In Memory of
Gladys Irene (Largent) (Benford) Brown
January 8, 1927–February 27, 2020
On February 27, 2020 at 7:56 p.m., Gladys I. (Largent) (Benford) Brown passed peacefully at her daughter’s home in Aumsville, Oregon, where Laura (daughter), Sharon (family friend), and other family members and numerous caregivers had provided love, kindness, 24/7 care, support, companionship, friendship, laughter, joy, surprise visits and lots of hand holding during her final year. Gladys had (miraculously) reached the age of 93.
Surviving Gladys are her daughter Laura (Benford) Stanley of Aumsville, OR.; Her son, Larry (Laurence) Benford of Savannah, GA.; Her daughter Janet (Benford) Montague of both California and Incline Village, NV.; Grandchildren Joshua Baxter and his wife Karisten, Robert (Bobby) Stanley, Jaime (Stanley) Rard and her husband Casey; Great grandchildren MacKenzie (Kenzie), Austin, Avery, Delilah and Riley; River May; twins Olivia and Sydney; Her sister Louise (Largent) LaVoie of Clarkston, WA. and her six sons, daughters-in-law, and numerous grand and great grandchildren.
What all can one say following 93 years of life, in a way that truly honors and remembers her ‘for the ages’? After so many years of relationships, experiences, activities, travels, creating family traditions and memories, it is impossible to capture it all in a short summary!
After several failed attempts to shorten this memoriam I finally decided to include it all.
Intertwined throughout this memoriam are many of her own recollections. Following her passing, piles of pages and pages of her own hand-written notes were discovered in one of her ‘memory boxes’. Memories that she had been recalling and reminiscing about at various times during the last few years. With dementia creeping in it had become more important to her to capture pieces of her life in writing, to help her remember. Clearly, the way her notes were written, there were so many things she wanted to share with YOU about her life.
So here we go … I invite you to join me on a meandering journey of memories about mom, our time with her, her time growing up, her life as a daughter, sister, wife, mom and friend. As a volunteer, creative artist, baker, homemaker, carpooler and Halloween costume designer. She had a full life. There’s a lot to cover!
Whether you read some or all of it, my heartfelt wish is that you find that the time you spend reading this is time well spent, and that you enjoy this glimpse into the life of Gladys. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, a glass of wine, beer or whiskey, curl up in your favorite reading spot, and enjoy …
Gladys was born in Lewiston, ID. on January 8, 1927, to Ralph Newton Largent (of Montana) and Madeline Viroqua (Eaton) Largent (of Coeur d’ Alene), just a year and a half shy of the Great Depression. Along with her older sister Louise, the family of four was complete.
She grew up in Lewiston where her “Daddy” owned the Creamery, and where she loved to watch Sally “the butter lady” cut and wrap the squares. She had an early love of cats, loved to sled down the ‘steep’ hill next to the Cemetery and read all of Gene Stratton Porter’s books, many of which she had on her bookshelf when she passed. Her favorite childhood memory was spending a week or ten days every summer at “Gramma and Grandad’s houseboat” in Kidd Island Bay, on Coeur d’ Alene Lake, Idaho. Her grandad shuttled his wooden boat ‘The Reliable’ back and forth across the Lake, a real vintage ‘water taxi’. She wouldn’t recognize Coeur d’ Alene today!
At an early age mom discovered she was artistic and creative, earning A’s in grade school and junior high art classes. She expressed her creativity throughout her adult life by hand-painting the kitchen windows, sewing (including her children’s clothing), embroidering and completing hundreds of crafty projects, including hand-made ribbon roses. She frequently shared her roses with many people, including patients at Sunnyside Kaiser hospital where she volunteered during the 1970’s-80’s. While her kids were growing up, she ensured there were always plenty of crafty projects to create.
Also, at an early age, as mom frequently recalled, many of the kids in school called her “Happy Butt” (Glad ys) … get it? I think she related to that as a term of endearment.
Gladys and her older sister Louise went to Camp Fire Camp in Coeur d’ Alene and were in Job’s Daughters while in High School. In Junior High she learned to play the drums, blow a bugle and sang in the choir. She took sewing and cooking classes at school and was proud to be one of the first girls to be allowed in wood shop (~1944).
In High School she loved algebra, chemistry and marching in the band as a member of the Drum & Bugle Corp. By this time, she was nearing her 5’ 4” height, with long, thick, wavy deep auburn hair that (she confessed in recent years) she used to ‘swish’ while walking down the sidewalk, facing the shop windows, to show it off to everyone driving by.
