North Park memorial bench honors Ben Hancock
When hikers on Near Island pause to look at a bench at the entrance of North End Park, they will know that Ben Hancock did something for his community. On the bench there is a plaque dedicated to his memory.
Ben was a well-known Kodiak attorney who spent much of his free time volunteering for local organizations.
“Any time Ben got involved … he gave his utmost,” said his widow, Suzanne Hancock.
Ben was president of the Pioneers, he served on the board of trustees for the Elks, was active in the American Legion and served on the advisory board to State Parks.
He favored the Lions because it was a “fun group of people and accomplished quite a bit in the community,” Suzanne said.
Because of his contribution to the Lions, members of the organization sponsored the bench and plaque in Ben’s honor. The bench was dedicated last Sunday on a rainy afternoon.
Bud Cassidy, master of ceremonies, said that the bench was an appropriate reminder of Ben, since he was more apt to savor the beauty around him while sitting rather than walking.
Suzanne said that Ben enjoyed hiking and hunting when he was younger, but the crippling effects of diabetes in later years made it difficult for him to get around.
He was a true Alaskan who loved to hunt and fish like the rest of them. Ben was born and raised in Anchorage, when it was more of a town than a city.
The Hancocks lived in the Spenard district. Ben walked into “town,” the main part of Anchorage, for the Fourth of July parade, which was a highlight of the year, Suzanne said.
Ben spent a lot of time helping his father, Lee Hancock, a registered guide.
“They did a lot of hunting with pack animals,” Suzanne said. “Ben was good on a horse.”
Ben’s brother, John Hancock, chose to be a guide like his father. Ben set his sights on the legal profession. He attended the University of Washington. After college, he worked for the IRS; then he enrolled in the University of Washington law school. He practiced law in Anchorage.
Suzanne, who had been a librarian in Anchorage, met Ben through mutual friends. Ben was like a father to her son, Tom, who currently lives in Valdez. The couple also raised their son, Joey, who resides in Anchorage.
“Ben was a good father and a great husband,” Suzanne said.
In 1975 the Hancocks moved to Kodiak, where Ben resumed practice in a law office vacated by Roy Madsen, who had been appointed superior court judge.
When Ben retired in 2002, the Hancocks traveled extensively two years in a motor home.
Ben died several years after the family moved to Anchorage.
Salvation Army pastor Craig Fanning officiated at Ben’s memorial service. He and Ben became good friends while the Salvation Army was in the process of buying the Beachcombers for its new church. Ben ended up going to the Salvation Army church.
“He enjoyed the Bible study,” Suzanne said. “Craig said he approached the Bible like a lawyer.”
Ben became an adjunct member of the Salvation Army.
At Sunday’s dedication ceremony, Ben’s fellow Lions, colleagues, secretaries, friends and family recounted his impact of them and the community.
His passion was cooking, said Tom Hancock. Whether his dad was cooking a mess of eggs and bacon for breakfast on a kitchen stove or a campfire, it had the flavor of generosity.
“He was a kindhearted person,” Tom said. “If he saw someone in need, he’d stop and give them money. If someone downtown was down on his luck, he didn’t shame them, but gave them what he could. He was a very giving, thoughtful person.”
Jerimiah Myers said Ben was “frugal at times … but very generous of purse.” He related stories of Ben’s generosity, the part he played in allowing women to join the Lions and his love for music, in particular, Johnny Horton’s “When It’s Springtime in Alaska.” Myers gave a lively rendition of the song, sheltered from the soaking rain.
Ed Apperson, local State Parks director in the early 1980s, recalled his relationship with Ben while he served on the advisory board. At the time much of Shuyak Island was being added to Park lands. Apperson brought Ben and other advisory members to Shuyak for an afternoon visit. At the time there was a small ranger’s cabin on the site.
What supposedly was to last a few hours stretched into five days. Although the weather was nice in town, a thick, ominous fog bank weathered the group in.
Suzanne, who was Ben's legal secretary at the time, got a lot of phone calls from Seattle attorneys desperately wanting to speak with her husband, who had no means of communication in the Bush. They could not grasp how someone could be weathered in on a different island on Kodiak.
"Ben only had hip boots and said he had jungle rot after wearing them that long,” Suzanne recalled.
The group stranded on Shuyak got to know each other quite well.
Said Suzanne, "By the last night they were doing a skit about ‘Gilligan's Island.’”
Cassidy told the crowd on Sunday that, after Ben returned to Kodiak, he told him, “I can’t sleep on the ground like I used to.” It was time to build comfortable cabins where the outdoorsmen could find refuge from the weather.
At the end of the ceremony Thor Johnson, Alaska National Guardsman who served in Afghanistan, brought up another significant fact about Ben. Kneeling down before the family sitting on the bench, he posthumously thanked Ben for his service to this country. Like Thor, Ben served his country by enlisting in the National Guard.