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Walter L. Benson

February 17, 2018
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Walter L. Benson made his last road trip at age 92 in February 2018. He flew planes and raced cars, but mostly drove pick-up trucks while planting and maintaining vineyards, constructing homes and in land development of his own concept, design, and implementation. He created Bennett Ridge and The Ranch in Sonoma County. His land planning concepts set a higher standard for hillside design with building envelopes for homes and dedicated open space for the remainder of the parcel. The Sonoma Historical Society gave him an award in recognition of his hillside preservation planning.

He was a “dynamite guy,” literally, in his creation of an underground winery in 1976 after replanting the Snyder Vineyard in the historic Buena Vista Viticultural District – a century after the phylloxera devastation. He worked the vine rows and the winery. The old Ford pick-ups were co-piloted by a succession of three black Labs over a 50-year period.

He worked with a student group building the monumental metal sculpture which stands between the original buildings on the Sonoma State University campus. He was the designer of the sculpture, but felt that it was the physical manifestation of performance art due to student participation and the legal necessity of a “pilgrimage” to the governor of California to gain support and approval for the installation.

Over the decades, he mentored others. He designed and built an off-the-grid below-grade outpost in the high desert. His home is an early passive solar plus solar panel design. There he also built a wine cave and planted small vineyards. He patented early LED lighting fixtures, designed furniture, mobiles and sculptures, and varied artworks.

He served his country in WWII as a 19-year-old in the last year of the war. He graduated Amherst College.

He leaves four children: Paul (Carol), Margo, Marta (Adam), Caitlin (Tim); four grandchildren: Austin, Spencer, Aidan, and Hayley; many nieces and nephews; and his wife, Lu Williamson Benson, who was his partner for a half century in many ventures and adventures and many, many road trips.

This last trip is being handled by Duggan’s Mission Chapel. No public service will be held. Gifts in memory may be made to The Sonoma Land Trust or any charity.

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