A Rich Man
Anyone who has lost a loved one knows the gaping hole it leaves in your heart. Until you have watched a parent, sibling, child or dear friend die you really can't fathom the pain. Seeing my father waste away felt devastating. I had never cried so pitifully or so much. The whole thing was a surprise, a terrible, terrible surprise--his illness, the piercing reality of death, my fragility.
It made me angry and so sad, to experience first-hand the worst consequence of our rebellion. Death was not part of our Creator's plan. In a greedy grab for knowledge and power, we alienated ourselves from God and paradise. This monumental mistake corrupted us and all of creation. Enter, death.
My hope is in Messiah, who came that we may have life and have it to the full. My hope during those dark days of my father's deterioration and death was solely based on believing that God's grace saved him, me and everyone who trusts in Him. In the valley of the shadow of death, I lingered on these promises:
“Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.'" ~ John 11:25-26
"For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ." ~ Romans 5:17
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.'” ~ Revelation 21:3-4
Bennie Ray Shellnut was a wonderful man of great character who lived a life of eternal purpose. He was not perfect and he knew it. He knew he was a wretched sinner saved by God's amazing grace. He loved God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, and he loved others. My mother was the apple of his eye. His children were precious to him. We all loved him deeply.
He was a truly rich man, and everyone that knew him is wealthier for it.
When we learned that an inoperable brain tumor was metastasizing and would eventually shut down his autonomic nervous system, we quickly planned a celebration and invited everyone that knew him to a big party, to say goodbye. It was a really beautiful event, with hundreds of family and friends showering Bennie and all of his immediate family with copious amounts of love and well-wishes. People shared, hugged, sang, laughed, cried, lingered and reminisced about all of Bennie's best memories and qualities. It was a love-fest. One very talented and creative friend made a video from photographs she took at the event--it is posted near the bottom.
For weeks, many, many people prayed for him--for healing, for peace. Loving friends and family brought meals or just stopped by to visit. Bennie did a lot of smiling, but due to the location of the tumor on the thalamus, he was not able to engage or communicate well. This was a blessing in disguise as he did not seem to be aware of his condition. God blessed him with a relatively brief and pain-free existence until a little after four months from his diagnosis, he was gone.
And nine years later, we all miss him a lot. The pain has dulled with time, but the sadness is not gone. His passing caused me to be much more considerate of the brevity of life, adopting the mantra, "Every day is a gift." None of us knows what tomorrow may bring. Yeshua's words penned by Luke resonate: "‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you." and "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
This is a tribute to my Dad, in the words of his wife, children and grandchildren. He was a truly rich man, and everyone that knew him is wealthier for it. He stored up for himself treasures in heaven, "where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in a steal." And he knew his salvation was miraculous--like a camel through the eye of a needle. It is well with his soul.
Bennie Ray Shellnut
February 10, 1945 - January 17, 2011
Born February 10, 1945, at home on W. Hamata Street in Hazel Park, Michigan to Lennie and Lonnie Shellnut. He is the second-to-youngest of 11 children, with two sisters and eight brothers. His father died in a car accident in 1953 when Bennie was nine. His loving and faith-filled mother worked late hours, washing dishes at RJ's, a little diner in Royal Oak. Here are some of Bennie's early memories, in his own words from a 2009 memory book:
"One Christmas my brother Joe and I got a Monopoly set. A few nights later, Joe and I stayed up playing Monopoly until we heard our mother come in from work, about 3 or 4 a.m. So we hurried up and put the set away and jumped in bed so she would not know we stayed up so late."
and another . . .
"When I moved to Royal Oak in the sixth grade, I made friends with Jerry Barich, a boy I played basketball and baseball together with. During high school, after school on game nights, Jerry took me home with him to eat supper. Then we’d go back to Kimball to play basketball. He stood up in my wedding and I stood up for him in his. We are still friends today."
Bennie Muses on THE Love of His Life . . .
