After Virginia Machinist’s Death, His Wife Ensures Tools Will Keep Building

By Amie Knowles

December 17, 2020

Thanks to one local woman’s generosity, Christmas came early in Altavista

ALTAVISTA- When David B. Benson passed away after a 25-month battle with pancreatic cancer, his wife of 54 years, Wendy Benson, struggled with what to do with the machinist’s tools. 

She didn’t want the expansive collection to sit and attract dust, but it also didn’t feel right to sell his meaningful possessions. 

After giving their children, friends and neighbors first pick at needed tools and objects containing special memories, Wendy started looking for somewhere to donate the collection. 

A friend suggested Virginia Technical Institute (VTI), located in Altavista. After Wendy spoke with the school’s administrator, David Sage, she knew she’d found the right place for her husband’s tools.

After Virginia Machinist’s Death, His Wife Ensures Tools Will Keep Building
David and Wendy Benson went on their first date at age 13.

The Bensons

When Wendy met David, it was love at first sight – even though they were both a bit young to realize it at the time.

“He lived in the house behind my parents in a house in Jamestown, New York. I met him when I was seven,” Wendy said. “I tell people I kissed him for the first time when I was nine, I had my first date when I was 13 and I married him when I was 18.”

While Wendy laughed about both being “strong willed,” the couple filled their home with love and children during a marriage lasting more than five decades. 

But if there’s one thing David loved almost as much as his family, it was his career. He worked as a machinist for 42 years.

Wendy noted that her husband enjoyed meticulous work, which drew him to and kept him within the industry. 

“David was very precise about things, and I think it was just the precision that you had to use for the different things that he did,” Wendy said.

He also enjoyed mentoring others as they took on vocational careers. 

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David’s Tools

Over his four decades in the industry, David acquired many different kinds of tools. However, those closest to him didn’t have experience with several of the precision tools David used. 

“The people that I gave some of the other things to, our sons took some, but one’s a preacher and one’s an Edward Jones agent. Now, they have no use for precision tools. They took some of his other tools, like some socket sets and stuff like that,” Wendy said. “I also gave a lot of things like that to several neighbors and friends that had been such a help.”

Left with a large assortment of specialty equipment, Wendy chose to donate the collection. She chose VTI because of its mission to help people develop their trade skills – something her husband felt passionate about.

“My biggest hope is just that it will help somebody become as good of a machinist as my husband was,” Wendy said. “He could do anything. Grinding, of course he worked with the precision tools, he could do all of the heat treating. He could do anything in a machine shop. I want these young people to know what it’s like to be a hands-on machinist.” 

Virginia Technical Institute

The school Wendy chose prepares students for the workforce. Whether they’re already working in the industry and need to get journeyman hours or if they’re a student has no experience whatsoever, VTI will teach them all. Students can earn journeymen licenses in any field of their choosing offered by the institute. 

“We’re a trade school that kind of meets the needs of anybody in the trades process,” said Sage. 

With few exceptions, the school’s classes take place in the evening, allowing working individuals an opportunity to attend class. 

“So that way a person who is pursuing their journeyman card can be doing their work hours at the same time they’re gaining their classroom hours, which is pretty significant,” Sage said. “A lot of people don’t know, but your work hours for a journeyman’s license are more important than your classroom hours. You can get a journeyman without class hours, but you can’t get a journeyman without work hours. And so we meet the needs and base our business around folks who want to become trade professionals.” 

The school, which uses a nationally recognized National Center for Construction Education and Research credential, offers eight career tracks including plumbing, electrical, industrial mechanics, programmable logic controller automation, welding, carpentry, marine trades and heating ventilation air conditioning and refrigeration. Most courses take four semesters to complete, and instructors have multiple years of on-the-job experience.  

The school is also Department of Labor and Industry recognized, meaning students can get their journeyman and classroom hours in tandem.

A Happy Recipient 

VTI is funded by donations and tuition, not by the federal government. Therefore the large scale tool donation came as an early holiday gift for VTI. 

“It’s really tremendous. I mean, you know, our students have to be able to use professional tools and when you have to [use] good, professional tools, they cost a lot of money,” Sage said. “For somebody to donate a lot of tools like this gives all of our students the ability to have hands-on experience with professional level tools. Instead of having one tool that 10 to 20 students have to use and eventually have a small amount of time to utilize, now every student in the class can actually be able to put his hands on a professional level tool because of this donation. It means a lot to us.” 

The school estimated the donation value at upwards of $10,000. However, the tools also held personal value.

“A man’s tools are personal to him. He has created with that,” Sage said. “He mentored with these tools. Now we have the privilege of being able to carry on that legacy. To be able to manufacture or to be able to develop a thought process in manufacturing, in establishing, in making things safer and that sort of thing. So we were definitely honored that she would find us and pass those on to us. That just carries on his legacy.”

VTI wasted no time putting the tools to good use. The quality tools now have a new home, where students can utilize them regularly.

“He was a mentor and Mrs. Benson wanted to just make sure that his legacy could live on and found us. And we were grateful,” Sage said. “We have the same mission. We want to allow skilled technicians to train and pass on knowledge to incoming apprentices. And so that’s kind of our heartbeat.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected] 

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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