well.

“I moved from our home in 1952 when I married, but still drive by often to think of “The House We Lived In” a home filled with laughter, love, joy, sharing and experimenting.

“If I won the lottery today, I would buy it and move back into that house full of memories.”

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