"My wife Bonnie, then girlfriend, and I attended a strict Christian college in Tennessee for our freshman year where boys and girls could not hold hands or kiss. During our Thanksgiving or Easter break, everyone went home for the holiday except a few poor students like us. Another couple, who were seniors and were planning to marry at the end of the year, needed to go to Kentucky where the young man was a pastor. He was going to introduce his fiancé to the congregation. Ironically, the administrators would not let them travel alone, so Bonnie and I were asked to go as chaperones. So we sat in the back seat and they in the front seat…both couples very close, doing lots of hugging and kissing. Being a chaperone was never so much fun. "
"I’ve learned that marriage isn’t 50-50. Those usually end up in divorce. Both have to give 110%. Both have to give something and expect nothing in return. " - Bennie
From His Beautiful Bride Bonnie June Shellnut
Music, movies, and poetry helped us express our deep love for each other. I starting falling in love with Bennie when I was 16 and he was 18. I fell for his sweet smile, wavy hair, gentle spirit, and strong legs. To my friends’ surprise (because I never went “ga-ga” about boys), I often sang in my off-key voice A Wonderful Guy from South Pacific:
I'm as corny as Kansas in August, / High as a flag on the Fourth of July! If you'll excuse an expression I use, I'm in love, I'm in love, / I'm in love, / I'm in love, / I'm in love with a wonderful guy!
Although they badgered me with questions about the “wonderful guy”, I wouldn’t tell them until he actually asked me out for a date Valentine’s week-end 1963. He brought me a yellow-heart shaped box of candy with a little doll on top. We married two years later and wrote our own vows, quoting from the love chapter I Corinthians 13 and the Book of Ruth 1:16 promising, “…whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (KJV)
After we were married in 1965, Bennie worked at various jobs: Chrysler, insurance sales, carpentry and then at Earl C. Smith. In 1966 he was drafted for military service and was supposed to report November 3. However, President Johnson cut back the November draft and Bennie never ended up having to report for service. He joined the Hazel Park Fire Department on October 31, 1966, the night of a very big and dangerous fire at a local lumberyard. He had minor burns on his forehead due to the intense heat.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace.
Bennie supported me as I completed my bachelor and master’s degrees during our first six years of marriage. Then he fully supported me as I went back to obtain a PhD between 1992 and 1999. He retired in 1994, and took over a lot of the household duties because I was working full time, taking classes and writing numerous papers. He often said he felt like it would be a sin if he didn’t do the housework while I was doing both working and taking classes.
Although Bennie was a competitive “take-no-prisoners” athlete all his life, he was also a sappy romantic throughout our 46 years of marriage. We would hold hands while watching romantic movies such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Doctor Zhivago, Love Story, The Way We Were, and Sleepless in Seattle. Our favorite was The Notebook in which the husband takes loving care of his wife who has developed Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognize him most of the time. We felt we too had a deep love like they did. In late August 2010, he was diagnosed with fast-growing brain tumor which quickly robbed him of communication and decision-making skills. So, I had the privilege of taking care of him.
We always loved listening and dancing by ourselves to love songs. So, for our 40th anniversary Jan 2, 2005, we renewed our vows with our children, grandchildren, and Bennie’s best man and his wife. We walked up the aisle to Your Precious Love by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
MARVIN: Every day there's something new / Honey, to keep me lovin' you And with every passin' minute / Ah baby, so much joy wrapped up in it TAMMI: Heaven must have sent you from above BOTH: Wo, heaven must have sent your precious love
TAMMI: And I, I've got a song to sing / Tellin' the world about the joy you bring And you gave me a reason for livin' / And ooo, you taught me, you taught me the meaning of givin'
We also celebrated with family and friends at a 1950s-1960s sock hop. Bennie and I sang Karaoke to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe and slow danced (Bennie didn’t fast dance) to some of our favorites-- Rod Stewart’s Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman, and Aretha Franklin’s You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.
Yes, we were sappy romantics, but we still argued -- often over small stuff such as a pinochle card game or whether or not to consult a map or ask for directions (before GPS). And we had some big arguments too, but we would ask forgiveness and kiss and make up if not the same day, soon after.
When we repeated our vows on our 40th anniversary, Bennie and I quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 43 Sonnet, How Do I Love Thee:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
I do pray . . . "I shall but love thee better after death.”
~ Bonnie June Shellnut
In his eighth grade choir class Bennie learned I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean from the Broadway play Brigadoon. This lad fell hard for this lass and always made sure she knew it. He went home with Bonnie June!
