Energetic, determined, brave and sincere are just some of the qualities family and friends of recent UCA graduate Blake Benton used to describe him.
Benton died Aug. 15 from an ongoing battle with brain cancer. He was 24.
“He would want us to remember the good times,” Benton’s friend Mark Peterson said. “He loved to just get in his truck with his friends and ride and talk.”
A handyman, Benton loved fixing things and working with his hands, taking things apart and putting them back together.
“We also called him the ‘un-dent-in Benton’ because he had one of the devices that pull dents out of cars,” Peterson said. “He would pull dents out of friends’ cars, his family’s cars and even just cars he parked next to at the grocery store.”
Friends said Benton was a caring person to everyone around him.
“He was always concerned with how his family and friends would react when he wasn’t around anymore,” Angie Elrod, family friend and church group member said. “He stressed how he wasn’t afraid to die and how he was excited to meet God in heaven.”
Added Peterson: “He always told me he was ready to go fishing with his grandpa up there.”
Benton was an active member of the Second Baptist Church in Conway.
“His faith was what sustained him,” his mother, Virginia Benton, said.
Elrod said Benton accomplished a major goal when he graduated in May with a major in speech communication and a minor in business administration.
“Blake had such a zest for life,” Elrod said. “He was determined to finish his school and get his degree even though he knew he would probably never utilize his education.”
Benton was diagnosed with cancer in October 2001 and was forced to stop attending classes for the fall semester. In January 2002, Benton’s oncologist advised him not to try to attend school, but Benton’s determination shone through. He took six hours for three semesters against his oncologist’s suggestion.
“It was just the quality of his personality that was so important,” Peterson said.
“He told people all the time that he wouldn’t take back the cancer. He said it has made him such a better person and helped him to meet a lot of wonderful people. He would treat everyone the same, no matter their background or history,” Elrod added.
Benton certainly left his mark on family and friends.
“Blake would want to be remembered as a good son, a good friend and a good brother,” Elrod said. “He would want people to remember his service-oriented personality.”
Because education was so important to Benton, the Matthew “Blake” Benton Scholarship Memorial Fund has been established at First State Bank of Conway for students who have battled cancer.
“His dream was realized and the day he walked across the stage to pickup his diploma was, indeed, one of the proudest moments in his life,” his mother said. “It was like running a race and finally crossing the finish line. This was the way he lived his life. No matter how hard he had to run, he held his head high, waved at people along the way, thanked them for their support and crossed that finish line with dignity, courage and a great big smile.”