Rev. Wilber H. Benz Jr., Hampstead pastor, dies Church had helped him to fight leukemia

August 20, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Carroll County Bureau of The Sun

In Tuesday's editions of The Sun, an account of the death o the Rev. Wilbert H. Benz Jr., pastor of Hampstead's Faith Baptist Church, misspelled his first name and the last name of the church's deacon board chairman, Gary Bauer.

The Sun regrets the errors.

For weeks they prayed for the Rev. Bert Benz's recovery -- silently, alone in their own homes and together in 24-hour candlelight vigils on the front lawn of the pastor's brick house in Hampstead.

The congregation of Faith Baptist Church in Hampstead had hoped for a miracle, yet all the while, they prepared themselves for the worst to come.


And it came shortly before noon yesterday.

Rev. Wilber H. Benz Jr. died of liver and kidney failure at 11:30 a.m. at the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, Ky., following a July 19 bone-marrow transplant to rid his body of chronic myelogenic leukemia, a hospital spokeswoman said.

News of the 47-year-old pastor's death spread quickly among the parishioners, bringing with it both sorrow and solace.

"We were all very hopeful that he would make it through this," said Gary Bowers, chairman of the deacon board at Faith Baptist Church. "We all knew that odds for his recovery were only 40 percent.

"Reverend Benz had a strong belief that he would be able to continue his work and we all believed it, too. But we also knew that if it didn't work out he would be in a better place . . . that he would be in God's hands," Mr. Bowers said.

Mr. Benz' yearlong struggle with cancer had been an up-and-down battle. Faith's close-knit congregation of nearly 100 did not mind sharing the ride with his wife, Linda, and their daughters, Shannon, 17, and Lauren, 12.

After learning last summer that their pastor was afflicted with leukemia and had a one in 20,000 chance of finding a donor whose blood typematched the pastor's, the congregation sponsored local blood drives, drawing almost 1,000 people throughout the region.

In the months that followed, some parishioners offered the pastor words of wisdom and faith, as well as suggestions of massive doses of Vitamin E, carrot juice and other home remedies purported to cure cancer.

jTC Their spirits were dampened when a Washington hospital refused to perform the transplant without a perfect donor match. Later, they were overjoyed when the Kentucky hospital approved the procedure using the pastor's youngest daughter as a donor, even though her blood had only four of the six antigens needed.

The congregation held banquets and other fund-raisers to help pay for the pastor's personal expenses and cover medical services that his insurance would not.

Members of the Faith Baptist Church said they did what they would do for any loved one. They accept no praise, they say, only sorrow that they could not be at the pastor's bedside and comfort his family as he lay dying.

"The reality of it has not set in," said William "Skip" Rigler, a member of the church. "Reverend Benz was not just a pastor, he was my friend and a friend to everyone else. He's going to be missed tremendously."

Mr. Bowers concurred.

"Teen-agers loved him because he was just like a big kid with them,carrying on and horsing around at the youth retreats. The senior adults loved him because he was compassionate and understood the problems they had when you get older and your body doesn't function as it used to," he said.

A native of Tampa, Fla., Mr. Benz settled in the area in 1982 as pastor of Hampstead Baptist Church, then later founded Faith ++ Baptist Church.

His warm personality, quick smile and concern for others drew increasing numbers of people each Sunday to the cafeteria at Hampstead Elementary school, a temporary meeting place for the churchgoers until their own building on Harvey Gumel Road is completed.

It was Mr. Benz' hope to return to see the completion of the building, which will feature a day-care center.

Funeral arrangements, which are pending, are being handled by Eline Funeral Home in Hampstead.

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