Also In 1945, when Gladys was 18, she remembered going ice fishing on Coeur d’ Alene Lake with her Uncle Ben and going to her Uncle Fred’s house to watch his 8” screen T.V., riding on a motorcycle with her friend, taking a spill in loose gravel, ending up over a fence and spending the next three months wearing a back brace. Looking back, it’s highly likely that accident was the genesis of the physical pain she endured in the form of Fibromyalgia about 45-50 years later.
Interesting to note, even though she was in high school for the duration of WW II, the only thing she wrote about that was in September of 1945. She remembered sitting on her front porch listening to the radio when they announced the War (II) was over! She was home by herself. She jumped up off the porch, ran to the corner, stopped the city bus and shouted, “The War is over!!!!”. The passengers all got off and were dancing on the grass and in the street!
Mom was a homemaker during her adult years but had several jobs when she was young. Her first job was babysitting next door for ten cents an hour. Her next job was as a stock girl, then as a ‘Soda Jerk’ at the Drive-in on 8th Street in Lewiston, receiving top pay of 75-cents an hour after working there for four years after school. Her work at the drive-in made an impression. It was a happy time of her life.
Later, in the 1960’s-70’s, she LOVED to take her kids out for a ‘Good’ hamburger, a ‘Roake’s’ chili dog, a ‘real’ milkshake or root beer float, during which she would recall memories of that fun time in her life – including the fact that she could get a hamburger and milkshake when she was a kid for $ .25. Mom loved Root Beer. Her mom had made homemade root beer when she was a kid, even when sugar was rationed during WW II. Making homemade root beer was a tradition she passed on to her children, with all of us taking a turn cranking the handle of the ‘ice cream’ machine while the Hires Root Beer ‘brewed’.
Mom always loved to fish, hunt pheasants (wearing shorts and boots), eat watermelon and spit the seeds out over a fence. (Uncertain of the exact timing) she was very proud of being able to buy her own car, a 1927 Whippet (embarrassed to say I can’t remember what she named it … she told us so many times).
Following High School Gladys went to Lewiston Business School which helped her land a job as secretary to the principal of the High School. After 2 ½ years in that job, one of her girlfriends who lived in California, talked her into moving there for a better job. Of course, back then they wrote frequent hand-written letters to correspond. Gladys packed her few belongings, got in her car, and off she went! As she was leaving, she vividly recalled watching her ‘daddy’ standing in the driveway waving, with tears … to her that was a confirmation that her daddy did love her – though she never recalled him saying those words. She found a great deal of comfort in that rare moment of him expressing his true feelings.
Gladys tracked her route on a Shell Gas paper fold-out map as she drove through the Columbia Gorge, a stop at Multnomah Falls, down the Oregon Coast and eventually landing in Roseville (where her youngest daughter now lives part time – with the original map!). Gladys and her friends temporarily lived in a camping tent in the back yard of her girlfriend’s parent’s house – the original house is still there – until they all got settled in their new jobs and found an upstairs apartment to rent just south of Capital Park in Sacramento. She became a telephone operator at the phone company in Sacramento – the building remains and is still owned by AT&T.
Gladys also lived in Salem, Oregon, where her mother, after her divorce, owned and ran a bar. This is where mom met Charles (Chuck) Benford. As the story goes, Chuck said to Madeline, “If you have a daughter that’s anything like you, I’m going to marry her”. On October 9, 1951, Gladys Largent and Charles (Chuck) Benford were wed. They resided in both Portland and Happy Valley, Oregon for the duration of their 32-year marriage, where they raised Laura, Larry and Janet.
In the early 1960’s Gladys and Chuck bought land in Happy Valley, Oregon (on the corner of Clatsop and 122nd, which is now completely unrecognizable), and built one of the first homes in the area. It was a beautiful place to raise children, with city light views of Portland, sunset views of Mt. St. Helens – until the volcano blew on May 18, 1980 – and surrounded back then by open fields, forests of pine trees and prolific bushes of wild Oregon blackberries!
Every fourth of July she took her family to Happy Valley park to watch the fireworks … before overcrowded housing and traffic existed. While living in Happy Valley, mom was a Cub Scout leader, volunteered at Happy Valley Elementary, recorded ‘books on tape’ with her children for the grade school library, drove carpool for her children’s school activities, including Job’s Daughters and the Clackamas Cavalettes Dance Team. Every year she picked those fresh Oregon Blackberrys with her family, helped her kids set up a fruit stand at the end of their driveway on Clatsop St., and one year, they sold them to Bradley’s Pies in Portland.