Does anyone know this man on the bottom left? He photobombed my favorite photograph of my Dad and me from the 1985 Southfield Christian School varsity softball district championship game (Ruth Swartz Laetz and her dad Roger in background.) For each of us three kids, Dad was our biggest fan.
Jeremy raced motorbikes from age 13 to 18. Dad took him to races on the weekends in and around Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. He even raced at the Pontiac Silverdome. Once they even traveled to Oklahoma. One of our cousins thought Jeremy was so cool that he named his (girl) bird "Jeremy".
Bennie On His Family . . .
"One year we took our three kids to Florida for our first real family vacation. Most other times we visited relatives in Tennessee or Arkansas. We visited Jacksonville and Orlando where we went to Disney World and had a great time. One of the favorite times during the vacation was when we were in Jacksonville on the ocean and I saw the sun rise up bright and pretty over the ocean, and I got up everyone so they could see it. I really enjoyed it, but I don’t think they did." - Bennie
From Heather Leigh
Heather was the miracle baby, conceived while they were in the process of adopting Jeremy! She certainly got Dad's creative genes, using her hands and mind to beautifully transform spaces and pages. She made a lovely memory book about and for Bennie as a 2009 Father's Day gift.
"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" ~ Clarence Odbody
This is a quote from the guardian angel in one of my dad’s all-time favorite movies, It’s A Wonderful Life. We would watch it together every December for so many years, that I am not even certain when this Christmas tradition began. When he and I watched it together in December of 2010, I cried quietly, knowing that it would be the last time I would watch it with him by my side. I paid more attention to the warmth of him snuggled next to me on the couch as we propped our feet up next to one another’s on the coffee table, than I did to the movie.
Just a few short weeks later, my dad became our guardian angel, our Clarence.
He continues to watch over and guard us from the other side the same as he did when he was alive and walking this earth. He was a protector, a provider, and a perfectionist.
He was a gentleman and a jokester. Sometimes he laughed so hard that his cheeks would turn red, his head would cock back, his eyes would squint shut, and no sound would escape his gaping, smiling mouth. I miss that laugh. It’s been more than nine years since any of us have heard it. Brain cancer stole that laugh from him months before the illness claimed his life.
He was playful and he was strong. I used to think he was the strongest man alive when I was four years old. He could lie on his back on the floor with his arms stretched up towards the ceiling as I stood in his hands for what seemed like hours. He laughed as he promised me that he wouldn’t drop me, and he never did. If there was ever a time that he dropped me, or let me down in any way at all, I certainly can’t recall it.
"He taught me so much and he loved us all so well."
He was a consummate caregiver. He gave me popsicles after I had my tonsils out as a child. He diligently kept watch over me after I had jaw surgery as a teenager, even alerting the hospital staff that I was choking and needed to be aspirated when the monitors failed to summon the nurses to my side. While I was in early labor with my youngest child, Ashton, my dad came to the hospital and rubbed my feet to help me relax as he reminded me that in his days as an EMT, he had delivered a couple of babies, so if my doctor didn’t arrive in time, he could deliver this baby for me. And he would have, if I would have needed him to.
He was a serial helper. He would have done anything I needed him to do. He would have done anything that any one of his children or his beloved bride needed him to do. He helped his immediate family. He helped his extended family. He helped his friends. He helped his friends’ families. He helped his community. He helped strangers. He helped anybody that needed help and even some that didn’t.
The awful hole that was created when Bennie Ray passed away nine years ago is filled in by the 38 years of amazing memories that I have of my most wonderful dad. He taught me so much and he loved us all so well. I honor and remember him by passing on that legacy of love to my own family, and by teaching my children, just as he taught me and my siblings, that it truly is a wonderful life.
~ Heather Leigh Hillary
To Build A Home by The Cinematic Orchestra sang/played by Bailey
There is a house built out of stone
Out in the garden where we planted the seeds There is a tree as old as me Branches were sewn by the color of green Ground had arose and passed its knees By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top I climbed the tree to see the world When the gusts came around to blow me down Held on as tightly as you held onto me Held on as tightly as you held onto me And I built a home For you For me
Until it disappeared
And now, it's time to leave and turn to dust
Bennie's Grandchildren . . . In Their Own Words
I see you all the time. You’re in every act of kindness I encounter, every wink, kiss on the cheek. Your voice is the baritone in every hymnal that reaches my ears. You're in my mind reminding me to be thorough and, in my spirit, reminding me to be competitive, even fierce. The love you breathed into our lives with your very presence has not been extinguished and never will be. I see you daily in the one I’ve chosen to love. Strong creative hands, skilled in building, charming, joking, collecting smiles and laughter from everyone he meets. Practical, competitive, joyful. Thank you for loving me and teaching me to love and be loved.
