John Benton, Co-Founder of Walter Hoving, Dies at 84

John and Elsie Benton (Photo provided)

The Rev. Jonathan W.  Benton, 84, a former Garrison resident who with his wife, Elsie, in 1967 founded the Walter Hoving Home there, died on Nov. 1, 2017, in Pasadena, California.

Benton was born in Seattle on Aug. 29, 1933. He and Elsie, who survives him, were married for 65 years. They had known each other since kindergarten.

For nearly 50 years, as Assemblies of God ministers, the Bentons visited with women on the streets of New York City and Los Angeles to offer them a way to escape drug and alcohol addiction and prostitution.

The couple founded their Christian recovery center in Garrison on June 21, 1967. At the time it opened, the home had 12 residents and four staff members. The couple was known as “Dad B” and “Mom B” to residents.

Prior to moving to Garrison, the Bentons were pastors at a church in Washington state, directors for Youth for Christ and missionaries in Japan. In 1965 they were asked by David Wilkerson, the founder of Times Square Church best known for his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, to join his Teen Challenge ministry in Brooklyn. The Bentons moved with their three children to Farmingdale, New York, and John Benton began traveling with Wilkerson as the organization’s associate director.

In September 1965, Wilkerson asked Benton to become director of the Women’s Home in New York City. John and Elsie began to walk the streets of the city, looking for young women in need of assistance. (John later wrote a book, Debs, Dolls & Dope, about their experiences.)

At the same time, the Bentons began to search for a place outside the city to establish their own recovery home. In March 1967, they met Walter Hoving, the former longtime chairman of Tiffany & Co., and his wife, Pauline, at a dinner party. Hoving helped secure funding for the couple to buy, for $175,000, a 22.5-acre property and home on Snake Hill Road in Garrison.

In 1984, the Bentons expanded the ministry to California, opening a home in Pasadena in the former Mira Monte Hotel, and in 2006 they added a third home in Las Vegas. A fourth home in Oxford, New Jersey, opened in April. Women are allowed to stay at the facilities for up to a year; more than 23,000 have lived at one of the homes over the past five decades.

“We’ve created a homelike atmosphere,” Benton explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “But we try to make boundaries between a homey environment and a structured environment. Our girls can’t just come here and hang out.”

The Bentons moved to Garrison in 1967. They relocated to California following the opening of the home there but kept a residence at the home in Garrison until May 2016 and for many years visited several times each month.

Besides Debs, Dolls & Dope, Benton wrote dozens of other books, including One Lady at a Time, a history of Hoving ministry, and a series of Christian young adult novels about troubled women who find salvation at the home.

“John Benton made a huge impact on me when I came for help in 1992,” said Beth Greco, a Garrison resident who is now the CEO and president of Walter Hoving Home. “He was a godly, humble man of wisdom and integrity, but most of all he truly cared for people.

“He had a way of recognizing potential in the women who were in the program and then helping us reach our destiny,” she said. “He gave his life in service to the work of God as he helped women from all over the world find freedom from addiction, including myself. His example inspired many of us.”

Besides his wife, Benton is survived by his children, Marjii Smith (David), Connie Adams and Jim Benton (Judy). He is also survived by nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A memorial service officiated by Jim Benton will take place on Nov. 7 at the Lake Avenue Church Chapel in Pasadena. Memorial contributions may be made to the John Benton Memorial Fund at the Walter Hoving Home, P.O. Box 194, Garrison, NY 10524 (

10 thoughts on “John Benton, Co-Founder of Walter Hoving, Dies at 84

  1. Dad B. You will be missed. I am forever grateful for you welcoming me with open arms to the Walter Hoving Home more than 20 years ago. You were a great preacher and a wonderful example of God’s love.

  2. As one of the many women who received Christ at this one-of-a-kind, awesome ministry, my life was changed in such a dramatic way. From drugs, alcohol and petty theft — estranged from my family and suicidal — to a life filled with hope, peace and joy because of the Lord, because of the Bentons and the staff who introduced me to God. Thank you Bro. B.

  3. So sorry for the loss of this great man! Grew up with this family and have great respect for all the Benton Family. My mom and Elsie a still great friends. My family sends their love to Elsie, Margo, Connie and Jim.

  4. I’m very sorry to learn of John Benton’s passing. I didn’t know him personally, but I read almost all of his books growing up and still re-read them from time to time (my sister even has a copy of “Julie” in German). Rest in peace.

  5. Thank you Bro.B for being my spiritual daddy. If not for your obedience to Jesus, I am sure I wouldn’t be here today. I love you and will see you again God bless the family and my Mom B.

  6. This grateful heart prays for God’s comfort and peace to touch all today and in days to come. Thank you Dad & Mom B for showing me Jesus. Thank you for plucking me out of the fire, offering me a safe place to change, grow and heal. Because of you, I’ve managed to live a life of gratitude and simple service. Through the ups and downs of life, Jesus always remains my Rock.

  7. May God’s grace and mercy cover friends and family at this time. I am truly grateful for Dad and Mom B’s example of love and care for the lost. I served from 1983 to 1984 after my graduation from Bethany in Minnesota.

  8. Just shared my memory of Br. B with a dear friend. And I’d like to share it with all. Some may remember. Don’t know why but I remember him singing the song about a goat. Then he gave a message. It was about when you come upon your wall in life (he said we all have one) and you feel you can’t go on — stop trying to go on and hang on to the wall as tight as you can and shout out to God to carry you forward. He said, “I promise you He will.” That has helped me so many times in life. He was wise, he got our attention with the goat song and then taught us the lesson.

    Obedience is greater than sacrifice He used that scripture to me a lot. Shirley said I was sweet rebellion. A pleaser. Did the right thing for the wrong reasons.
    I even remember at least some of the song. There was a goat, not a da da but a goat, who was feeling fine, not dada but fine, ate six red shirts, ate six red shirts…right off the line…right off the line…..

    • Dad had a great impact in my life. He would tell me to let the Holy Spirit lead and listen to what He says to do. It is 24 years later and that truth is my foundation of intimacy. I will miss this great compassionate man of God. I am one lady who crossed his path.