She was also a fantastic baker. Every Christmas she taught us how to hand-decorate dozens of cookies, using her mom’s family recipe, a tradition that has been passed on to her grand and great grandkids. She baked homemade cakes for every Happy Valley School Carnival ‘cake walk’ and her family recipes of black pudding and Aunt Cecile’s cake are also being passed on to the next generation.
Mom loved hiding Easter Eggs for her annual hunt, watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson while sitting in her favorite green and yellow plaid recliner and painting the front windows for every holiday. As an avid bird watcher, she enjoyed feeding the towhees, sparrow, red robins, stellar jays and finches with her numerous bird feeders. She started many family traditions such as sneaking green food coloring into the milk on St. Patrick’s, stealthily turning over the kitchen table and chairs for the kids to find on April Fools morning, decorating the fresh Oregon Pine tree (cut down from across the street) every year at Christmas – teaching us kids how to hang individual strands of antique foil ‘Tinsel Rain’. Carefully. One. Strand. At. A. Time (“Be Careful!”) … and she loved to put ‘baby powder’ shoe imprints along the carpet from the fireplace to the tree so that we’d see them on Christmas morning and know that ‘Santa was Real’! (Also, clever mom that she was, she’d have us kids write our letters to Santa, she would “proof read” them, then we’d burn them in the fireplace while she told us the ashes would float up to the North Pole where they’d (magically) be put back together (by the elves, I suppose, we never did think to ask how that worked), then Santa would know what we’d asked for. Of course, since she always proofread our letters, she also knew what we had asked for from Santa!
Probably one of the greatest gifts she gave her children was instilling in them a sense of magic, awe and wonder.
Mom was self-reliant, independent, sometimes whimsical and silly, artistic and crafty. She was a cat-loving, expert Easter egg decorator and hider, a seasoned trout-fisher-and pheasant-hunter, a motorcycle rider (1945) and motorhome driving adventurer.
Mom loved Spring. According to her own notes it was her favorite time of year as the birds started to return and the flowers began to bloom. Her entire adult life she maintained a spectacular yard filled with vibrant colored azaleas and rhododendrons that bloomed prolifically in the Spring. Her famous outdoor yard animals that, like her, had survived a lifetime of changing seasons, still remained visible outside her bedroom window. She will be thrilled (can an angel in Heaven be thrilled?) when we move them to her final earthly destination at the Lewiston Normal Hill Cemetery, near the same hill where she loved to sled in the snow.
Mom was a stilts-walking (up until she was 78!), binocular-holding bird watcher, loved to watch the Olympics gymnastics competitions and create (and wear) Halloween costumes up until she was 90 years old. In her teens and twenties, she was a big-band music jitter bugger to her favorite Glenn Miller & Benny Goodman and in the 70’s she loved listening to Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. Over and over and …. In the late 1970’s her youngest daughter recalls coming home from school to find mom was listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ playing loudly from her organ cassette player! In the 1980’s mom loved hearing her daughter’s Michael Jackson and Journey albums. She snuck them from her daughter’s room and played them on her full-sized living room stereo console.
Sometimes mom was goofy, even rolled around on the floor with her kids. When her kids were young, she loved tickling their feet until they screamed. She was a woman who loved going for a long walk at the zoo, passing along her love for animals to her children. Over the years she enjoyed hundreds, possibly thousands, of walks along the beach, even in the rain. While she walked the beach with Owen, in their 60’s-70’s, they both used their favorite carved beach wood walking sticks. Those sticks have found a new home in Tahoe.
Mom loved the coast her whole life. It was the one place where she felt and experienced true peace. The waves and long walks on the beach brought her solace and comfort. She was an avid and successful agate and petrified wood hunter, finding and polishing literally thousands of unique and beautiful treasures. While her kids were in school, she passed her love of the coast along to her children by spending every Spring Break at the Oregon Coast. After all, spring storms at the coast are the BEST time to find agates! And to eat Mo’s original clam chowder!
One of my favorite spring break Oregon Coast memories (I was in grade school) was staying at an A-frame hotel somewhere along the coast during a torrential storm. We could hear the pounding relentless waves, the torrential rain and hail pummeling the A-frame roof. I don’t remember being scared. I remember mom being SO excited that once the storm passed, we would be able to go down and hunt for agates and beach treasures that would be plentiful!! She taught us that storms ALWAYS revealed the best treasures! (a timely lesson for life today). Instead of being scared about the storm, I was so EXCITED … I couldn’t wait for it to pass because I KNEW great treasures awaited us!!!!
