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The ‘unreal’ generosity of Jon Benson

Over the years, Jon Benson has left a tremendous mark on this community.

While some of his many contributions have been noticeable, most often, they are quiet, behind-the-scenes-type things that usually make a huge difference for the people who are on the receiving end of his generosity.

Tuesday was just another example of the force that drives Benson and his perspective on life.

As he watched one of his latest projects, restoration of the John A. Lau, burn to the ground, he quietly turned, unlocked the door to JJ’s, his other restaurant across the street from John A. Lau, and began firing up the kitchen to prepare pizzas for the firefighters busy fighting the fire.

Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush couldn’t believe he was seeing clearly. He shook his head in disbelief.

“As soon as the kitchen was open, he had his staff making pizza for first responders,” Forbush said in a newspaper story on Thursday. “He was watching his building burn, and still was worried about making sure our guys were taken care of. Unreal.”

For Benson, it was just another example of who he is.

Whether helping with church fundraisers or catering a meal for a group at little to no cost, the public would be amazed at his behind-the-scenes help. While working hard to build a food preparation dynasty in Northeast Michigan, he never became so full of himself to remember from where he started and to help those who needed it.

That is why, on any given day of the week, you often will see him answering the phone, delivering orders, or walking through one of his establishments, shaking hands with people and listening to their stories.

As newspaper staff interviewed people on Tuesday for a story on the fire, one of Benson’s cooks at the John A. Lau, Devin Barriager, said he would now be out of work.

However, he wasn’t worried, because Jon Benson would help them find work.

“I know Jon’s a good guy,” Barriager said. “He will take care of us.”

That is the kind of boss anyone would want. He certainly isn’t perfect, but he is about as close to that goal as one can be.

To know Benson is to know his heart is a big one.

“Every kid in this town, and a lot of adults, have benefited from Jon’s generosity,” said Alpena resident Phil Agius. “I’ve been to charity dinners in town two to three times where there are 600 people at the event and Jon donated all the food, prep and staff 100%. Unreal.”

The same sentiment was shared by Pam Richardson, an active volunteer in many community events around Alpena.

“He is always giving back to the community, and you may not realize how much, because he doesn’t seek recognition,” Richardson said. “He is a humble, good man.”

When you know someone like that who now finds himself facing a great loss, you want to help ease his pain.

That was on Richardson’s mind when she was interviewed, as well as many of us throughout the community.

Richardson urged the community to come together and rally around Benson. The same sentiment has been expressed on many social media posts from various folks around Northeast Michigan.

Until more is decided about any formal fundraising effort, area residents can rally behind Benson by showing up and supporting any of his local businesses. Even if all you do is order a pizza, do so often in the weeks ahead.

Benson will survive. He is a fighter, and he has overcome adversity before.

That isn’t the point.

The point is we all lost something precious this week that was owned by someone we respect.

It’s our turn to show Benson just how much we care and to say “thanks” for all that he has done for us over the years.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.

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