“Did he tell you he was a sailor?,” Ed Bentley says when asked about his son, Rick.
“I didn’t think he would tell you about that.”
“I bet he didn’t tell you he was a gourmet cook.”
“He’s also a wine connoisseur.”
“Did he tell you he’s a gardener? He’s got all kinds of things growing at his house over there on Vickery. He’s even got lemon and orange trees.”
“Things happen to him sometimes, and he doesn’t even tell me. He does it all out of self-satisfaction.”
Most of us probably don’t know much about Rick Bentley, even though it seems he turns up everywhere in our neighborhood – Chamber of Commerce luncheons, a J.L. Long Middle School choir performance, a Christmas party for low-income children, a garage sale for the East Dallas YMCA teen program.
But the reason we don’t know a lot about Rick Bentley is because he likes it that way. He’s not interested in talking about himself.
Instead, he’s interested in showing up at neighborhood events, rolling up his sleeves, and working to make our community a better place.
“I’m here,” Bentley says. “I’m doing. And I’m doing because I am.”
“I don’t have a big ego that needs to be fed, and I truly realize I don’t accomplish a thing on my own. There’s nothing in my life not to be humble about.”
THE ADVOCATE AWARD
Every year since our newspapers’ inception, the Advocate has teamed with the Lakewood and East Dallas Chambers of Commerce to honor a neighborhood resident or volunteer who is making a significant, positive impact on our community.
We solicit nominations from the community and review the nominees with an eye toward honoring someone who isn’t necessarily the most visible volunteer, but someone who is working hard behind-the-scenes to make a difference.
This year, Rick Bentley was our hands-down choice.
Thanks in large part to Bentley’s work, the East Dallas YMCA survived its darkest moment and the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce has become a vital part of our neighborhood’s business community.
And these are just two of the organizations to which he donates his time.
“If I could be effective on 10 or 15 boards, I would join them,” Bentley says. “If you can’t devote as much of your time as possible, you need to leave.”
Bentley was born Nov. 9, 1944, in Tampa, Fla., where mother Bettie lived while father Ed served in World War II. When Rick was five months old, an air force general pinned four medals on the son because his father was in a POW camp.
“He started off getting decorated pretty early,” father Ed says.
Before Bentley was a year old, he and his parents moved to East Dallas, where Bentley has lived ever since. His parents grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, as Bentley did in 1963.
In 1977, Bentley purchased the house he lives in on Vickery from his great aunt, who had purchased it from his grandmother. It’s the house where his father grew up.
“It’s a great neighborhood,” Bentley says. “It was a small town then, and it’s still a small town today. That’s what I like about it.”
Growing up, Bentley was involved in Boy Scouts and helped Eloise Sherman start a Cub Scout troop for younger boys in the neighborhood.
“He was a real good kid,” Sherman says. “I enjoy him immensely. Very early on, he realized the importance of little boys having role models.”
Today, Bentley helps Sherman with the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce. Sherman is president of the organization and Bentley has served on its board since the late ’80s and as chairman in 1991 and 1992.
Last December, he helped plan the community Christmas tree lighting in the Lakewood Shopping Center, and this spring he’ll assist with a fund-raiser.
“It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, he’s there pitching in,” Sherman says.
“We’re like a small town within a big metropolis. The leadership of the people in this community have made it that way. And Rick is definitely one of the leaders.”
AT THE YMCA
During the summer of 1991, it seemed that just about everyone at the East Dallas YMCA was jumping ship.
There were daily newspaper and television stories about children in the center’s child care program being molested by an employee.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Bentley says.
“My first reaction was to run and get as far away as possible. But then I decided to jump in and be chair.
“It was the harder thing to stay. It would have been easy to turn my back on the organization. But it is a good organization.
“You can’t sit on something like that and let it engulf you.”
Says Eloise Sherman: “Most of the leaders in Lakewood said: That’s the end of the YMCA. We’ll never get over it. But Rick and the board guided the YMCA through it.”
Bentley was involved in the former employee’s trial and led the way in patching up the YMCA’s damaged reputation. His chairmanship involved more than dealing with the scandal. He helped hire a new executive director for the center, headed up two of the branch’s most successful fund-raising campaigns and helped place the East Dallas YMCA in line for a new facility.
This year, the East Dallas branch raised $59,000, exceeding its $55,000 goal by almost 10 percent. Last year, the goal was $54,000 and $55,000 was raised. By way of comparison, in 1991, the group’s fund-raising goal was $40,000 and $33,000 was raised.
East Dallas YMCA director Nora Tomlin says the organization has thrived partly due to Bentley’s hands-on approach to his volunteer work.
“He stands for what this community is about,” Tomlin says. “He makes things happen.”
“I would put him in the top list of dedicated board members I’ve worked with. He actively participates.”
“(Some board members) will promote it and back it up, but won’t get their hands wet. He puts his money where his mouth is.”
In addition to attending at least three monthly administrative meetings, and several luncheons and dinners on behalf of the YMCA, Bentley also shows up for YMCA activities, such as manning a garage sale benefiting the branch teen program.
Last summer, Tomlin says Bentley formed a committee to develop a proposal to participate in a Metropolitan YMCA capital campaign. The group met once a week for eight weeks, and Bentley attended every meeting, scheduling his vacation so he didn’t miss anything.
