On July 10, 2023, Ben McAdams died peacefully at home, in Moline, Illinois, following a fall.
He was born on October 19, 1928, in Aledo, Illinois, to Helen Duncan McAdams and Francis McAdams, the fifth of five children. The family moved to Rock Island, Illinois, where Ben spent most of his life. He graduated from Rock Island High School, attended Cornell College, received an undergraduate degree from Marycrest College, and a master’s degree from Truman State University.
Ben married Marlene Mercer on March 2, 1950. They had six children: Benton (Victoria), Scott, Len Harriss (Joel), Sam (Hazel), Patrick, and Driesst; twelve grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. Ben was preceded in death by his parents, first wife Marlene; brothers Forrest and Richard McAdam, sister Barbara Westberg; sons Benton and Patrick; grandchildren Lyndsay and Zack McAdams, and great-granddaughter Devon Cunningham. He is survived by his beloved wife, Lois, and his one-hundred-year-old brother Mac.
Visitation is 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Sunday in the Horizon Room at Trimble Funeral Home at Trimble Pointe, 701 12th Street, Moline, Illinois. Funeral services are 11:30 a.m. Monday, July 17, at First Lutheran Church, Moline, with The Rev. Dan Witkowski officiating. Memorials may be made to Cornell College or First Lutheran Church. Because Ben did not enjoy wearing a suit, sport jacket and tie, please feel comfortable leaving yours at home, if you wish, when attending the visitation and/or funeral.
Now that the basic facts are out of the way, it is time to try to sum up the life of Ben McAdams. He was Dad, Papa, Bennie Boy, Bennie and Ben to family and friends. For simplicity, we’ll refer to him as Ben. If our talented writer brother, Benton, were still with us, he would have written this obituary and captured the essence of our father succinctly and beautifully. In his absence we will do our best.
At age nine, in 1937, Ben began a lifelong history of tireless hard work and service. In addition to going to school, he delivered newspapers and collected the weekly fee until 1943. When he saw the December 8, 1941, headline regarding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he ran his entire four-mile route because he did not know where Pearl Harbor was and feared the enemy was behind every tree. During his paper route years, he also worked picking and weeding fruits and vegetables at local truck farms and gardens. While weeding beets at five cents a row, he realized he could work more rows if he just knocked off the weed tops with his toes. When discovered, he liked to say, “I was out of business.” While still in high school Ben worked at Chippiannock Cemetery digging and un-digging graves; he would return there for work several times over the years, enjoyed visiting there throughout his life and will be interred there.
He was a Boy Scout and, at age sixteen, received the Eagle Scout award followed by three bronze palm leaves. He spoke often of his days in the scouts; they were clearly an important influence in his life.
Ben was a gifted athlete who won the 1945 Illinois State Championship Wrestling title in the ninety-five-pound weight class. Upon leaving high school, while thinking of joining the navy, despite dreaming of being a teacher, he began working at a Standard gas station. It was there that he was recruited by Cornell College wrestling coach Paul Scott (Scotty). This opportunity for education changed the trajectory of Ben’s life. Scotty remained a mentor and friend, as did several members of that team, and Ben named his second son Scott. The summer’s wages from the gas station and subsequent summer jobs paid for his two-and-a-half years at Cornell. After leaving Cornell in 1949, Ben worked at many farm equipment manufacturing companies, married in 1950 and began working a variety of labor jobs to support his growing family. He continued to go to school working toward his bachelor’s degree. He eventually drove a Downing’s Dairy milk route and finally, in 1955, accepted his first teaching position in Albany, Illinois, where he taught all subjects, coached all sports teams, and drove the school bus. He went on to teach at Hampton, Illinois, where he also served as principal and basketball coach (1956-1958); Hawthorne Elementary, Rock Island, Illinois (1958-1960); and Eugene Field Elementary, Rock Island, Illinois (1960-1965). From 1960 to 1962 Ben worked after school hours and summers at Memorial Park Cemetery. He delivered a one hundred customer paper route before school from 1961 to 1962 and worked weekends at the gas station from 1964-1965. In 1966 he began working nights and weekends as a dispatcher for Dohrn Transfer Company while still teaching. You might ask when he slept. We’re not sure but do remember that during the heat of the summer, when too hot in the house to sleep during the day, he would purchase a Fort Theatre movie ticket and sleep in the air conditioning for a few hours. The following jobs in education followed the years at Eugene Field:
1965-1967 - Principal, Tipton Elementary, Tipton, Iowa (still driving to Rock Island for his Dohrn job).
1967-1970 – Superintendent, Carbon Cliff/Barstow schools
1970-1973 – Principal, Grant Elementary School in Moline, Illinois
1971-1973 – Director of Summer Head Start Program. During his administration, the program
was rated the best summer program in the Chicago region.
1973 to his retirement in 1988 -- Director of Special Services in the Moline School District
Many lasting friendships with colleagues and teachers were formed here.