After all of her children had graduated, left home, and following her divorce from Chuck in 1983, Gladys re-connected with a long-time family friend and former neighbor, Owen Brown. He’d lost his wife from cancer around the same time that mom got divorced. With years of friendship as their foundation, and a mutual love for motorhome travel and the Oregon coast, they traveled there in tandem, talked and laughed for hours, and found solace and comfort in each other’s company. Owen understood, accepted and loved her unconditionally, in the way that she always dreamt of. The feelings were mutual, these two ‘puzzle pieces’ had both finally found their perfect fit.
Mom and Owen married at the Little Country Church in Portland on September 8, 1984. As they both shared a passion for being near the ocean they relocated to Seal Rock, Oregon, where they built their home and spent their years together walking the beach, hunting for agates, watching winter storms and traveling up and down the Pacific Central Coast in their motorhome or trailer, frequently acting as Camp Hosts for Trails End and NOCA camps. She referred to her years with Owen as the best years of her life.
Mom was a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a wife, a mother, an aunt, a friend, a confidante, a volunteer, a seamstress, a cook, a baker, a motorcycle rider, an adventurer – she loved to travel. She loved her children, the coast, the Big Band era, upbeat music, doing crossword puzzles, putting together hundreds of puzzles during her life, reading romance novels and eating anything with sugar: Depot Bay homemade taffy (peppermint was her favorite), Shari’s lemon meringue pie, candy, cookies, ‘Aunt Mickie’s homemade fudge’ and lots of … chocolate chip mint ice cream!
Many friends have offered condolences and notes of sympathy for our sadness and loss. Though we are experiencing feelings of loss, we are not sad for her. We will all miss the good years we had with mom, when she was healthy, independent, actively creative and adventurous. However, during the last fifteen years, following the death in 1996 of her beloved Husband and ‘love of her life’ Owen Brown. she experienced continuously declining health, numerous injuries and more trips to the emergency room and hospital stays than we can count.
Her health status on many of those occasions led us to think, “This is it”. Yet, she miraculously ‘bounced back’ numerous times, each time with a bit less ‘bounce’ than before. She clearly hadn’t been ready to ‘let go’ on these occasions, in spite of the physical and emotional pain she’d been experiencing … for years. Each time, somehow, she (and God) knew she, and we, needed more time.
On one page of her notes in response to the question: “What is your proudest moment during your lifetime?”, she wrote, “The daughters are still my best friends.” God had allowed her to live ‘more than 9 cat lives’ so we were able to experience additional time together.
In 2018, the increasing effects of dementia were diminishing her ability to live semi-independently in her ‘assisted living’ apartment. It was clear she wasn’t getting the proper care and assistance she needed. In January of 2019 her daughter Laura and dear friend Sharon generously and selflessly moved her into their home, where they could provide round-the-clock care, and where she could experience more time with her grand and great grandchildren. Though additional caregivers were brought in, it was a hard, challenging year.
It was also a year filled with more miracles than anyone could count. We all got to spend more time with her there, sharing memories, going through scrap books, family photos and (loads and loads of) memorabilia, sharing memories of growing up, family trips, holidays and traditions, and sometimes sharing a piece of her favorite lemon meringue pie.
Though she had a diminished appetite (for as long as we can remember) she occasionally still enjoyed her favorite crispy bacon and “half a pancake”. She still hid candy in her room while insisting she needed more from the grocery store. She continued to love cats, silly socks and t-shirts, cozy knitted slippers, and still called her stuffed animals by name. She still made her bed every day, adding a finishing touch of ‘Kittypus Tommy Cat’ to the foot of her bed. She added puzzle ‘books’ to her daily activities and still maintained a puzzle-in-progress on her table. She continued to enjoy a daily indulgence of chocolate chip mint ice cream – sometimes twice a day.
During her last year, with limited mobility, Mom spent most of her day reading romance novels and puzzle books, putting her puzzles together, going through old photo albums, writing more notes and napping on her couch. However, when care givers and her great grandchildren came to visit. She still enjoyed a great sense of pleasure and pride, as she had done for years, playing ‘show and tell’ with hundreds of her precious polished agates and petrified wood – which she’d found and collected for nearly 70 years – collections of memorabilia, photos, old books & her remaining dozens of stuffed animals.
Occasionally she allowed a care giver or family member to pick out an agate or two or put a few of her puzzle pieces together … but never the edge pieces! Those were hers. Always had been. For everyone who knew mom, we all knew those were still off limits!
