Anyone who went to Woodward High School, and, especially, anybody who played sports for the Polar Bears anytime from the 1950s through 1980, would likely remember Gus Benjamin.
Gus was a school fixture. He would be there in the morning to help teacher Dan Duvendack open up the building. He’d be on the loading dock when the cafeteria workers showed up, after turning on the lights for them.
“Gus was at his post at the cafeteria door when teachers stopped for a morning cup of coffee, and throughout the day, he could be found in the halls, getting reluctant students to class on time,” The Blade’s Chase Clements wrote.
Gus – Augustus Benjamin was his full name, though many believed incorrectly his name was Gus Franklin – never attended Woodward. He was born in 1922 in Georgia, and, according to the family, moved to Toledo in the late 1920s. He attended Sherman School but never received any grades, according to his sister, just occupied a seat. The family lived on Maywood Ave., only about six blocks from Woodward, but the school occupied his life. Gus had an intellectual disability, though The Blade in 1980 did not use that phrase.
But mostly, Gus was devoted to Woodward’s sports teams. He’d help, however he could, at practices. Plus, wherever the teams played, Gus would be there, even going so far as to being allowed to ride the team or band bus to away games. He had a lifetime pass to Woodward sporting events given to him by then-district superintendent E.L. Bowsher sometime in the 1950s, “and woe to any unsuspecting ticket-taker at a game on Sandusky or Sylvania who tried to deny Gus admission…it was one of his proudest possessions.”
A former football coach, Ted Szelagowski, recalled at the time that a faculty member on the athletic board at one point decided “it didn’t look right” for someone in a non-official capacity to be on board a team bus. “The players quickly let it be known that if Gus doesn’t make the trips, they won’t either, and they had the support of the coaching staff in this,” he said. After that, Gus’ position was unchallenged.
The story came up in November of that year, after Benjamin’s death a month prior, when he was stricken on a TARTA bus. A committee of alumni and faculty wanted to create a scholarship in his name. I do not know if the scholarship is still awarded but it doesn’t look like it.
Benjamin was inducted into the Woodward Alumni Hall of Fame in 2014. The original Woodward High School, built in 1928, is gone now. It was replaced by a modern facility that opened in 2010.