Catching up with an old friend

Providence is God’s wise and benevolent direction of the universe and affairs of humankind, according to at least one dictionary definition. It’s also a city in Rhode Island, but I digress, because I think I experienced divine providence over the weekend.,

The Rev. Richard Bentzinger, 90, died Aug. 21, 2010, after having participated in the historic civil rights March on Washington in 1963, among many other accomplishments in his lifetime. I didn’t know about his death until this past weekend, when my wife happened to see his obituary in a back copy of the Des Moines Register.

“Isn’t this John Bentzinger’s dad?” she said.

John Bentzinger was a big influence on my life. We met when I was a junior at Morningside College and John hired me to be a part-time reporter at KMNS/KSEZ radio in Sioux City. I learned more from him about reporting and writing — along with a lot of other stuff that is better left unmentioned — than I ever learned in college. But we lost touch over the past decade or so as we both moved around.

After reading his dad’s obit, I called John’s 90-year-old mother, Ruth, hoping to track down my old boss. To my surprise, she remembered me, along with a story I had forgotten writing for the Ottumwa Courier about the Bentzingers’ participation in the civil rights movement. She is as remarkable as her husband was, which is saying a lot because his obituary reads like the history of the United States in the 20th century.

She gave me John’s phone number. I called his home on Long Island in New York and left a message. Sunday night he returned my call, saying it was great to hear my voice. I can’t believe you just happened to call this weekend because I got engaged Friday night, he said.

John has never been married and anyone who knows him may conclude hell has frozen over when they hear about his engagement. I can’t wait to meet Pat, the woman who has done the impossible.

I’m sorry it took the death of his dad to help track down John, but it was great to hear him sound so happy. Maybe because we’re both becoming old news guys faster that we care to admit, I’m pretty certain we’ll stay in touch more often in the future.

And I’m sure all of this would really please John’s dad.  Providence is the only way I know to explain it.

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