Cover photo for Carole Jean Benkelman's Obituary
Carole Jean Benkelman Profile Photo

Carole Jean Benkelman

October 26, 1951 — January 19, 2023

71, died January 19, 2023, after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at her home in Saint Johns, Mich., surrounded by family. Carole was born October 26, 1951 in Lansing, the first of three daughters born to Robert and Lorraine (Smith) Benkelman, and grew up in Cass City, where she graduated from high school in 1969.

A graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in human ecology, Carole worked as a social worker for several years. After graduating, she worked at Michigan Works, and then served as a case manager at a domestic violence and sexual assault services center in Clinton County. She also worked for several years at Federal Mogul in Saint Johns. Before retiring, she worked for The Salvation Army in Owosso.

From childhood to the end of her life, Carole was a source of joy for everyone around her, always sharing her positive spirit with friends and family even in times of adversity. She cared deeply about her family, especially her sons Jason and Andy and her daughter Carrie. Children brought her particular happiness. If you were lucky enough to be a child in Carole’s life, you no doubt have a story to tell about something special she did for you or a fun place she took you.

Carole found great satisfaction in making connections. She was the keeper of family lore, and used her curiosity and sharp memory to help people understand their ancestors and what life was like for the people who came before us. After her parents died, she kept the pictures and letters they had retrieved from the old Striffler-Benkelman House on Houghton Street in Cass City, which was packed with family history (and a lot of other things) when her parents bought it in the 1960s. When the internet and genealogy web sites came along, Carole and her mother took great pains to post digital versions of the photos so that there were faces to go with the names.

Connections were so important to Carole that she helped people outside her family make them, too. In the last years of her life, she walked her caregivers through to research their own families, helping them create genealogical trees and using the TV screen to display the app on her phone. She said it was a good way to pass the time, but everyone knew it was more than that. It was a reflection of how she lived her life, believing that time shouldn’t be wasted sitting still, even when her disease forced her to. She loved to go on those journeys of discovery with the people who were helping her.

As a social worker, her generous and empathetic nature made her beloved among clients, as she helped them pay their utility bills or find them a warm place to stay. Once or twice her dedication to this work got her into trouble, like when she went against agency policy to transport clients to a safe place or buy them food with her own money, earning reprimands from bosses in the bureaucracy. But she cared more about the people than the policies — especially if children were involved. She was always thinking about someone else.

Carole adored things that had stood the test of time: old buildings, old furniture, old photographs and old souls. Her sisters remember how she liked to take pictures in cemeteries around the Thumb as a teenager. She cared as much about the elderly as she did children, making time to visit her grandparents to see that they never felt isolated as they aged.

Carole was always active — fixing or painting something, cleaning or working in the garden. She never sat down. So her 2014 diagnosis of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was difficult to fathom. But it was also the same year that the Ice Bucket Challenge brought about heightened awareness of ALS, so its presence in society, and in her, was hard to ignore. She fought it to the very end, even though ALS is a progressive disease against which there really is no arsenal. That reality brought great frustration to her and her fellow “PALS” (people with ALS).

Carole is survived by her loving husband, Kevin Larke; sons: Jason Tetreau of Cass City, Andrew Larke of Owosso; daughter, Carrie Tetreau of Saint Johns; two sisters: Catherine (Charles) Brooks of Sheridan, AR; Susan (Ken Fireman) Benkelman of Bethesda, MD; two nephews: Steven Brooks, Eric Brooks; two nieces: Catherine Fireman, Alexandra Fireman.

According to her wishes, cremation has taken place. Inurnment will be in Elkland Township Cemetery, Cass City in the spring. Carole asked that donations in her memory be made to ALS of Michigan in Southfield, which she said was the non-profit organization that helped her the most, and she’d like to pay that generosity forward.
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