American Patriotic 11


Joseph J. Benak

January 13, 1926 ~ March 23, 2018 (age 92)

Joseph J. Benak, age 92, of Ionia passed away on March 23, 2018 at home. He was well known as “G.I. Joe”. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 13, 1926.

During the depression years, his parents bought a farm in Buchanan, Michigan. He was graduate of Galien High School after coming back from W.W.II. While in high school, he joined the Civil Air Patrol and earned his pilot’s license at the age of 17 in Niles, Michigan. Later, he was inducted into the U.S. Army for W.W.II service. After initial warfare training at Camp Hood, Texas his unit was sent to Hawaii for advanced jungle training. From there he was sent to the Western Pacific Theatre of Operations (Saipan and Guam campaigns). Joe’s specialty was a bazooka gunner with the 307th Regimental Combat Team, 77th Infantry Division. During the campaign, Joe contracted both malaria and respiratory illness and was assigned to both 119 Station Hospital and 204th Army Hospital on Guam. After the war had ended, he decided not to go back to the farm, but to go into the field of education with the help of the G.I. Bill. Later in life, Joe received the Congressional Gold Medal from the Civil Air Patrol on September 3, 2016. He simply wanted to teach and loved aspects of nature. He received five National Science Foundation Fellowships in sciences. He received his B.A. in biology and his M.A. in science education. Joe was selected to Chi-Gamma lota Fraternity (Veteran’s Scholastic Honor Society from the University of Illinois).

While teaching he met his wife, Emily, who was also a teacher. Joe’s teaching and administrative positions were in Illinois, Michigan, and Guam and totaled forty years. In Illinois, Joe was a consultant and coordinator for 217 teachers at Champaign Public Schools. He then decided to come back to Michigan and took the position of principal and superintendent of schools in Lyons-Muir. Joe was also principal at Rather Elementary School. After consolidation, Joe stayed as principal at Muir and also taught at Boyce School until his retirement in 1986.

In that same year, Joe and Emily went back to Guam and taught there for six years until 1992. He taught for the Department of Education, Government of Guam, and two years at St. John’s Academy in biology and sciences, finally retiring in 1992.

Joe had one son, Charles and one daughter, Charmaine. He loved his family and enjoyed all summers camping, fishing, and hunting with his wife and children in both the Upper Peninsula and Canada. He also collected old cars as a hobby. In his later years, he still enjoyed golfing, hunting, and planting flowers around his fish pond and just being out in nature. Joe also enjoyed spending winters in Florida golfing with his wife. For former years, Joe was a life member of many organizations and clubs: V.F.W. Post #4090, American Legion Post 37, National Science Teachers, V.F.W. National Home for Children, Lions Club in Lyons-Muir, Guam, and Ionia.

Joe was preceded in death by his parents, Vincent and Mary Benak of Berwyn, Illinois and his wife, Emily on June 28, 2017.

He is survived by his son, Charles, living in Texas, his daughter Charmaine and son-in-law, Mark living in California and his grandson, Connor. He is also survived by four cousins.

Services will be held at 11:00 a.m., Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Lehman Funeral Home, 220 Rich St., Ionia. The family will receive friends 4-7 p.m., Friday at the funeral home. He will be laid to rest at Tuttle Cemetery. Military rites shall be honored by the American Legion Post 37. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Joe’s name to: V.F.W. National Home for Children, Great Lakes Caring Hospice, or the Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Rd; Nebraska City, NE 68410. Arrangements are entrusted to Lehman Funeral Homes. Online condolences may be made at

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