Friday, September 29, 2023
September 29, 2023




Joe Benge, whose full and

varied life journey began in a

Chicago suburb and led to the

Canadian wilderness, died No-

vember 16, 2016, at age 85 in

his home on Salt Spring Island.

Joe’s life was filled with many

chapters, each prefaced by what

he referred to as his “epipha-

nies.” There were remarkable

people who shared this time with

him and all can attest to his

many talents as musician, orni-

thologist, photographer, teacher,

raconteur, artful linguist, endless

reader and thoughtful gift-giver.

Joe’s life force and curiosity were boundless. One of his photo-

graphs recently won the jury prize at Artspring’s Surfacing

show. A lifelong passion for birds, photography, history, air-

planes, literature, wilderness and music brought a wide range

of good people into his life. COPD weakened his body, but his

brilliant mind, memory, curiosity and spark never faltered.

Joe was a graduate of Evanston High School. He studied Ger-

man at Amherst and was the drummer with the Delta Five jazz

band, which toured Europe.

Joe continued his education at Northwestern University, earn-

ing a Master’s Degree in German. After a year as Fulbright

scholar in Austria, he turned down a scholarship to Princeton to

take advertising positions in Chicago and Seattle. Meanwhile,

National Geographic sent him through the Louisiana swamps in

search of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and Esquire published a

piece on WWll airplanes. Joe created the well-known lonely

Maytag repairman ad campaign which pictured an idle washing

machine repairman waiting for repair calls that never came.

Joe changed direction in 1972 when he traveled north to a park

in Ontario. There, he managed The Voyageur Wilderness Pro-

gram. In talks and slide shows in Canada and the USA, he

asked listeners: write authorities to ban logging and motor vehi-

cles there. The mass of letters helped lead to the creation of

Quetico, a wilderness-class park.

Joe then spent several years teaching in northern Manitoba, in

communities reached by dog sled, skidoo or bush plane. Final-

ly, Joe worked for Parks Canada as a naturalist in the mountain

parks. He retired in 1991, traveled for several years while

watching birds, then finally parked himself on Salt Spring Is-


At the last, Joe was bedeviled by increasingly serious COPD

that literally took his breath away. He used the new Canadian

law permitting physician-assisted death as the best ending.

Joe’s last days before his “Fly Away” were spent with

life-long friends, lively conversation, laughter and good

music…. pretty much how things often were at Benge’s.

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Salt Spring Island
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