Ben Weinbeck, a fabric salesman and former mayor of Winsted, Minn., was known for his wit, generosity and mentoring of local teenagers, many of whom he put to work at his movie theater and ice cream shops.
Weinbeck, 86, died of stroke complications Wednesday at St. Mary's Care Center in Winsted.
As mayor of the McLeod County community in the mid-1960s, he pushed to install a city sewer system to divert sewage from Lake Winsted, which today has a swimming beach. He and his wife, Irene, donated land for city ball fields and ran the city movie theater and two ice cream shops.
"Ben looked out for a lot of us wayward children back then," said Bob Mochinski, 49. "He had a knack for seeing kids headed for trouble. He saved a lot of young kids .... He was a real pillar in our little community."
Mochinski, who is now a local businessman, started work at age 13 as a movie projectionist alongside the Weinbecks' 10 children. The kids absorbed a strong work ethic selling popcorn, ordering supplies and cleaning up, said Ben's daughter Maria Weinbeck. Her mother oversaw the work during the week when her father, a textile manufacturer's representative, drove his Cadillac to small-town stores to sell fabrics, she said.
Weinbeck was a big man with a CB radio, and the kids would listen for his humor-flecked baritone on their radios: "Breaker 1 -- 9, this is Gentle Ben. I'm looking for that Mexican Momma," his Hispanic wife's handle. The kids also had CB monikers, said Maria Weinbeck, aka Little Tiger.
The family regularly attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Winsted, where several hundred attended his funeral on Saturday. At the funeral, son Wyman Weinbeck said his dad used to joke that he bought the theater because he was "accused of never taking my mother out to see a movie."
Weinbeck was well-known for his sense of humor. As mayor, he published a faux ordinance stating that no one living in Winsted could be buried in the town cemetery. When citizens asked why not, he'd explain that it was reserved for dead folks.
In accordance with his mother's wishes, Weinbeck gave the city part of the family farm for football and baseball fields and a basketball court. The football facility was christened Weinbeck Field in 2003.
Weinbeck served as a B-26 turret gunner in World War II in Europe. He and three Winsted pals bought a small plane together that they flew from the grass airstrip that Weinbeck helped convert to the city airport while mayor.
Mochinski said Weinbeck would take him and other fatherless kids flying. He also took them to fancy restaurants after they helped with theater renovation projects: "He said, 'Bring out the crab legs for the boys, and don't stop until they are done,'" Mochinski said. "He gave us a view of life most of us didn't have."
In addition to his wife, daughter Maria and son Wyman, of Burlington, Iowa, Weinbeck is survived by three other daughters, Charlene Lueck of Winsted; Cheri Olive of Logandale, Nev., and Julie Baruch of Garland, Texas; four other sons, Benny of Long Lake, Joseph of Blaine, Henry of Portland, Ore., and Jason of Scottsdale, Ariz.; two sisters, Sister Alexis Weinbeck of Campbellsport, Wis., and Margaret Nouis of Spring Lake Park, 19 grandchildren, and 21 great- grandchildren