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Geneva Educator, Volunteer Mary Bencini Dies Suddenly on Easter Weekend

The former Geneva second-grade teacher and longtime History Center and Geneva Academic Foundation advocate dies suddenly.

Friends of Mary Bencini are shocked and saddened on Easter Sunday following the news of Bencini's sudden death Saturday night.

Friends and colleagues of the Geneva educator and volunteer are still trying to piece together what happened to Bencini, whose age was estimated at 62. They say she apparently died while driving herself to either the drug store or the emergency room at Delnor Hospital after she had been severely ill with a stomach flu.

"I talked to her early Wednesday, and she said she wasn't feeling well, so I called her again on Thursday, and she said, 'I have the worst flu. I haven't felt this bad in 20 years,' " said Terry Emma, executive director of the and a close friend of Bencini. "So I said, don't come in (to the History Center), just take advantage of the long weekend, and we'll see you on Monday."

According to friends and colleagues, Bencini was invited to some friends' house for dinner Saturday night but declined because she still wasn't feeling well. The friends offered to pick her up or drive her to the hospital, but she declined.

"That is just so like her," Emma said. "She didn't think of herself, she didn't want to bother anybody. She just said, 'I'll take myself.' "

Bencini was longtime secretary of the Geneva History Center board and spearheaded numerous fundraising efforts, including the annual during the holiday season. She was a member of the Geneva Academic Foundation and spoke annually at the .

She taught second grade for more than 30 years.

"She never had kids, so she just gave to everybody. She put in countless hours for us and for GAF and so many organizations," Emma said.

"It's a major shock, and just such a huge loss for the community."

A memorial service will be held at at a date and time to be named later.

On share2learn.com, Bencini wrote about what it means to be a community activist.

"I try to teach my second graders to be activists at our school, in our community, and even nationally and globally," she said. "I read interesting articles from the local newspaper to my kids daily and each child also gets Time For Kids. Both of these activities help to give my ideas on how to be activists.

"During Circle Time I also encourage my kids to bring problems and ideas to the group to discuss and problem solve if necessary. Many times the problems and ideas from Circle Time result in the kids writing letters to the principal or to our school's PTO or student council. I have found that kids absolutely love being activists and the things we do as a class are not only authentic, but also involve reading, writing, and math.

"Not only have I learned to look for opportunities for kids to be activists, but the kids are also great at looking for opportunies."

In an earlier , Emma talked about a yard sale Bencini held for the benefit of the HPC.

"We owe it all to Mary's tireless work for many weeks prior to the sale—getting donations, organizing and pricing. For three days, Mary and several volunteers started at 6:30 a.m. setting up tables, making deals and seeking donations. At the end of each day they packed away all the items—thankfully before the rain Saturday afternoon—and prepared for the next day of sales."

Geneva Patch will follow up when more information is available from official sources.

