The Chinnes family remembers Bennie Allen in different ways. We remember him as an adventurer of sorts, as a bit of a wizard who could do all kinds of wondrous things, and, most importantly, as a gentle, caring person who loved people, particularly children, and even the lowly turtle. He left an interesting contrast of memories.
BENNIE ALLEN CHINNES
Certainly Ben was a man of daring. I'm sure old-timers in our home town of Hemingway still remember the day the big bird emerged from the skies, swooped over the town and landed, at all places, on the high school football field. It was the strangest touchdown ever achieved in that little stadium. That feat was easy. What was hard was when he was told to remove his craft and had to climb steeply over wires that obstructed his takeoff.
Bennie Allen always loved planes and flying. As a child at the family hotel (Hemingway Hotel), he built scads of model airplanes. Camellia Chinnes Lane recalls that Papa, Bennie Allen and Lloyd were all packed in one room but those model planes had a room of their own. As a youngster, he saved his money working in the restaurant or cutting meat. Now, there probably isn't a Chinnes or somebody with Chinnes blood that doesn't know the meaning of hard work. We've all worked in restaurants since that was in our blood. (In fact, Lola Eaddy will remember waiting on tables with Bennie Allen when they were small children.) However, I know of no other Chinnes that saved money for the reason Ben saved it. According to Lloyd, while in high school, Ben would hitchhike to Florence and spend all his hard-earned money on flying lessons. Now it is a long way from Hemingway to Hanahan, but planes were always in Bennie's life. What is the old quote: "The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys?" The planes changed from the notepaper fliers that cousin C. G. Springs may have made in those country tobacco fields to the toy plane you could buy at Tommy Grier's country store to the small wooden models you made with glue from Eagle's Five and Dime. Now, even today there is some huge plane at that house in Hanahan. The older Ben got, the bigger and more complicated the airplanes got. What we also have to remember is in between Hemingway and Hanahan were several trips to foreign countries and at least a couple of trips around the world. One of his last real trips was to an airfield to watch the planes land.
Ben took another trip that is amazing. It had to be a long hard road. A journey few could make. Think about the fact that he went from the (as we say down-home) "bacco" fields of Williamsburg County in South Carolina to Lt. Commander it the United States Navy.
Bennie Allen was certainly an adventurer. He volunteered for the Navy right out of high school but they sent him back home after they found he had a hernia. He paid his own money to have his hernia repaired so he could get back in the Navy.
But he wasn't just a daredevil. He was a studious man who loved to learn, then shared that knowledge. In high school, some of the smarter students wouldn't compete with him for the highest history award because everybody knew he would win.
Despite his macho record, Bennie Allen was a kind and gentle man. Lloyd said Ben was never "boisterous." Bud Skidmore of S.C. ETV recalls him as a "wonderful, quiet, unassuming gentleman." Bud's wife was quick to add, "if you remember anything about Ben Chinnes, it must be his love for children and how he taught the children." Ben and Virginia retired to an almost hidden paradise called Edisto. They quickly became involved in everything on that island, from politics to the historic society, to the church, to the school, where he set up the math department. He tutored Skidmore's son and helped him over some math hurdles.
Ben was delighted when he could help his students learn, whether they were in elementary or high school or college. Many of you will remember when he taught in your county school districts and at your local Tech. He had time for children. Camellia Chinnes Lane remembers when he once talked away Suzanne Lane's tears when she was in the hospital. For Suzanne to cry was out of the ordinary but for Ben to care was natural.
Benny influenced other members of the Chinnes family. Jimmy Chinnes said, "all my life, I looked up to him." Steve Chinnes said: "He seemed to care about us and was interested in each one." Bennie Allen had an impact on my brother, Joe, who noted "he and Uncle Ed were one reason I got interested in electronics." Ben also shared with Joe his special way to mix sugar for humming bird feed.
Ben loved the things Mother Nature provided. An avid outdoors man, he had compassion for animals. Aunt Irene remembered when Ben and Virginia were turtle watchers at Edisto. He would stay up overnight and mark turtle nests to help preserve an endangered species. Irene used the words "generous, patient, kind" to describe him. My husband recalls Ben was quick to buy any of Bob's books just because Bob was married to me and I was Ben's nieces.
