Welcome and thank you all for gathering to celebrate the life of my grandfather Benny Afelskie. My name is Kendra Afelskie and I am Benny’s favourite grandchild. I know I’m not supposed to let that secret slip since I promised never to tell but,don’t worry gramps, I will deal with the backlash down here while you are safe up there for many decades before any of the other nine arrive to contend.
When I started this daunting task of narrating Benny’s life I thought to myself: “how long do I get to talk?” But after a long while of contemplation one recurring word kept coming to my mind, legend. I found this word fitting for the story I knew I wanted to tell.
What is a legend? It’s a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listener to take place within human history. It may include miracles, transform over time in order to keep it fresh, vital and realistic. A majority of legends operate within a realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed by participants, but also never being absolutely doubted. Or a legend is a person of extraordinary accomplishment. Benny is both a legend as a narrative as well as an extraordinary man.
I am honoured that I have the pleasure to tell the story of a man’s life that touched so many people’s lives, and the stories of those people whose lives were touched by him. All of you played a part in Benny’s legend and each have your own special memories of him, whether he was a salesman, (who may have given you a discount or not), a friend, a neighbour, a relative and so much more.
I take pride in being able to speak about my grandfather because he would always say “Kendra, you’re too smart for your own good, you went to school for too long. That education, it’s not good for ya”. Basically, he meant it didn’t make me smart, it made me a smarty pants, and in this case on this day in this moment he is right, because, no amount of school or education or tuition fees gave me the strength to stand up here today but he has. His wisdom, his drive and perseverance and, most importantly, the genes and many personality traits I get from him, Mr. Smarty Pants himself. I knew what he meant when he would joke that school made me stupid because school doesn’t make you smart, life does. Life lessons do…and Benny was one smart cookie; especially only having the opportunity to complete Grade 5.
One story in particular comes to mind when grandpa was introducing me to a customer in the store one day (which was a regular occurrence) and the man said to me, “your grandpa is a smart man and knows a lot of things” and I quickly replied, “yes, and what he doesn’t know he makes up”.
Benny was born Benedict Anthony Afelskie on November 1, 1927 (we think?) in Killaloe to parents Roman and Mary Afelskie. Benny is the third oldest child of five siblings: Ann, Frank, Teresa and Father Archie Afelskie. At the age of 10 Benny’s father drowned and his mother and Uncle Joe took over the family harness
making business. Benny went to Ottawa to learn the harness trade at Carson Luggage before returning to Killaloe to work at the store.
As the years passed the store evolved from harnesses to foot wear and dry goods. Benny married Teresa Sullivan July 7, 1952. Together they built their family of six children, three boys and three girls, David, Chuck, Shaun, Tammy, MaryLyn and Cindy. He would drive boots into Algonquin Park to lumber camps; my dad, Chuck, remembers driving up there sitting on shoe boxes in the front seat. We all know he was an exceptional businessman from harnesses, cow, moose and deer hides, hockey sticks and skates, work boots, etc. and excelled in customer service.
I remember helping salting the hides and that smell is something my memory will not forget. His history is well documented in books and newspaper articles. What isn’t well documented is the man who was a father, husband, brother and grandfather and that is the man I know and love.
We encounter Benny being a legend in so many different places and ways. After hearing my last name I would constantly be asked if I was related to Benny Afelskie of Afelskie Shoes and Killaloe. I loved watching Benny in his element and favourite spot in the world, his shoe store, with his customers and visitors who truly were family to him. But above that I loved Benny the man when he was around our family, his children, his daughter and sons-in-law and grandchildren (Mandy, Andrew, Hollie, Matt, Troy (who is awesome), Jeff, Paige, Kayla, Amy). The Benny who at 2 a.m. while we (namely me and Troy) were still awake solving the problems of the world over a few drinks would come down the hall, make a coffee, grab a chair and join the conversation. The Benny who had a sip of tequila on his 85th birthday. The Benny who always had his eye on the mat at the front door for different shoes, that did not originate from Afelskie’s (and I’ll admit I am one of the guilty ones) and he would usually say, “where did you get those damn things” or on occasion would say, “those are a good pair of shoes there” and proceed to grill me about where I got them. The Benny who would let us kids play hide and go seek in the store; of course, we would always send Amy, the youngest, to ask since he could not say no to little Amy. The Benny who loved arrowroot cookies. The Benny who would play jokes on us with his “fake” eye (oh, wait I think he did that with everyone). The Benny who, when us kids would go searching under the couch and chair cushions looking for the change that fell out of his pockets, would put some there on purpose so we wouldn’t come up empty handed. The Benny who was the heart of our family and the centre of all our gatherings; even if that meant, actually especially since that meant him sleeping on his lazyboy chair at any time of the day no matter how much noise we were all making. The Benny who would start a story that would lead to 10 stories, but still come full circle eventually if you could just hang in there long enough. I know you have all hung in there long enough for many stories…try coming to family events!