Mary Stith April 09, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Love your Mary! Can't express how much you impacted us all.
Laura ZuzulyGAF April 09, 2012 at 01:50 AM
We will miss you Mary. You made the world a better place.
Annette MacLean April 09, 2012 at 02:59 AM
We are shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of Mary. She was a frequent customer of both of our shops and always cared for everyone. She was at the meeting to support The Pure Oil building. When Craig arrived to work this morning he knew that there was an accident and one of our whiskey barrels was pushed over. When we learned that I was Mary, well there just are no words to describe our sadness.
Cari Barcas April 09, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Ms. Bencini was my second-grade teacher. My love of reading and writing clearly trace straight back to her classroom, and the kids reading club she once hosted at the library. She was an amazing teacher and wonderful person. My thoughts and prayers are with her and the whole community that will be deeply mourning this immense loss.
Andrea Cladis April 09, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Ms. Bencini --- my lovely second grade teacher is the sole reason that I love writing today. She made me love to write and love to learn! I cannot thank her enough for all she did for me. And she still send me personal notes all the way through college each time I received special honors or when she saw my name in the paper for Dean's list. I am so saddened to hear that she passed away. I cannot even believe this. -- Her legacy to the community and to all the many students she impacted will surely not fade. What a wonderful person. She will be missed.
Meagan Holbrook April 09, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Mary has left a void that can't be filled. She was so involved in the community and always ready to help in whatever way she could. I'm glad I got the chance to work with her on SPAC and had her encouragement in whatever endeavor I happened to be taking on. She's such an inspiration and amazing woman..Geneva won't be the same without her! Thoughts and prayers with her family and all her friends.
Jeanine Lorenzin April 09, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Not just a great loss to the community but also a great loss for everyone she ever had in her class..I am forever gracefull and complety honored to have her as my 2nd grade teacher.
marsha engle April 09, 2012 at 04:52 AM
How can you read these comments and not see the impact that a teacher, a good teacher has on the lives of so many. I loved Mary. I will never forget stopping by her house and she had hundreds of Christmas ornaments everywhere that she had made by hand for the GAF giving tree. She made each one of them herself so it would just "get done". Mary made our town hum and she was a friend to all. God bless you Mary. Our hearts are heavy, but heaven just received an angel.
Mary Jane Johnson April 09, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Mary exmplified Geneva's 'Tradition of Excellence'. A terrible loss for young and old. Mary Jane Johnson
Eric Schwartz April 09, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I am stunned and saddened. I didn't know Mary very well but over the last couple of years we had met on several occasions. I worked with her on The Big Show that the Geneva Underground Playhouse did in conjunction with the History Center and later in the year on the History Center Pub Crawl. The last time I saw her was back in Feb when she came down to the playhouse to see the show we were doing. She was always smiling. I can't think of anyone who loved being a Genevan more.
Michael Jacoby April 09, 2012 at 01:04 PM
There are not many who loved Geneva as much as Mary did and even fewer who worked so hard to make it a great place to learn and live. Over my 20 years in the school district, Mary was a remarkable stand out every year. She loved her students and cherished their growth. At the History Center and Geneva Academic Foundation, she gave back immeasurably and without ceremony. Honestly, I can't fathom the idea of Geneva without Mary.
Anne Cesarone April 09, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Very well said, Mike. I remember her telling me once that the Geneva community was her family, and that she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Her death is such a loss for all of us!
Sheila Belon April 09, 2012 at 01:41 PM
There are many people in Geneva who do much work to make this community shine. These people do it without requiring any credit or praise, and one those people was Mary! She did so much for the children of Geneva, and her loss will be felt tremendously from the Academic Foundation. Endless time and love was given from Mary in raising money, and working with all the Geneva teachers to receive grants to benefit our children in all areas of a education. Her loss will require much of others to fill her void. With love and sincerity-Sheila Belon-friend, mother, and GAF board member.
Brenda Bevans April 09, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Mary holds a special place in my heart! As a former special education teacher, she found the time to reach out to me in my early years of special education teaching and mentor me. Mary touched so many lives--students and her peers in the community. What a blessing to have known her. She will be greatly missed
Howard Bakken April 09, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Mary and I met in the early 70s when she was teaching special ed. Her insights into the students with profound intellectual and emotional challenges were remarkable. Mike Jacoby summarized her career exquisitely: "She loved her students and cherished their growth." Little more can be said. As the earlier tributes indicate, her work in both preserving and promoting Geneva remains unparalleled. We are all grateful for her life, her spirit, and her abundant contributions to society.
