The above pictures were taken on January 13, 2007 during my one-day visit with him.
He was very excited about this project and had, two days before his death, sent me
two more letters that his father had received from Herbert L. Clarke. One dates from
1920 and is in answer to Elden Benge's question regarding mouthpiece placement, and the
other is a 1933 letter sending his congratulations on the birth of Donald and his twin brother,
Ronald, who died in 1973. Donald was kind enough to give me documents pertaining to
Elden's career, music his father had owned since childhood and other interesting
memorabilia, as he had no further use for them and he thought this a worthwhile project.
The family pictures of Elden Benge that can be viewed in various sections of this site (there
will be more to come, too) were lent to me by Donald, to be scanned and returned to him.
This happened before his death, and the originals are now in the possession of his relatives.
I received Donald's permission to use the scans of the photos.
Here is a link to Donald's Conquest page, maintained by Steven Wagner.
Conquest was Donald's most popular game; it is still played world-wide. When I visited him
there were game parts all over his living room, waiting to be assembled and shipped.
Here is a link to the Donald Benge tribute on
Swordplay, a fencing website. A memorial service
was held on May 6, 2007 in Burbank.
A slightly edited version of this biography was read as the introduction
during Donald’s memorial service on May 6, 2007.
My name is Joe Lill and I’m a trumpet player from Chicago, IL. I’m doing my doctoral dissertation on Donald’s father, Elden Benge, who was principal trumpet of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1928-1933, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1933-1939, before resigning his position in order to devote his time to the manufacture of his famous Benge trumpets. Donald‘s mother, Dorothy Jean Hagen, was Miss Utah of 1929.
Donald’s parents were married in February, 1933, and on November 4, 1933, they became the parents of twin sons: Donald Eugene and Ronald Elden, who were born at Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago.
In order to help the twins forge individual identities, Elden and Dorothy enrolled them in different grade schools, and continued the practice for the first year of high school. After one semester Donald transferred to the same school as his brother, marking the first time that they’d ever been enrolled at the same location.
His parents were divorced in 1945. The boys did not exhibit any interest in the trumpet business, and Donald went off to the University of Utah after he finished high school. In 1952 he started fencing in Santa Monica; his father never saw him fence, nor did he ever see any of Donald’s fencing equipment. He joined the Army in 1953, and Ronald joined the Air Force.
Also in 1953, Elden moved to Burbank, purchasing the property in which Donald has lived since 1961. Ironically, Elden Benge died on December 13, 1960 as a result of injuries from a car accident that occurred when he backed out of the driveway at 1:30am on December 11, 1960. Both sons were present at their father’s death.
The sons inherited the trumpet business, but Donald’s extensive business experience made him the logical choice for running the day-to-day operations, and he bought out Ronald in 1963. Donald continued running the Benge Company until 1971, when he sold it to Leisure Time Industries. The brand name passed through a number of hands, and is currently owned by the Conn-Selmer company in Ohio.
After the sale of the business, Donald was free to pursue his “true” interests, coin dealing, game manufacturing and fencing, with more focus. He is best known for his invention and production of the game Conquest. He was very proud of the success of the game overseas, especially in Germany and Japan. He was equally proud of his accomplishments in the world of fencing, and his affection for the fencing community was evident in our conversations. Much to his regret, he’d never married, although he’d had some very serious long-term relationships. He certainly considered his gaming and fencing groups as surrogate families. When I flew out in January to visit him it was made very clear that we needed to end by 6:00, as he was not about to miss his Saturday night chess match with his friends.
Tragically, his brother Ronald committed suicide in 1973, and his mother died in 2003 after surviving for ten years with the after-effects of a major stroke.
I regret deeply that I cannot be at this service, as I found Donald to be quite engaging, especially after I passed the history and geography tests that he gave me when we went to lunch. He had very much warmed up to the idea that I was writing a biography of his father, and had sent an email to me just two days before he died, informing me that he’d called a couple of friends about my project; friends with whom he’d not spoken in a number of years. It gives me some measure of comfort to know that I helped him reconnect with people just before he died.
Peace be to Donald Benge and all who knew and cared for him.
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