I found out about Benny’s passing while I was in Vegas and it was the weirdest thing being in such an unfamiliar place, dealing with such devastating news. I was almost in shock; it made it seem unreal being so far from home. I went off to be by myself for a bit to let it soak in, looking for some comfort in a strange place. I went to the pool and the heat was not the answer; and then, after getting back on the elevator to continue my wandering, I saw the second floor button labelled Spa/Chapel. I knew one of those places would do the trick. I got off the elevator and after a quick glance over at the temptation of a massage I knew that was not where I was meant to go. I followed the signs to the chapel and was feeling in the right direction. I got closer only to see the big sign that read WEDDING CHAPEL. I guess I had forgotten for a minute that I was still in Vegas.
So I thought, Kendra, there are only two potential options. I could stand there and have a little chuckle and say a prayer or I could grab the closest guy and get married in Benny’s honour! Lucky I was the only one around or this story could have ended very differently…but I found my little bit of peace in that moment and a laugh knowing Benny was laughing right with me.
It’s those little moments in life that make our journey unique and worth while. Life is not a destiny but a journey. It’s all the amazing stories of Benny that we will share for years to come that make his life an amazing journey. We all have the same destiny eventually and Benny has arrived at his, but it’s how he got here that defines him as a great man and Valley legend.
Even though Benny lost his right eye at a young age to an aul accident he had a clear vision of the dreams and accomplishments for his life. My grandfather was an extraordinary man. Everyone who has ever talked to me about him has always spoken so highly of him; yesterday, meeting so many of you was a true testament to that. Some of my closest friends from the Valley would say to me, “you know, your grandpa’s famous around here, right Kendra?” And I would think, yeah I guess, but to me he’s just grandpa Benny. Everyone always wonders what it would be like to know someone famous and while it would be great if I knew someone famous like Brad Pitt, Benny is the next best thing. Actually, he is better. Gramps would always say to me, “if you end up in jail, just call me and I will bail you out. Tell them your grandpa Benny is on the way”. Now I really have to behave because I haven’t had that offer from anyone else!
The legend of Benny Afelskie is not over. It will live on in all of us forever. He is what legends are made of. Even though I speak of my grandfather today, words cannot truly describe how much he will be missed. If you ever get to see the steps going upstairs in the store you will see a symbol of a life well travelled, leaving a shoe print on each of our hearts. I find peace in knowing that a legend has arrived in heaven.
Benny is now with my grandma who I know has been waiting a long time for him to arrive.
Afelskie Shoes is now open in Heaven (since you have been there for at least three days) and there are many happy loyal customers up there, because even those who walk in the clouds need a good pair of shoes. I hope, and so does grandma, that you work a little less, but I know that’s not possible. The good thing is you have an eternity of working bliss ahead of you. You are gone, but never forgotten. Yare in each step we take with great shoes on our feet on our journey that we can only strive to live as vibrantly as you.
The Boss has arrived home. May you always look over us with your good eye, turn your bad eye to us when we step out of line and kick us in the butt with your custom shoes when our paths gets tough. I look forward to hearing your stories in my dreams for a lifetime to come since we all know your story is one with no end.
By Kendra Afelskie
A Tribute To Benny Afelskie
Renfrew County's largest paid circulation newspaper
Renfrew County's largest paid circulation newspaper
We'd love to hear what you think .Please take some time to comment about the story you just read.