Oct. 13, 1928 – March 13, 2014
Lucille “Lucy” Cordelia Benton, later Witherow, was born on Oct. 13, 1928, in Muskogee, Okla. She was born to William “Bill” Brian Benton and Fannie Benton, but when Lucy was 4, her birth mother contracted tuberculosis and passed away shortly thereafter. Her father was remarried to Walcie Carr Benton, the only mother Lucy ever knew growing up.
In the midst of the Great Depression, her mother and father left for California to find work. They decided to leave Lucy with Bill’s mother, Granie Benton, who also took care of four other grandchildren. Not long after her parents took off, a man approached them offering work in Mississippi cleaning up the weeds at a cotton plantation.
When she was about 6 years old, her parents returned from California in a blue 1927 Dodge station wagon. Lucy remembers how she thought it was the most beautiful, shiny car she ever saw. This marked the beginning of their long haul across the states to California. She remembers vividly the difficult journey her family took and how, after days of hunger, when her father found an orange, the taste was like that of a fountain of milk and honey.
The family first went to Tulare, where her parents would pick anything from prunes to peaches to almonds. She remembers the hard labor her parents endured and how they always told her how important it was to get her education. They eventually went to Live Oak, where her father could pick walnuts and her mother could can peaches. They lived in a tent behind Pop and Mom Mitchell’s house, whom they grew close friends with. They moved into the house when Pop and Mom Mitchell’s son moved to Chico to work at a lumber mill and lived there for nearly three years. Finally, when she was in high school, they bought their own house just down the street.
Lucy attended school in Live Oak through high school, when a UC Berkeley recruiter offered her acceptance based on her grades. She received an AA in speech, drama and psychology in 1949. That same year she was married to Kenneth “Kenny” Stafford Witherow, whom she had been engaged to for the prior two years.
Kenny had worked his father’s ranch for some time and was in a poor financial state. They were faced with the option to sell out, but instead, Lucy decided to help. She pursued an emergency teaching credential after completing crash courses in San Francisco preceding her graduation at Berkeley. She began teaching at the ripe age of 20. She recalls that ever since fifth grade, she wanted to either be a beautician or a teacher. Her teaching career lasted nearly 30 years.
Lucy’s marriage to Kenny was iconic, their love sprang even in the midst of hard financial times. Kenny passed away in 1992, and remained the only man Lucy ever loved. She now joins him in heaven, looking down upon the legacy they created together, smiling ever so kindly.
Her passion in life was always for the children, most likely because of the wonderful parents and parental figures she grew up around and the love she had for her own five children. She had five daughters, in order: Marjorie, Elaine, Jenine, Elizabeth and Patricia. All five daughters are now married and have children and even grandchildren of their own who survive Lucy. Her family is numerous and all carry the joy and passion she had in life to their own families and friends.
Lucy was fond of writing, and authored many children’s publications. One publication in particular, titled “Maidu Indian Music, Instruments and Story Telling, A Chapter for Use with Children” is especially significant to the Cherokee roots Lucy had. This chapter was published in the book, “Ripples Along Chico Creek,” and was dedicated to the Maidu Indians and used for teaching purposes thereafter.
She will always be remembered for the kind smiles, the joyful family programs she created, the quirky sayings she had, and the consideration she had for all those around her.