Chinnes Family reunions seemed to have been a way of life. Aunt Eunice, William and Margie, Joan and Donnis, Bennie and Virginia all opened their homes and their hearts to host reunions. Now think about it—how would those of you on the left-hand side of this church like for those of us on the right hand side to all come spend the day at your house? Some of us went to the reunions for our parents; others went because they didn't want to hurt Aunt Eunice's feelings, and finally some learned they needed to go for themselves.
Our family memories are particularly special. The pride that Ben's sisters, Eunice and Margie, must have felt when their baby brother graduated from Purdue and later when he got his master's degree from The Citadel. The fun and excitement Waney and Benny Allen had—up in that tree picking those wild grapes. Benny Allen had the scar to prove that he took the tumble. Just last week, Irene put lotion on that scar on his arm.
In thinking about what each of you would remember most about him, I also gave some thought to those not with us today. We know my daddy (Joe Chinnes) would have been man enough to cry today. With that tear in his eye, he would have smiled (that contagious smile) and said, "Benny and Virginia had a good time!" Uncle Ed (quiet, unassuming, unpretentious Uncle Ed) would have glowed with pride in telling us the details about Bennie Allen's long list of military honors and his leadership on the USS Enterprise. Uncle Ed probably would have sent Steve, Ryan, and Aunt Ruby to look for a picture of the USS Enterprise to show us. Now if Papa were here…Well, if Papa were here he'd be so old he'd probably would have had Ben on the Starship Enterprise. Aunt Dewese (genuine, not a phony bone in her body, and red rosy cheeks) would try to make us laugh by telling us the story of the car breaking down and Papa going to get somebody to help push the car up to the house. The youngest son, Bennie Allen, was left alone to watch the car. When Papa returned with help, the car and the child were gone. Bennie Allen had fixed the car and driven it home.
The one I am most sure of is my sister, JoAnn Chinnes. In describing JoAnn's death, her daughter, Micki Strickland, once wrote: "She ran out of time to live." Since JoAnn died when she was so young she would only have childhood memories of Ben. Tomorrow would be the anniversary of her death but if she were here today, JoAnn would remember pretty postcards from far away places. She would remind you he married Mrs. United States Navy but she wouldn't tell you her name was Virginia, like my first name. JoAnn would also describe in vivid details the unbelievable things "Unka" Lloyd and Bennie Allen could do with ice cream. They could get behind the counter in the Bus Station (A. & J.) in Hemingway or the Hemingway Hotel or the Cottage Lunch in Johnsonville and make the biggest and best chocolate nut sundaes and milk shakes you've ever seen. You could just tell them what you liked and they would give you double or triple servings of anything. This ice cream magic would only happen when the owners (Joe & Anna Belle Chinnes in Hemingway or Eunice & Herman Lentz in Johnsonville) were not in their restaurants.
JoAnn would also remember dressing in our Sunday best and everybody wanting to take pictures. It was a special time when our uncle came home. She would remember he'd always hold our hand.
Years later, when my parents' house burned, Ben visited and pulled an old worn picture from his wallet and gave it to them. It was a picture taken in front of a place that many of you will remember. It was across the street from the Hemingway Hotel, right beside Harry Anderson's theater, and down the street from Dr. Curtis's drug store. The picture was in front of Dr. Ulmer's office and Benny Allen was holding his niece's hands. On one side, JoAnn, and on the other that redheaded Virginia Dianne. Donnis Lentz will remember that day since he was in other pictures taken there. At the last family reunion, it was like a flash from the past when I saw Ben holding Anna Caroline Chinnes's hand. Our eyes met and he and I shared the memory of JoAnn.
The sports gurus in the family, Donnis Lentz and Keith Lane, will remember those reunions when Bennie Allen did every double flip and diving trick that the children did at the swimming pool. Donnis can also remember swinging from that rope to dive in the water at Red Hill. Some will even remember Bennie diving from the train trestle to the water. Lola can smile today and say she introduced Ben and Virginia. Virginia was home from Columbia College for the weekend. Virginia Poston from Johnsonville brought Bennie Allen Chinnes a lifetime of happiness. Throughout my working life, he has sent me clippings and offered me encouragement and praise.
Irene and Waney's children knew him best as an adult because the families lived so close. The grandchildren of Benjamin Tillman Chinnes and Italene Altman Chinnes knew him in their childhood and their parents knew him in his childhood. All of us knew him in our childhood as a gentle and caring man. When we grew up, we learned that he was also a daring and brilliant man. We are indeed rich because we were blessed with family love. Benny Allen adds to that legacy.
His life was a wonderful trip. We know his spirit still soars.