Benedicta Hernandez, an accountant from the Philippines embarking on a new life, was the first of her family to land in the Twin Cities in the 1970s.
“We’d tease her during wintertime because of all the states to pick, half of them are warm. Why Minnesota?” said her nephew Carl Mariano of Eden Prairie. “Like any typical immigrant, you go where the job is.”
Hernandez lived frugally to send money back to the Philippines and help her siblings and their children immigrate to the Twin Cities over the years. They all stayed with his aunt, know to most as “Beny,” until they could get on their feet, said Mariano. The modest brick duplex she bought on Xerxes Avenue South in Minneapolis was the family hub where she provided a roof and encouragement.
She set high expectations, he said, instilling in them all the belief that opportunities are there “if you grab it and you work hard.” She cheered him up when his first job was working as a janitor. “ ‘In the states there’s honor in honest labor,’ ” he recalled her telling him.
Mariano, now a district manager at Smash Burger, said none of the family would be here if not for his generous aunt: “Her legacy really is us.”
Most recently Hernandez lived at the Richfield Health Center, where she died on Oct. 22. She was 91.
Born in 1926, Benedicta Andal Hernandez hailed from Ibaan, a city south of Manila in Batangas province.
Mariano said he doesn’t know what exactly prompted his aunt to come to the United States, or why she came to Minneapolis, but said that she worked for a time in the Minneapolis office of the now-defunct Laventhol & Horwath, once one of the country’s largest accounting firms.
She was one of five girls in her family and also had two brothers. Beny’s sisters Aurora and Teodora lived with her in the duplex, and none of the three women married.
“My dad affectionately called them the Golden Girls,” Mariano said.
Devoutly Catholic, Hernandez was a longtime member of Schoenstatt, an international Catholic lay movement. The group built a shrine in Sleepy Eye called Schoenstatt on the Lake, but it was when Hernandez made a pilgrimage to Germany that lifelong friend Sister Jessica Swedzinski, of Sleepy Eye, first met her.
“We just hit it off,” Swedzinski said.
Beny made annual pilgrimages to the Schoenstatt center in Waukesha, Wis., Swedzinski said, and enjoyed hosting large monthly religious meetings in the basement of her Minneapolis duplex. The group held spiritual talks and discussed teachings, and worked on applying lessons such as forgiveness in their own lives.
Then came the renowned feast the sisters would cook: dishes such as adobo chicken, rice, empanadas, coffee, lemonade, flan and multiple other desserts.
For David Jungwirth of Minnetonka, who also was part of Schoenstatt, they always prepared his favorite pork soup.
Jungwirth said they became so close to Beny and her sisters that in 1999 he and his wife, Connie, made a five-week trip to the Philippines to visit her family there.
Beny was extremely well-organized and would handle all the paperwork and phone work for Shoenstatt’s annual fundraising dinners. Outside her regular jobs, she helped many people with their personal income taxes, and had a large following in Filipino community.
“She lived what she prayed,” Swedzinski said. “She was a spiritual mother.”
Hernandez was preceded in death by her sister Dominia. She is survived by sisters Aurora Hernandez, Teodora Hernandez and Priscila Hernandez; brothers Conrado Hernandez and Juan Hernandez; and many nieces and nephews.
Services have been held.