2017-09-01 / Features

Meet the lady who's the talk of the town

By Betty Archer Allen
Historian of GBAHS

Mark and Eloise were ready for the Inaugural Ball. Mark and Eloise were ready for the Inaugural Ball. Let me introduce to you a lovely lady who was a true Gulf Breeze pioneer, Eloise Finklea Benson. Her husband was Mark X. Benson. Mark and Eloise were married approximately 60 years. Mark Benson died on March 27, 1994. After the death of her husband, Eloise lived in her home with two cats, Honey and Stormy.

Eloise was born in Foley, Ala., on April 16, 1914. Her father was a farmer who cultivated 200 acres in Baldwin County. Though she had no children of her own, she was the fourth of 10 children.

She had many fond memories of her parents and siblings. She remembered her father playing with her and her brothers and sisters.

When Eloise graduated from high school, she had planned to go into nursing. So in keeping with that goal, she took a job caring for a lady who was very ill. This lady was Mark Benson’s mother. When Mrs. Benson died, Eloise Finklea returned to her home with the intention of pursuing her nursing career.

Eloise was in the middle years when this photo was taken. Eloise was in the middle years when this photo was taken. The following week, Mark came to visit her and asked to take her for a drive.

She said, “I hadn’t even known that he found me attractive.” So what was supposed to be a stepping stone to a nursing career became a stepping stone to marriage.

Mark and Eloise Benson came to Gulf Breeze in 1935 so that Mark could help build and manage the Gulf Breeze Cottages. There were no permanent residents in

The Benson complex is just a memory.

Gulf Breeze at that time. Mark established the first peninsula post office in1939 at the Cottages and became the first post master. In doing this, he named the Cottages the Gulf Breeze Cottages and the community, Gulf Breeze, Fla.

In 1940, the Bensons bought property of their own. They purchased land and built a home, post office, gas station and grocery store.

The Bensons built their building in phases. A friend, Bruno Presell, started the second phase. That area came to be known as the Mark X. Benson Complex. It was popularly called the Benson Building.

When Mark was in the service during World War II, Eloise was acting post master. While he was gone, Eloise saved all the allotments she received from Mark’s service pay -- a total of $5,000.

“That was a lot of money in those times,” she said.

So much of what is Gulf Breeze today got its start at the Benson Building. Many of the churches, civic and social clubs and even the Gulf Breeze Volunteer Fire Department, had their first meetings there with no cost to these organizations.

The first pharmacy and the first weekly newspaper were located in the Benson Complex. The first private library was located in a cottage owned by the Bensons.

Mark and Eloise helped organize Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church, and initially the Benson Building was used for worship services. They were the first two members.

Eloise said, “Mark was the first member and I was the second.”

One of Eloise’s most memorable occasions was attending the Kennedy inauguration. They were present at the inauguration ceremony and watched the parade.

They dressed up in their formal clothes for the inaugural ball.

Eloise greatest sorrow was the loss of her husband, Mark. As long as she lived, she kept Mark’s hat hung over the door that opens onto the carport.

She said, “Mark was my king and I was his queen.”

Eloise was a member of the Hoe N’ Hum Garden Club for 44 years and was awarded honorary lifetime membership in 2003.

The club honored her as Gulf Breeze Founder on Jan. 26, 2006. live oak tree was planted in her honor on Arbor Day.

Eloise’s advice for living a good life was to “have a husband you trust and who can protect you, eat properly and get lots of rest but not too much.

Ella Louise “Eloise” Benson died on Oct. 9, 2006.

She was a truly lovely lady.

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