Ben Persinger

January 15, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Ben Persinger; his wife, Kathy; and their son, Alex, pose for this family photo taken in 1996 when Alex was about 5 years old.
Submitted photo

It was a final gesture from a loving husband and brother-in-law.
Ben Persinger arranged for his wife, Kathy, and her sister, Karen Gladfelter, to spend the Saturday after Thanksgiving in New York City.

The trip allowed the sisters to forget their cares for a day as they saw “Wicked” on Broadway and shared a great meal before catching the bus back to Hagerstown.

As Kathy listened to the soundtrack from the musical weeks later, she was struck by how well the lyrics to the song “For Good” described what Ben meant in her life: “You are the handprint on my heart and now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine ... I do believe I have been changed for the better.”

That song was sung at Ben’s funeral.

His life was cut short by liver cancer, but Ben managed to pack his 56 years with adventure, fun and travel, always with friends and family the focus.

“I try not to dwell on what we’re not going to have, but on what we had,” Kathy said.

His father was in the U.S. Air Force, so Ben was used to moving around. He was born in Germany and his family, which included his parents and older sister, also lived in France and Arizona.

They moved to Hagerstown, where Ben’s grandmother lived, when he was a sophomore in high school. He attended South Hagerstown High School and hung out at the White Coffee Pot in the Long Meadow Shopping Center, which drew students from both North and South Hagerstown high schools.

It was there he noticed Kathy Rider, a North High student, and went to North High after school every day for a week to look for her. When he didn’t see Kathy, her cousin Pam Arnold arranged for them both to be at a school dance.

The fixup worked and Ben and Kathy started dating. They married about two years later.

“He was different, just deep and very mature,” Kathy said.

Kathy said initially her parents didn’t like Ben’s long hair, but it didn’t take long for him to win them over. Besides, he traded his locks for the Air Force not long after their marriage.

“We were a good fit,” Kathy said of her husband of 36 years. “We complemented each other.”
Karen, five years younger than Kathy, said Ben was good about including her and was like a big brother.

“Our family knew he was going to take care of Kathy,” Karen said. “It was obvious from the beginning he was always going to be there.”

Chuck Swartz was one of Ben’s first high school friends when he moved to Hagerstown. After graduation, they lost touch, but reconnected about 25 years later after both returned to Hagerstown.
Chuck said they shared a love of music and made annual treks to blues festivals together.

“Ben was the kind of friend that everybody wishes they had,” said Fred Kreiger, who met Ben about 10 years ago. “He was very articulate and enjoyed conversations.”

Kathy said it seemed as if their life together was divided into different chapters. There was the first 17 years of marriage before their son Alex was born, which were filled with adventure and travel.

After seven years in the Air Force, Ben decided he wanted to go to college. He attended then-Hagerstown Junior College and earned his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Ben went to officer candidate school and was commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer. He earned his master’s degree from Navy Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif., in 1994.

After 26 years in the Navy, he retired as a commander when his position was changed to civilian status, but reapplied and was hired to continue doing his job as Operations Department head and business manager for the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division in Bethesda, Md.

During Ben’s career, the couple lived in Panama, Jacksonville, Antigua and San Diego. It was in Panama that Ben developed a love for sailing.

He bought a sailboat in Jacksonville and when they learned their next assignment was in Antigua in the West Indies, Ben convinced Kathy that they should sail their boat to Antigua.

Their furniture was shipped ahead, but they had their dog and all of their clothing aboard for the journey that was expected to take about a week.

About four days into the trip they ran into a storm and spent 36 hours being tossed around on the ocean.

They landed safely on an island in the Bahamas, but when they set sail for Antigua, they couldn’t find an opening in the coral reef and hit coral, causing a hole in the boat. The boat sank in about 20 minutes.

They returned home to Hagerstown to regroup, fill out paperwork and replace their clothing before heading to Antigua.

“It was an adventure,” Kathy said. “Ben didn’t stop sailing, but never bought another boat.”

They next were stationed in San Diego, where Alex was born.

The next chapter was the parenting years, when they returned to Hagerstown where both their families were, with Ben working at Fort Detrick. The years of raising Alex, renovating a house on Potomac Avenue and hosting gatherings of family and friends were filled with joy, Kathy said.
Karen and a cousin were married in the home.

Kathy said that despite their adventurous side, they were old-fashioned and sentimental, with a passion for old movies, especially “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Their large Victorian house, in need of a makeover when they bought it, was reminiscent of the house in the movie they watched as a family every Christmas.

“We bought this old house. This was a huge stage in the next part of our life. He could do anything,” Kathy said of Ben’s fix-it skills.

“What we’d always had was love and family. It’s the house Ben built.”

The couple was looking toward the next chapter as empty nesters when Alex – who shared his father’s love for music – headed to James Madison University in the fall of 2009, but about six months before that, Ben learned he had liver cancer. He had chemotherapy treatments to extend his life beyond the prognosis of one year, but they knew from the start that the cancer was terminal.

“That was the hardest part, living without hope,” Kathy said.

Despite that, Ben helped his friends as best he could.
“He didn’t take anything for granted,” Kathy said. “He was always there for his friends.”


Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Ben Paul Persinger, who died Dec. 30, 2010, at age  56. His obituary was published in the Jan. 2 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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