Laura Rush April 09, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Our family was so fortunate to have Mary teach both our children in 2nd grade. Two totally different personalities, yet they each learned the value of caring for others and sharing what they had, along with their love of reading and writing. The books she made for the class...priceless. I worked every week with her class in the computer lab and Mary always had such great visions on how to bring technology into her curriculum, which may surprise many. I have many stories and memories of how awesome she was as a teacher, going back to when I was in elementary school at Fourth Street. Not to mention working with her on GAF, always thinking of my children for volunteer opportunities and sending congratulatory cards to them for their accomplishments. She always had a hug and a smile when we saw her. Our family was blessed to have Mary in our lives for so many years.
Cathy Koch April 09, 2012 at 03:11 PM
We remember Mary for a life well lived and fully loved by everyone she met.. What an inspiration to all who knew her....and in Mary's case that would be most of Geneva and the Fox Valley. She changed the world for the better.
Terry Flanagan April 09, 2012 at 04:31 PM
It's impossible to sum up in mere words what Mary Bencini meant to Geneva. I think that at one time or another Mary must have contributed her time and talent to every volunteer organization in our community. Her gift was her ability to teach and inspire. Not only her second-graders, but also the adults and youth she worked countless hours with in volunteer groups. Mary taught not just from books, but by example. It just won't be the same around here without her, for she always seemed to be in the midst of every worthy effort. It's hard to imagine her not being there except in the memories of all of the good things she accomplished while she was with us.
Carolyn Hill April 09, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Geneva has lost a friend. She had a passion for Geneva, and her passion was contagious. Mary was a valued committee member for Dancing with Geneva Stars; we will miss her and the many ways she contriubuted to the success of the event. When leaders like Mary pass on, they leave a void, but for others, we are left to carry on with the same passion and commitment they exhibited. Carolyn Hill
Marjorie Anderson April 09, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Mary exemplified the true meaning of 'teacher'. She had a real passion for living. I feel honored to have worked with her is her years as a special educator. What a loss! Marjorie Anderson
Sue Black April 09, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Mary's death should teach each of us that life is short and very precious. Make Mary proud and tell someone how much you appreciate them and thank them for all they do for others today. We,as a community, tried to tell Mary. Thanks Mary, we are all better people for your presence among us. Sue Black
Joe McMahon April 09, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Both my children had Mary for their teacher. She never forgot them . When they accomplished something and it was in the paper she would cut it out , jot a encouraging note on it and send it. They as well as myself always appreciated the effort she made. If you are looking for an example of what a great humanitarian is there is no need to look further than Mary. Joe McMahon
Julie Smith April 09, 2012 at 09:38 PM
We are so stunned and saddened to hear of Mary's untimely death. We were lucky to have her as our daughter Grace's teacher, but luckier yet to have her as our friend. It is hard to imagine Geneva without her. There is no finer example of how to live your life.
Steve Persinger April 09, 2012 at 11:18 PM
We have lost a very special friend. We have known Mary Bencini for a number years and always enjoyed our involvement and time with her in various community activities and functions. Mary was always ready, willing and able to lend a hand at every request, no matter what. Geneva will miss you Mary. We will miss you Mary too! Steve & Sheila Persinger
Olivia Giachino April 10, 2012 at 01:01 AM
I am so saddened to learn about the tragic loss of a remarkable woman. A wonderful historian and educator who shared a genuine passion for preserving the history of Geneva. For those of us who continue live on this earth, may we continue her legacy through education and historical preservation.
Barbara and Craig Reynolds April 10, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Although only one of our daughters was lucky enough to have Mary as a teacher, both of our daughters looked up to her as a wonderful role model. At various service opportunities in the community, they would run into Mary and always be excited to see her! They constantly spoke of just how much she did for our community and others less fortunate. My husband and I also had the opportunity to know and love Mary. We worked on referendums with her, went on fieldtrips with her, and who could forget the lunch bunch/book club she ran at the library for so many years! God Bless You, Mary, you were an angel to so many of us! Barbara & Craig Reynolds
Connie and Ralph Alvarez April 10, 2012 at 01:16 AM
TEACHER- Webster's will have to amend its definition of the word by simply saying, "Mary Bencini." The sadness of her passing is so heavy in the hearts of all who knew her. She touched everyone in Geneva, whether it was a volunteer project, school activity, baking her delicious s'mores bars (or her enchiladas!), reminiscing about Green Bay and the Packers, or figuring out how much to price a jigsaw puzzle at her famous GHC sale. THANK YOU MARY. Miss YOU. RIP
David Phyfer April 10, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Couldn't agree more. This would be Mary's wish. Get involved in Geneva historical preservation.
Nancy Bell April 10, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I'll second that!
Loy Williams April 17, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Years ago Mary invited me to come to her second grade class to tell them about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the march on Washington and his "I Have A Dream" speech. Now that is advanced placement education for 2nd grade. Mary, you are a gem. Loy Williams

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