George Bernard Benta
September 3, 1921 - January 3, 2013
Resided in Harlem, NY
George Bernard Benta was born on September 3, 1921 in New York City, the second child of George Alexander and Margaret Jane Sharry Benta.
Margaret Benta passed away when Bernard (as he was called) was 3 years old. His father then married Helena Frye Benta, who helped him raise his children and was lovingly referred to as 'Aunt Helen.' Bernard shared a special bond with his sister, Bernice Benta, with whom he was very close and who unfortunately passed away in 1984.
Bernard attended Frederick Douglas Jr. High School, PS 139 where the famed writer Countee Cullen was his teacher. (In later years Bernard proudly told of how Countee Cullen referred to him as brother Bente.) He received his high school education at Textiles High School.
At 17, although he was not legally old enough, (fibbed about his age) he enrolled in the 369th infantry, and became a proud member of the National Guard. He later joined the United States Army where he ascended to the rank of Corporal. During his tour of duty he was initially stationed in Oswego, New York and was transferred to Hawaii after the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor.
He was later sent to Okinawa but was discharged a couple of weeks after his arrival. He served in World War II from 1941 to 1945. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, Bernard returned to New York and worked in the U.S. Post Office with his father. Shortly thereafter, Bernard's father left the postal service to begin the family business with a partner in 1928.
The business was known as Reed and Benta Funeral Home, Inc located on 135th Street. Bernard, always wanting to make his father proud and follow in his footsteps, attended the New York School of Embalming and Restorative Arts, and became a licensed funeral director. Upon graduation he assumed his place in the family business with his father and step-mother at the funeral home.
As an adolescent attending St. Philip's Episcopal Church Bernard befriended Pearl Marjorie McLeod and relentless proclaimed 'I'm gonna to marry you one day.' True to his word they were married in 1946 and remained so until her passing in 1989. To their union, three children were born, Karen, Kevin and Kyle. Bernard's children remember him as a strict but loving father who would give lectures about behaving well as he walked them to school. Being a stickler for higher education Bernard encouraged his children to attend college as well as mortuary school. He was very prideful that Pearl and each his children became funeral directors.
The business started by his father later became Benta's Funeral, Inc. where it operated from a brownstone on 132nd Street. The family lived on the top floors and operated the funeral home on the first and parlor floor. Under Bernard's leadership he convinced his dad to make the bold move to build a new facility, a larger funeral home.
The structure he envisioned materialized into an apartment building and funeral home, which was the genesis of forming the Wilmack Holding Corporation. The funeral home was moved from the brownstone to its present location in Harlem in 1964. Ambitious and constantly striving to improve, he always reinvested in the business by frequently updating the interior dcor and facilities. He was a leader and innovator in the funeral home industry, being the first to use hearses in colors such as red, gold, green and brown.
He continuously strategized on ways to raise the level of service to the families he served. Bernard Benta has led Benta's Funeral Home for over forty years of its eighty five years of service. He later founded Alegacy Coaches, a luxury car and limousine service.
Bernard's commitment to the community was evidenced by his generous contributions to numerous local causes and institutions, as well as serving as a member of various boards, some of which were The Chauncy M. Hooper Towers, The Greater Harlem Nursing Home and the Antigua Progressive Society. During his healthier and more vibrant years he was a member of the National Funeral Directors and Mortician's Association, (Empire State Funeral Directors Association, Greater New York Funeral Directors Association now known as Empire Funeral Directors Association), National Funeral Directors Association, 369th Veterans Association, and the Harlem Business Alliance.
He was class personified. He carried himself with dignity and respected everyone, whether they were a family that trusted him to carry out the home going of their loved ones or a member of the community. He was trusted by many families in the Harlem community and beyond. He personally supervised the funerals of some of Harlem's Historic notable figures such as James Langston Hughes, Hall Johnson, James Baldwin, Sandy Sadler, Etta Jones, Paul 'Hucklebuck' Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Robeson, Alvin Ailey, Adolph Caesar, Pearl Primus, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, William 'Pop' Gates, Matthew Henson, and many others. He left a legacy of superb service to the extent that even after his retirement, his family continued to value and help other families celebrate the legacy of their loved ones, whether they were neighbors from around the block, African royalty, judges, politicians or number runners. He often said it is the regular, hard working people of the Black community that kept Benta's in business.
Due to his exposure to the cultural richness of the Harlem Renaissance, Bernard was a history buff on all things Harlem.
In 1990, Bernard married Marilyn (White) Benta and the two enjoyed a happy marriage for 22 wonderful years. Marilyn was very devoted to Bernard (or 'doll baby' as she called him) and took great care of him until the day he passed away.
Bernard is survived by his wife, Marilyn Benta, his children, Karen Patricia Diane, George Bernard Kevin and Kyle Phillip Michael, his daughters-in-law, Carol Benta, Robin Benta, Dorrence Benta and his grandchildren, Elsa Rodriguez Williams, George Jason Alexander Benta, Whitney Gayle Benta and Olivia Eduvigis Pearl Benta and a host of extended family and friends.
An Online Memorial was created to commemorate the life of George Bernard Benta. You are invited to add a Tribute in his memory. Please click 'Sign Guestbook' below to add Your own memories, reflections, thoughts and condolences.
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Carnie P. Bragg Funeral Homes Inc.
256 Rosa Parks Blvd.
Paterson, NJ US 07501
Benta's Funeral Home
630 St. Nicholas Ave.
Harlem, NY US 07522
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
St. Philip's Episcopal Church
1072 80th Ave.
Bronx, NY US
Thursday, January 10, 2013
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
East 233rd Street
New York , NY US
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