"You’re in every act of kindness I encounter, every wink, kiss on the cheek."
I run down the steps of our back porch on little legs. I must be young again. My arms have been open the whole flight from the back door and they find your legs...I’m only waist high on you. I must be six. You’re dressed like Jimmy Stewart in the movies, in pleated pants and a button-up jacket swung over the shoulder. You pick me up and embrace me. It feels like hugging a cloud. You’re there but your mortal form is slipping. You’ve crowned into the next life and although your spirit remains, your strong musculature and scratchy whiskers are more like a dream. It is a dream. You’ve come just to remind me what it feels like to be held by you.
I am thankful for his union to my Grandma. I am thankful for his heart that showed me what true love is. I am thankful for his generosity to be my father before my mother met my father. I am thankful for his constant teachings of what a selfless human being is. I am thankful for his patience to spend countless hours brushing through my wild curly hair as a child. I am thankful for his ability to teach me how to ride a bike on my own.
"You can’t live your life by yourself. You need to depend on and help others…especially family members." - Bennie
I am thankful for his encouragement when I tried out for the high school golf team. I am thankful for his positivity that radiated from the core of his being. I am thankful for his infectious laughter which still echos in my ears. I am thankful for his morning trumpet act that woke me up on countless weekends. While I believe his life was cut far too short, I am utterly thankful for the pure existence of my Poppa, Bennie Ray Shellnut. ~ Love, Jordyn
I Love Lamp
One day a woodworker, fireman and athlete; strong, forceful and fearless. The next day a babysitter, musician and cook; kind, soft spoken and thoughtful. Poppa had hands that were rough and callused yet also gentle and calculated. He could one second be powerfully hammering away at a nail and the next be softly sanding the edge of a desk to perfection. One morning he could be found fiercely competing on the pickleball court, and later that afternoon cooking a delicious dinner for his lovely wife. Throughout my years of interacting with Poppa I was fortunate enough to experience many of the different ‘hats’ that he would wear. Poppa made it a priority of his life to be intimately involved in the lives of his grandchildren. He was a coach, mentor, babysitter, tutor, father and chef to all of his nine grandchildren. One particularly fond memory that I have of Poppa is when he decided that he was going to teach Aaron, my brother, and I how to work with wood. After we excitedly agreed to the task, hoping that we would be able to craft a desk, bed frame or one of the other fabulous creations that Poppa was known to whip-up, he informed us that we would be making lamps. Nevertheless, we were exuberant. We were going to make lamps, and they were going to be ours. He was going to teach us the whole process. From dreaming of what the lamp was going to look like, to drawing up the blueprints and cutting the wood. The whole process was exciting, and Poppa took care to teach us and share his wisdom at every step. The lamp-making process was tedious. At one point, Aaron and I were hoping to have our lamps done in time to play outside before it got dark, but Poppa had other ideas. He taught us patience. Any good piece of art or craftsmanship, he informed us, takes patience. The artist must ensure he does not rush his craft lest the work become shoddy, Poppa taught us. Poppa believed there was no room in the world for shoddy work, half-assed efforts of any kind, or worst of all, anything short of perfection. With Poppa’s help, guidance and steady hands we finished our lamps, sanding them for hours to ensure a smooth finish. Later that year I entered my lamp in the county 4-H Fair and won second place, an award that I proudly and happily shared with Poppa. Years later the lamp still works well and the second place ribbon has long been forgotten in a dusty box somewhere. What has not been forgotten is the memory of learning from and working alongside Poppa.
