Chester Allyn “Chet” Bennett, Jr. of Hermiston died of heart failure on Sept. 26, 2016 at age 84 while vacationing in Pine Top, Ariz. Chet’s warm and generous spirit lives on in the hearts of those who loved him and whose lives were touched by him.
Born Jan. 6, 1932 in Corvallis, Chet was the oldest of three sons of Chester A. Bennett, Sr. and Ruby Hinds. His mother died while Chet was a young boy, but his father later married Ruby Farlow and the family was joined by another brother, Robert.
As a Forest Service family, Chet spent his childhood years in Paisley, Bly, John Day and Enterprise, where he graduated from high school in 1949. The raucous exploits of four boys growing up under one roof include legendary tales involving a baby porcupine loose in the house and a brush fire the boys started that was quite embarrassing to their dad, the forest assistant supervisor.
Chet attended Eastern Oregon College in La Grande for one year before enlisting in the U.S. Army at the outset of the Korean War in 1950. Chet served in a combat engineer battalion during the war and at Fort Carson, Colo., after returning home. He resumed his education at Oregon State College using his GI Bill benefits while continuing to serve in the Army Reserve, where he attained the rank of Sergeant First Class.
Chet married Joan Finlayson of Eugene in 1956 while both were still in college. Their son Donald Allyn was born the next year in Corvallis, and son Jon Robert was born in Eugene in 1961. Chet and Joan were married 47 years until her death in 2003.
Chet graduated from the School of Forestry at Oregon State with a bachelor’s degree in 1958 and began his professional career with the U.S. Forest Service after spending summers during college on trail-building and firefighting crews. First assigned to the Willamette National Forest in Oakridge, Chet moved his young family in 1962 to John Day, where he worked in various positions on the Malheur National Forest until his retirement in 1988. During his long career, Chet was a leader of local and state chapters of the National Federation of Federal Employees. He then worked a number of years as a school bus driver for Grant School District No. 3 and served as president of the Classified Employees Union.
In John Day, Chet was constantly involved in his church and community and especially his sons’ activities as Little League baseball coach, Boy Scout leader, swim team volunteer, Grant Union booster clubs and advisor to DeMolay and Rainbow chapters. An avid deer and elk hunter, Chet looked forward to fall hunting seasons each year and some of his favorite times were days in the woods with his sons and hunting partners.
Chet was recently recognized as a 50-year member of John Day Elks Lodge #1824, where he was a Past Exalted Ruler. He also served as district deputy for southeast district of the Oregon State Elks Association. Chet was particularly involved in Elks ritual competitions as a team coach and judge. In 2001, Chet was named to the OSEA Hall of Fame for his many years of service. Chet was also a past master of Canyon City Lodge No. 34, A.F. & A.M. and a 32° member of Baker Valley Scottish Rite. Chet served on the board of directors of Old West Federal Credit Union for 35 years, beginning with the Grant County Credit Union and continuing on the board through the series of mergers that created Old West.
In 2006, Chet married Kay Burns of Hermiston and they enjoyed 10 years of world travel, adventures and loving togetherness. They volunteered several years for the Columbia River Cowboy Gathering & Music Festival and attended other music and arts events throughout the region.
Chet is survived by his wife Kay; son Jon (Laura) of Grants Pass, Ore.; son Don (Anne) of Puyallup, Wash.; granddaughters Rita (Daniel) Bennett Adams of Eatonville, Wash., and Carla Bennett of Bronxville, NY; stepdaughter Heather (Nick) Powers and their children Elizabeth and Connor of Newburg, Ore.; brothers Bill (Martha) of Wilsonville, Ore., and Jim (Edna) of Raleigh, NC.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Hermiston Elks Lodge, 480 E. Main St. in Hermiston.
Charitable contributions in memory of Chet Bennett may be made to: Oregon Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, 3295 Triangle Dr. SE, Salem, OR 97302 (http://tinyurl.com/z2h2eeo); or to Hermiston Agape House, P.O. Box 1723, Hermiston, OR 97838 (agapehousehermiston.org).