In 1965 Benda Tool became a member of the National Tooling and Machining Association; this is apparently when the old Bay Area Tool and Die Association became affiliated with the NTMA. So Ben’s association with the NTMA probably goes back further that of any other living individual in the San Francisco Bay Area. Of course, Benda Tool and A&B Die Casting today continues as one of the oldest members of that august group with son Bob having served may years on the board of directors of the chapter, including 2 years as its president. Ben was 82 when, at the insistence of the board in January of 1989, he installed Bob in his second term as president, an event which he effectively used to talk about the “old days”, the early days in the sixties before hi-tech and CNC machines, when men were men and machinists were tool and die makers. At another NTMA function he met Dr. Edward Teller, nuclear scientist and Hoover Fellow, who was present as the featured after-dinner speaker.
Seeing the two sitting next to one another at the head table, this writer could not help but notice the contrast between the two men. Though mentally keen and alert, Dr. Teller looked old and tired next to old Ben, who was his senior by two years. Dr. Teller passed away last year at the very respectable age of 95.
Today, at age 98, Ben is in good health and enjoys living in the healthy air of the Oregon farm country. Undoubtedly, a lifelong love for sports and gymnastics, personality quiz and just all around clean living share responsibility for his remarkable longevity. It is noteworthy that he took up marathon running in his sixties (mainly to show up his oldest son, Bob, an accomplished marathon runner), when most men will prefer less demanding activities, such as golf, fishing and dominos. Incredibly, he still ran well into his eighties It was only when his knees finally started to give him some grief that he hung up his running shoes.
Ben will turn ninety nine in February. This writer wrote him a piece of well wishing on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, with a promise to do a similar one when he turns one hundred. It seems that Ben is well on his way to make that next milestone. For the time being, though, he plans a cruise to Alaska in the summer of 2005 to which he has invited the entire Dathe clan to accompany him.
Following the motto, “a rolling stone may not gather any moss – but it sure gets a lot of polish”, he kept moving from shop to shop, “so as to be able to accumulate the greatest amount of experience possible”. By and by he ended up in Milwaukee, where he met Marge, who became his wife and the mother of his children. He went to work at the Harley Davidson Motorcycle plant, where he was instrumental in designing the famous “tear drop” gas tank. According to Ben, in those days the company furnished some workers with the newest-design bikes – “just gave one to them” – and then asked for an evaluation. The workers were the test pilots and their compensation was a free motor cycle.