"Every stumbling block should be a stepping stone to success (my senior class motto). It’s important to persevere." - Bennie
I am thankful for the life my grandfather lived for a number of reasons. From the wisdom he freely shared and the kindness and love he unconditionally gave, his life was modeled after his Creator. The greatest lesson I learned from Poppa was how to serve my Creator with the talents and passions he has given me. Poppa loved Jesus Christ more than anything else in this world. He pursued perfection in his life as a way to honor and serve Christ. He used the love and forgiveness that Jesus gave him and shared that with everyone he came into contact with. Poppa’s funeral was a testament to this. Numerous individuals came to the funeral sharing stories of how Poppa had touched their lives in one way or another. Whether it was welcoming them into his home for a meal or mentoring them through difficult times, Poppa built his life around loving God and others. While I began by sharing characteristics that I believe best describe my grandfather, I must admit I left out the most important ones. Bennie Shellnut was a man of humility. A man of integrity. And most importantly of all, a man after God’s own heart.
I was only ten years old when my grandpa died and I am very thankful for that time I got to spend with him. Although I was young, I have many memories of our time together. He was very much a part of mine and all his grandkids' lives. He taught my brother and me how to be craftsmen, helping us make wooden lamps, and how to properly take care of his lawn, which was always in pristine condition. Above all he taught me how to be a man of integrity and what it means to follow Christ's example of living a holy life. Many of the lessons I learned from him I didn’t understand till years after his passing. Looking
“Some day I won’t be here to help you do this, but don’t worry, Aaron..." - Poppa
back on his life and seeing how his life was centered around helping and loving others, from his career as a firefighter to the way he treated my grandma has been something that has inspired me to live a more meaningful life. One of the hardest parts about his passing came from a conversation I had with him in summer of 2010. I was mowing his lawn and there was some type of problem with the mower, I don’t recall exactly what it was. While teaching me how to fix it so that the next time I could do it myself he said, “Some day I won’t be here to help you do this, but don’t worry, Aaron, that won’t be for a long time.” Less than six months later he was gone. Poppa left a legacy of what it means to live a life centered around Christ and walk in his footsteps.
My Poppa meant so much to so many people. If there was one thing I could have with him it would be more time to spend with him. I lost him at a young age and don’t have too many memories with him.
“Imma get me a boy!” - Poppa
He was a great person to so many and I just wish I had more time to learn from him. I love and miss you Poppa. “Imma get me a boy!” Those words from my Poppa have stuck with me from when he would say it to us as kids. ~ Love, Liam
Although Poppa died when I was about seven years old, his impact on my life still affects me to this day. One of my fondest memories of Poppa, was that he would always tell us to eat the crust of our pizza. Poppa telling me to eat the crust of my pizza may seem simple but him saying this to me has impacted
"Money doesn’t equal happiness. There are plenty of rich people who are very unhappy." - Bennie
my life to this day. The impact this had on me wasn't that I know to always eat my crust, it's now I know to always finish what I have started, this is something I try to do every time I start something new. I didn't know him for long but he has benefited my life for the better.
I don’t have many memories of my Poppa. I was 6 when he died. But the things I do remember are filled with joy and happiness. My Poppa was always so kind and gentle with his grandchildren. But he also knew how to have fun. I recall that when we would take car rides together, Poppa and I would play a game. He would reach in the back and try to tickle me. To a young child, tickling was the highest level of
"Imma get me a girl!" - another popular Poppa-ism
punishment. But it was my favorite game to play. Another fond and funny memory is when I was very little, he was teasing me and I was done with it. I bit his finger and immediately regretted it. He pretended to be angry, but he actually thought it was hilarious. At least I think he thought is was hilarious. Though small, these snippets of my Poppa bring a smile to my face. My Poppa. The one who gave so much to those he loved. The one I miss dearly.
"When Ashton ran for student council representative of the fourth grade this past fall, he gave a speech: 'Before my Poppa died, he was a firefighter. He helped people. And I want to be like him. I want to help
"He helped people. And I want to be like him." - Ashton
the school. So, vote for me for student council and I will be a helper just like my Poppa was.'
Ashton didn’t win the election, but his speech was clearly a winner (as was his Poppa)." ~ Heather
It Is Well
One of Bennie's favorite hymns--It Is Well--sang here beautifully by Audrey Assad. The awesome lyrics mirror Bennie's devotion for his Lord and Savior. We loved hearing him sing and have fond memories of falling asleep and waking to his reverent and joyful songs.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! ~ Horatio Spafford's lyrics from It Is Well
Bennie Shellnut's Celebration of Life Video
Thanks to Mary Drouillard for her great thoughtfulness and time in photographing and creating this!