Mom had always been a (semi-obsessed) decorator for every holiday, and even when she moved into an assisted living apartment, she continued to change out the holiday decorations in her room and on her door. Just after Valentine’s Day of this year she had swapped out decorations for a ‘Spring is here’ door wreath. It was to be her last wave to her final change of season.
Throughout this long journey, God was good. All the experiences and life transitions with mom in the last 25 years of her life were part of His grand plan to set things right before she ‘let go’. It gave all of us time to prepare, process our emotions, provide deep healing and allow us to spend quality time with her.
After recurring emergency room visits and hospital stays between October 2019 through mid- February she was assigned to ‘hospice’ on February 23 and was able to return home for her final days. After arriving home, she remained lucid for a short time, long enough to have one more bowl of (you guessed it) chocolate chip mint ice cream and say her final goodbyes. Immediately after her youngest daughter arrived at 9:35 p.m. on February 26, mom opened one eye, raised her right hand with a gentle, weary wave, and – though her speech was gone – was able to mouth the words “I love you” to her two daughters. Who could ask for anything more?
She then closed her eyes for the last time as her body continued to ‘fight’ for several hours. For those reading this who have been through this phase with a loved one, you already know this is a very precious time. We knew at this point there was nothing more we could do other than try to make her more comfortable and provide comfort. From that moment on, she was surrounded by her loved ones including her two daughters, two grandsons and her first of eight great-grandchildren. We all took turns holding her hands, giving her kisses, sharing family stories, humorous favorite things, loving, comforting words, and lots of “we love you mom … we love you Grandma … we love you Great-grandma … it’s okay to let go”.
During her last day, long-held ‘family secrets’ of who ate the animal crackers on the Giraffe’s neck (Kenzie!), and who broke her great-grandma’s perfume decanter (Janet!) were at last revealed (Sorry mom!). It was a perfect final day of remembrance that we all got to share with mom. It is believed that the hearing is the last to go. Based on her barely tangible hand squeezes we knew she could still hear us. It was a beautiful long day filled with joyous moments, fond memories, tears of grief and sadness, unexpected surprises and comforting hugs.
Also in attendance that day were about twenty of her remaining stuffed animals (according to her notes she counted 108 when she was in her last assisted living apartment), all named, including: Lionas Hugh, Gertrude and Grandpa Bear (who took a prominent spot on her bed for 30+ years), Kittypus Tommy Cat (who took over the foot of her bed in recent years), Driftwood and Taffy Mae (who stood on the altar with her and Owen during their wedding), her oversized bear ‘Claude’ (wearing Owen’s favorite hat), Neely, Bubba, her ‘Animal Crackers’ Giraffe, meowlling cat-in-bag and others. They were a tribute to her life-long love of silly and whimsical things, especially stuffed animals, or as she referred to them in her notes, ‘fuzzies’.
Everything that happened up until this point was a prequel to the moment when mom finally let go, leaving us and her 93-year-old earthly body behind. It was 7:56 p.m. This was really ‘It’. In that moment we all felt an immediate sense of relief and JOY that she was finally, no longer in pain! In that moment we knew she was finally experiencing the true, completely fulfilling, unconditional love that she had yearned for her entire life. We knew she was happily dancing again, with all the angels in Heaven and her loved ones who had preceded her, including Owen and her “Daddy”. She was finally free.
In honor and remembrance of her, when our local family gathered for dinner after she passed, we all participated in finishing off her last containers of chocolate chip mint ice cream. She would’ve loved that! She would’ve disliked all the tomato and spicy taco meat but would’ve loved the ice cream! Prior to our gathering we found out we could use any kind of container we wanted for – pardon the straightforward term here – mom’s remains. That night we took photos of everyone eating her ice cream, as we’d decided that in a whimsical, creative and unorthodox fashion – in a way only mom would appreciate – the perfect container for her remains would be fashioned after her favorite ice cream container and covered with photos of her family eating her ice cream! We can hear her heartily laughing from Heaven at the thought of it!
Sadly, due to the unexpected current travel restrictions, we’ve had to postpone her final road trip back to Lewiston, but we figure she isn’t in any hurry to get back there right now as she’s happy where she is! When we solidify a new date to gather in Lewiston, we’ll post it on this page and on our FB pages.
In the meantime, we invite you to honor mom’s life by sharing your fondest memories of her on this page. We thank you for taking the time to read about her life … and we thank God that she is finally at peace.
After sending this to my sister last night, thinking it was complete, I woke up in the middle of the night with a sweet final message from mom … I wrote it down exactly as I heard it:
Clear as a bell she said, “Forever, my love. With a kiss and a wave, I love you!”
Good-bye sweet mom, we love you too!