Margaret “Elsie” Benton, 89, of Pasadena, California, who with her husband John co-founded the Walter Hoving Home in Garrison, died July 7.
She was born May 15, 1934. 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 Bentons 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, who had known each other since kindergarten, was known as “Dad B” and “Mom B” to residents. They were married for 65 years until John’s death in 2017.
“Mom B was an extraordinary person who radiated warmth, kindness, and boundless love,” said Beth Greco, CEO and president of the Hoving Home. “She made all of our Hoving Homes feel like ‘home’ with her infectious laughter and genuine smile could brighten even the darkest of days. She had an incredible ability to make those around her feel seen, valued and cherished.
“I remember one night on the streets with her when I was in the program — she ran up to this lady and hugged her, tried to get her in the van to go to Hoving Home and when the lady said she wasn’t ready, Mom B slipped off her shoes and said you need these and when you are ready, ‘We will be waiting for you!’ ”
Before 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.
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. In 2006 they added a third home in Las Vegas and in 2017 a fourth in Oxford, New Jersey. Women are allowed to stay for up to a year; more than 23,000 have lived at one of the homes over five decades.
The Bentons relocated to Pasadena following the opening of the home there but kept a residence at the home in Garrison until 2016 and for many years visited several times each month.
Elsie is survived by her children, Marjii Smith (David), Connie Adams and Jim Benton (Judy), as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Her favorite quote was from Romans 8:38-39: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor principalities nor powers nor height nor depth nor things present or things to come shall be able to separate me from the love of God.”
A Celebration of Life will take place Aug. 12 at the Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena and will be livestreamed. Memorial donations may be made to the Hoving Home (hovinghome.org).