The committee’s plan landed the branch in the capital campaign, which will raise money to purchase land and build a new neighborhood YMCA. If the capital campaign reaches its goal, which has not been set yet, the East Dallas YMCA will receive $700,000. We are expected to have a new neighborhood YMCA in about 10 years.
“The board is strong in its commitment to go on,” Tomlin says. “The way Rick handles himself helps with that. He’s a take-charge person, but not a dictator.”
“He wants to make a difference not just for today, but for when we’re not around. That’s the way I visualize in my mind and in my heart Rick to be. He’s not out for the glory. He does it because he truly believes in it.”
“For some people, they would get to a point of: I’m not appreciated; I give up. He wants to make an impact in this community. He believes in this community.”
Bentley says he learned about community service from his parents. Bettie volunteered at Presbyterian Hospital and was involved in Girls Scouts and PTA. Ed worked for Republic Bank and served on the boards of Presbyterian Hospital and the Juliette Fowler Homes, a residential facility for senior citizens, and was involved in the Exchange Club.
Today, father and son serve together.
Each year around Christmas, they deliver one pound of Russell Stover candies to each resident at Juliette Fowler Homes, placing the candy outside residents’ doors, Ed says.
“He’s just a good kid,” Ed says. “He’s 50 years old, but I guess I can still call him a kid.”
“Anything he gets into, he becomes an expert at. As a child, anything he was interested in, he would go to the library and study it.”
“He was very studious, very quiet and not braggadocio.”
“People see one side of him, and they don’t realize everything he does,” says Beth Bentley, Rick’s wife.
“He’s very interesting. He knows a lot about a lot of different things, which amazes me.”
“He always tells me he’s very shy. He tells me he’s nervous when he speaks, but I don’t see that.”
Ken Hamlett has been friends with Bentley for 20 years. They worked together from ’72 to ’75 at the Rail Head, a restaurant and bar formerly located at Park and Greenville. Bentley was a bartender, and Hamlett was a waiter.
Today, Bentley is Hamlett’s banker, and Hamlett is Bentley’s dentist. They still socialize, but Hamlett says Bentley doesn’t talk much about himself.
“The big thing is what his son has done, what’s going on with the family, and what is going on with us,” Hamlett says.
“I know he’s involved. I get the (Juliette Fowler) newsletter, and I see his picture in there.
“Nothing seems to bother him. He rolls with the punches. He always takes time to listen.”
GARDENING, COOKING & SAILING
“Rick is the only guy I know who would park a Ferrari in the front of the house and grow corn and tomatoes in the back,” says Elam Kelson, who has been a friend of Bentley’s for many years.
Bentley says he drove the Ferrari and other sports cars when he was single, but when he was married and had a child, he traded the Ferrari for a Honda.
But he hasn’t quit gardening. As a child, he helped his grandmother and great aunt work in their gardens. He maintained his aunt’s garden when he purchased her house, but he’s also added to it, turning his backyard into one garden with a red brick walk going through it and giant fish ponds he built himself.
In addition to oranges and lemons, he also grows bananas, corn, tomatoes and grapes.
Gardening isn’t his only passion.
“Mom was very gracious when she was cooking,” Bentley says. “I would look over her shoulder, and she would let me taste and then ask me what it needed. I don’t have many failures, because mom let me make the mistakes when I was young.”
Bentley also enjoys sailing. He says he wanted to learn the sport, so as a teenager, he found a job in a sailing shop. He has been a member of several sailing teams that have won national and club competitions. That’s how he and Kelson became friends.
“Rick likes good things, but he’s not pretentious, and he blends the two wonderfully,” Kelson says.
A NEIGHBORHOOD MAN
When Beth and Rick were married six years ago, he made her promise they wouldn’t move from our neighborhood.
“It’s got a lot of history to me,” Bentley says. “Raising my son in the house my father was raised in is unusual.
“I would sooner move to Seattle than a suburb of Dallas.
This is our neighborhood. You won’t find me in Addison eating. I’m here.”
“He’s attached here emotionally,” Beth says. “He likes giving back to the community. It’s part of him.”
“He knows people’s fathers. He knows people in the stores.”
When he was in his 20s, Bentley says he considered leaving East Dallas. So he sat down with a yellow legal pad and wrote down the pros and cons of moving. When he was done, there were more cons.
“I don’t know at what point I decided to stay here forever, but that’s my attitude now,” Bentley says.
After graduating from Woodrow, Bentley attended East Texas State University and Southern Methodist University. He didn’t earn a degree, because he went to work full-time for South Oak Cliff Bank before graduating.
Most of his career has been in banking at neighborhood institutions. He currently is a senior vice president at Texas Community Bank in the Lakewood Shopping Center.
Bentley’s volunteer work in the neighborhood developed over time. With the YMCA, he began raising money for the organization in the early ’80s through his job, and he never quit working for the group. He joined the YMCA board in 1988.
He says it was the same with the Lakewood Chamber – he became active professionally and just became more and more involved.
“If you take from the community, you’ve got to give back to the community,” Bentley says. “I think it’s important to give back to what puts bread on your table.”
“It’s important to see that the neighborhood does well. The Chamber is a business advocate, and the Y looks after the kids.”
“They kind of go hand-in-hand.”
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