In Memory

Ben Rooney

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04/07/14 07:06 AM #1    

Evan Dunsky

Ben Rooney died before we were even out of high school, when the truck he had hitchhiked a ride in crossed the divider and barreled into oncoming traffic.  Both Ben and the driver were killed. I never learned what happened to the people in the vehicle or vehicles they hit.


The word was that the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, although I could never understand how that could be ascertained, since both the driver and Ben were dead. Ben was fifteen or sixteen at the time.


Ben was wild and he lived rough. He had a beautiful face, the most prominent features of which were a high, aquiline nose and small glittering eyes. 


He never said hello or goodbye. He would just race up on his bike, stop for a quick conversation without dismounting, and speed off again. He seemed always in the midst of a mission that was ill defined, transgressive of authority, and probably illegal. The fact that the bike he rode was never the same bike just added to the outlaw vibe.


He was no scholar. He wore flannel shirts, didn’t bathe much, and chicks dug him. He slept with a girl I was going out with at the time, and when he told me about it the next day, it was with a grin rather than an apology. He seemed to think that such things were for sharing.


The Police were pigs. Drugs were God. Money was freedom. Freedom was the Holy Grail, and California was the Promised Land.


After one particular night of carousing, Ben and I went back to his house to hang out and listen to records. The A-side of Leon Russell’s first album was on when I realized that he had passed out and was in a deep sleep. The record kept repeating, and I was too incapacitated to shut it off. I slept fitfully on a mattress on the floor, swimming in and out of consciousness while the songs played over and over and over, searing themselves into my brain.  As a result I can never hear any of them to this day without thinking about Ben. Finally, in the blue hour just before sun-up, I got on my bicycle (one I had actually paid for) and pedaled home.


It’s said that every person dies twice: The first time when the last breath of air has been expelled, and the second time when that person passes out of human memory. I sometimes wonder who, if anyone, thinks of Ben. 


His life was short and his death swift.

04/08/14 05:37 PM #2    

Sally Schleker

Evan, thanks for posting this.  I didn’t know Ben but what you wrote moved me to see what I could find out.  I was able to do some research based on some of the facts you gave and found some info.  Ben passed away on April 15, 1972.  According to the newspaper article I found out of Iowa, where the 47 year old driver of the truck was from, Ben and a girl, also from Evanston, were passengers.  The truck rear-ended another west bound truck.  The girl from Evanston was injured which is, perhaps, how you heard that the driver fell asleep at the wheel.  I didn’t see that reported in the article I found.  And I couldn’t find a local article about the accident.  I did find this, however:

Chicago Tribune obituary...
Chicago Tribune (IL) - April 15, 1972
Benjamin Patrick Rooney, age 14, suddenly, of Evanston, son of Liam and Michael Rooney; brother of Liam Jr., Miriam, Christopher, Matthew and Susan; grandson of Miriam Rooney.  Interment: Transfiguration Cemetery, Wauconda

04/10/14 05:37 PM #3    

Evan Dunsky

Thank you Sally, for taking the time to fill in some gaps. I realize this isn't a discussion forum, but it makes me wonder who the girl was. Does anybody know, or would anybody like to add their thoughts?

05/21/14 06:34 PM #4    

Donna Kaminsky

Well-written tribute, Evan. I also think of B en occasionally, and think what if that persona had been around long enough to do something in this madcap world.

07/02/14 07:17 AM #5    

Robin DeRussy

The girl was Sue Harmon, she was a year older than us. I know the other guy, just can't think of his name. I hung out with Ben when he came Downtown Evanston.Funny guy.For some reason I thought he and Evan was a year behind me (74). I have thought of Ben many times and mainly remember the green army coat he used to wear. Hard to believe that was 44 years ago! Oh it just came to mind that the other guy was Ron Talley. I have seen him through the course of years. He works in Wilmette.

07/03/14 01:33 PM #6    

Evan Dunsky

Thanks, Robin.

07/07/14 10:49 AM #7    

John O'Connor

My only comment is feel free to use the edit button on some of the memories. Some people might not want to die if these are the thoughts remembered.

07/07/14 05:42 PM #8    

Carol Levine (Frank)


Beautiful and incredibly evocative elegy to your friend Ben....and to your youth. A moment in time. I look forward to reminiscing about Habonim, our days at ETHS and a host of other things( not the least of them being "Nurse Jackie"!).   


Carol Levine Frank

07/08/14 01:20 PM #9    

Evan Dunsky

Carol:  So glad you'll be attending. Can't wait to see you.

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