Winsted man made his hometown a better a place to live

May 19, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Today, if anyone were to see a cow standing out on Winsted’s football field, they would certainly take notice.

But when Ben Weinbeck was growing up, cows on that land were a common occurrence because it was part of his parents’ family farm.

Ben was one of Henry and Anna Weinbecks’ eight children. He was born in the home on Main Avenue that his parents had built in 1861. Later, when he married in 1960, he and his wife, Irene, raised their nine children in the same home.

To Ben, Winsted and home are one and the same, and throughout his life he has worked to promote the town’s growth and development.

“We are here to serve the village. The village has served us well,” Ben said of his hometown of Winsted.

“I just wanted to make it better. That was my chief aim – always,” Ben said in a recent interview at St. Mary’s Care Center where he has been staying since November 2006 after suffering multiple strokes.

Ben has made the town of Winsted a better place to live. Over the course of many years, he has been directly responsible for making major improvements to his hometown.

One of the first big changes came after the death of his mother, Anna.

It was her wish that a portion of the Weinbeck farmland on Main Avenue be used as a children’s playground.

Ben donated land to the city which became the town’s football field, baseball field, and a basketball court.

“That was the way she wanted it. I never thought it would be a huge playground like it is or at least not a football field,” Ben said.

“We used to have seven cows that used the field as pasture. The cows walked out there and they would sink down into the wet ground and they would leave a clump of grass and dirt,” Ben said. “I was surprised when the fields were finished. They hauled in so much fill and then leveled it off. It is really nice.”

The football field was dedicated as Weinbeck Field by Mayor Don Guggemos October 2003 at a Holy Trinity homecoming game.

The baseball field has been named the Denis M. Campbell field after Campbell who was one of Winsted’s amateur baseball hall of fame members.

What was once a tennis court and now a basketball court was where Weinbecks’ barn once stood.

“You see the kids out there shooting baskets, even when it is cold out, and that is great,” Irene said.

Ben served as mayor of Winsted for two terms, from 1963 to 1966, and described it as “lots of work.”

“I would walk downtown Main Street and people would come across the street when they saw me coming and stop me,” Ben said. “It was always about something that was wrong, and they thought I could change it.”

Although he knew he couldn’t change everything when he became mayor, he had made up his mind he was going to install a sewer system in town.

“People would run their raw sewage into Winsted Lake. In the spring of every year, the lake would open up and thaw out and you couldn’t stand it in town. The odor would be so bad your eyes would burn,” Ben said.

He had to travel to Canada to check out a sewer system that was eventually used in Winsted. According to Ben, there wasn’t another system like it in the United States at the time. It was the first of its kind.

Once the city required sanitary sewer lines be installed, there was a lot less pollution running into Winsted Lake.

Another major undertaking which began just before Ben became mayor was making Winsted Airport a municipal airport.

The plans were underway when Ben became mayor in 1963, but much of the construction took place during Ben’s first year as mayor. The airport was completed in the spring of 1964 and the airport dedication was Aug. 9, 1964.

After the airport was completed, Ben, Dick Sterner, Dick Genty and Don Biske took advantage of having an airport in town and got their pilot’s licenses. Then they purchased a plane that the four of them shared as part of the Winsted Flying Club.

Ben said he enjoyed flying until one day, when he was landing the plane, he hit some holes on the runway.

“I broke the landing gear and it fell on its nose. The plane came to a dead stop,” Ben said.

One of the best-known truths about living in a small town is that word can travel pretty fast, and word about Ben’s accident was spread all over town.

Irene, who had been home at the time of the accident, heard about the “plane crash” through neighbors and friends.

“Everybody in town said that Ben Weinbeck had crashed so I was calling everybody to find out if he was OK. I didn’t know what happened,” Irene said.

It took some time, but she found out that Ben had walked away from the accident, unhurt. The first thing he did was get a ride to the Blue Note where he had a couple of revitalizing drinks before going back out to the airport with another owner of the plane, Genty, to remove the plane from the runway.

“I don’t think I ever flew after that. I didn’t have my own plane anymore and I didn’t want to fly someone else’s,” Ben said.

After Ben finished his two terms as mayor, he found people were very complimentary to him about his time in office.

“Then they would come across the street and thank me for all of the things that were accomplished while I was mayor. I thought that was very nice,” Ben said.

Besides providing the field for hometown football and baseball games, another form of entertainment provided to the town by the Weinbecks was a movie theater.

The Winsted Movie Theater bewas owned and operated by the Weinbecks in the mid-’60s and it became a popular hangout for the younger crowd. The theater is the building now used as the current city hall.

Ben was still traveling a lot, so it was Irene’s job to manage the theater.

“We did it for the kids,” Irene said. “I would sell the movie tickets. I sat in a corner of the building that had windows and you could see so many kids. They would meet there. They called it ‘the show house corner,’” Irene said.

Many of the young adults, including Weinbecks’ own children, were employed by the theater to run the projectors and work the concession stand. There were also children who would take turns helping to clean the theater.

Weinbecks owned the Winsted Movie Theater for 20 years, and completely remodeled it twice during the time they owned it.

The Kool-It was another town business purchased by the Weinbecks “for the kids” in the late ‘70s. It was a place for young adults to work and families to come with younger children to get ice cream. It was a red and white striped building built right next to the Weinbeck home. Besides ice cream, the Kool-it served hamburgers, fries, and later Mexican food. Today, the building is known as V’s Grill.

Ben and Irene have been married for 48 years. They have lived in Winsted their entire married life.

Irene visits Ben every day at St. Mary’s Care Center.

“Ben is such a good husband,” Irene said.

“I don’t know if I am such a good husband,” Ben said. “I think it takes two to tango. I think the Lord was very good to me and gave me a great wife.”

The Weinbecks’ children are:

• Beverly is deceased. She was married to John Guider.

• Charlene is married to John Lueck, and they live in Winsted. Their children are Bernie, Dottie, Dawn, Jackie, and Kyla.

• Joe is married to Kathy, and they live in Minneapolis. They have two children, Toni and Michael.

• Wyman is married to Suzie, and they live in Burlington, Iowa. They have two children, Tony and Dan.

• Ben Jr. is married to Darcy, and they live in Wayzata. Their children are Ella and Ben III.

• Maria is married to Robert Owens, and they live in St. Louis Park. They have one son, Nicholas.

• Julie Baruch lives in Garland, Texas with her son Kennedy.

• Henry is married to Kristen, and they live in Wayzata.

• Jason is single and lives in Richfield.

Ben and Irene have four great-grandchildren.

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