But retirement was not a comfortable fit for Ben, so he worked another sixteen years in the following capacities:
Paralegal for an insurance company
Photographer of the ENTIRE inventory of the Moline School District
Group leader at Arrowhead Ranch
Interim Superintendent Moline School District
Superintendent Riverdale Schools
Family Counselor Youth Services Bureau
Treatment Director Arrowhead Ranch
Interim Superintendent Hampton School District
Consultant at Rock Island Regional Office of Education
Interim Superintendent Moline School District
Superintendent of the Moline School District (an appointed position)
Interim Principal, Moline Alternative School
Interim Educational Director, Arrowhead Ranch
Superintendent, Arrowhead Ranch
Interim Superintendent, Aledo School District – He resigned twenty-four hours after being hired, so, for a brief time he ended up in the city of his birth seventy-eight years later!
From 1940 to 1974, in between his many jobs, Ben worked as an official of high school and college wrestling, officiating in seven state tournaments and serving as a rules interpreter for four years, which brings us back to his athleticism. In addition to the high school wrestling championship that led to his recruitment to Cornell College and his path to teaching, he was part of the “Dream Team” at Cornell that won the NCAA wrestling championships in 1947. He was the1945 Midwest Conference Wrestling Champion. He also excelled at cross country and accomplished the following:
1947 and 1948 - Midwest Conference - Two Mile Cross Country Champion
1948 - Midwest Conference 5,000 Meter Champion
1948 - 42nd (field of 556) in NCAA Cross Country meet (2nd among small school participants)
1948 - Undefeated in dual meets
1948 - National Junior AAU 10,000 Meter Cross Country Champion
He was inducted into six halls of fame:
Rock Island High School Athletics
Illinois Wrestling Officials and Coaches
Cornell College Athletics
Rock Island High School Outstanding Alumni
Glen Brand National (a wrestling hall of fame)
For almost sixty years, Ben gave endlessly to the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, serving in every post possible, including Pastor and Director of 10 years of camping experiences. He also fit in a master’s degree in education, and running several marathons and countless 10Ks, often placing in the top five in his age group.
In 2009, Ben found happiness with Lois Larson, a person he hired many years before as a librarian in the Moline School District. When their health was good, they enjoyed great times going to social events, attending church together (Ben joined Lois’ church so he could fully participate in worshiping with her), visiting relatives and hosting family celebrations. They took considerable pleasure in visiting Chestnut Mountain Resort for the beautiful scenery and calm and peace they both felt there. When they had to stay closer to home, they could often be found watching the hummingbirds and wildlife from their kitchen table with Ben waving to passersby. We are happy Ben had Lois’ companionship and that of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He greatly enjoyed time spent with them.
Most importantly, during his multiple jobs, his own schooling, church work, and running, he nurtured a family and took great care of his mother and his mother- and father-in-law. He wanted his children to have fun and found time most summers to pack the family up in the Plymouth station wagon to show them the country from California to Pennsylvanian and states in between. He filled paper grocery sacks with popcorn and took carloads of kids to the drive-in movie. He took us to the river to throw rocks and collect tadpoles to watch grow into frogs. He took us to wrestling matches he officiated, to doctor appointments, to visit relatives, and school clothes shopping. He played board games with us, read us books, recited The Raven, and had us act out stories he narrated. He printed US maps for us to track presidential elections by coloring them red or blue as the results came in. He forced us to watch the Ten Commandments every year and sang silly songs to us, though he could not carry a tune. He made every effort to attend our events despite his busy work schedule. He put on the “Bix Olympics” for his grandchildren for many summers, setting things up after he had completed the Bix Run. These are just a few of the many gifts/memories he gave his family. Of course, at times we were difficult, and he could become frustrated and sometimes angry, but he never complained about his lot or asked any of us to be beholden to him for what he provided. He apologized when he made mistakes, and his love was truly unconditional.
Despite suffering tremendous losses - a wife of fifty-nine years, two sons, three grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, as well as enduring the pain of helplessness when watching a child disappear into addiction, he survived without bitterness or anger and did not retreat from life or his family. He remained the father we needed. We were grateful for his strength and constant presence.
Dad’s greatest legacy may have been his genuine interest in people; it did not matter what they wore, how much education they had, what they looked like, where they came from or how much money they had. They were all deserving of his respect and kindness and people felt that. I think that is why he was a beloved educator, administrator, mentor, friend, and member of his community. He couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped by someone who knew him - he was approachable, kind and caring to all.
Take a much-deserved rest, Dad, Papa, Bennie Boy, Bennie, Ben
The family would like to thank some special people who enriched Ben’s post-career life:
Dead Poet’s Coffee Group who gave Ben structure to his weeks - a schedule and a place to be, as well as the best audience for his oft repeated stories. Your patience, kindness and love cannot be measured. Thanks to grandson Sean who saw that Ben got there and elsewhere.
Sandy Paxton and Diana Stropes who cooked, cleaned, and provided company for Ben and Lois for many years. Ben loved you both.
Dr. Kunreddy for her care and understanding during his last couple of years. He often mentioned how much he liked you.
The people at Home Instead who saw that Ben was comfortable for the last couple of weeks.
And most of all to our sister, Driesst, who lovingly cared for our father through his most difficult days.
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