A life remembered: Sen. Scott Bennett made his native Gibson City proud

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CHAMPAIGN — “There are no words,” state Rep. Tom Bennett said in a Facebook post Friday, to describe how he feels after losing his nephew, state Sen. Scott Bennett. The Republican state representative from Gibson City then posted a “heart-broken” emoji before adding, “We love you.”

Indeed, a lot of people loved Sen. Bennett, D-Champaign, whose sudden, unexpected death Friday afternoon shocked and saddened countless people from his native Gibson City to across Illinois. From state officials and professional colleagues to constituents and friends, condolences came from around the state Friday for Sen. Bennett’s family, including his wife, Stacy, and their two young children, twins Emma and Sam.

“Senator Scott Bennett was a good man who always operated with the best interest of his constituents in mind,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “The entire state is a better place thanks to his service.”

On Monday, the governor signed a proclamation ordering all flags at state facilities be flown at half-staff until sundown on Dec. 19 in honor and remembrance of Sen. Bennett.

A state senator for the 52nd District since 2015, the 45-year-old Bennett died from complications of a large brain tumor, according to his wife. She said the family was shocked by the unexpected suddenness of her husband’s death.

“Scott will forever be known for being an extraordinary father, husband and friend. His quick humor and wit could light up any room he entered,” Stacy Bennett said in a statement. “He worked tirelessly to find solutions to society’s most pressing issues by finding common ground and compromise.”

First responders rushed Sen. Bennett from his home in Champaign to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana around 3 a.m. Thursday. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said he was notified by the hospital that Sen. Bennett had died at about 1:15 p.m. Friday.

“We remain in complete shock,” his wife said, “because it was all so sudden and unexpected.”

Also shocked and saddened by the news were his family and friends in Gibson City, where Sen. Bennett graduated in 1995 from Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School.

“The entire Falcon nation took great pride in Senator Bennett and his dedicated service to family, community, children and the state of Illinois,” GCMS Superintendent Jeremy Darnell said in a statement. “Our condolences go out to the entire Bennett family.”

“We are very saddened by Scott’s sudden and tragic passing,” Gibson City Mayor Dan Dickey said in a statement. “Many of us have fond memories of Scott, and we’re very proud of him. We will be praying for Scott’s family.”

Just recently, Sen. Bennett was a key legislative negotiator in clarifying the landmark SAFE-T Act criminal justice overhaul that takes effect Jan. 1. During negotiations on 11th-hour revisions to the SAFE-T Act, House Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat who heads the Legislature’s public-safety working group, said Sen. Bennett’s “collegiality and dedication was instrumental.”

Among a raft of provisions, the SAFE-T Act ends bail as a means of securing release from jail while awaiting trial. Critics had feared too many dangerous people would be set free. Senate Democrats made several changes, including adding forcible felonies which qualify a defendant for pretrial detention.

In a statement, Pritzker mourned the “loss of a dedicated public servant and devoted father” who “fiercely advocated for the institutions that shaped his life, from his upbringing on a Gibson City farm, all the way to the University of Illinois.”

Upon graduation from GCMS High School, Sen. Bennett earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Illinois State University and then graduated in 2002 from the University of Illinois College of Law. After initially working in private practice in Urbana, Sen. Bennett became a prosecutor in McLean County for several months before returning to Champaign County to work as an assistant state’s attorney under State’s Attorney Julia Rietz in 2012. For the past six years, he worked at the Spiros Law firm in Champaign while serving in the General Assembly.

Sen. Bennett was appointed to fill the remainder of Michael Frerichs’ Senate term in 2015 after Frerichs was elected state treasurer. Sen. Bennett, whose uncle also began serving in the Legislature in 2015, was elected to a full term in 2016. Sen. Bennett won reelection in 2020 and again last month.

Frerichs remembered Sen. Bennett — who served on the Senate’s agriculture, appropriations for higher education, judiciary, labor, redistricting and executive appointments committees — for “his big laugh and even bigger heart,” his understanding of the value of hard work, and readiness with words of encouragement.

“He was not afraid of the difficult issues and there was no challenge too big for him to tackle,” Frerichs said.

Sen. Bennett’s wife said he “lived a life full of service and constantly looked for ways to lend his time and energy to helping our community and state.”

“He worked tirelessly to find solutions to society’s most pressing issues by finding common ground and compromise,” she said. “To say he will be greatly missed is an understatement.”

Stacy Bennett said she and her family appreciate the hospital’s doctors, nurses and staff for their “excellent care and support” and are “also grateful for the outpouring of love and support” from the community.

“Scott’s impact on our community is very evident,” she said.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton called Sen. Bennett “an incredible leader and a loving family man.”

“Scott was a brilliant and loyal fighter who not only worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents but also to uplift people throughout the state,” Stratton said. “Scott understood that being a leader requires the courage to speak up and the heart to listen. He collaborated with members from both sides of the aisle and always put what was best for Illinois first.

“Scott and I are both proud graduates of the University of Illinois,” Stratton continued. “We would often greet each other with alumni pride. Scott brought energy and joy whenever he entered a room. I know that the halls of Springfield will have less joy because he is now gone.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of Sen. Bennett’s death.

“I had the honor to serve beside Senator Scott Bennett and I called him a friend,” Raoul said. “We worked closely together on numerous pieces of legislation to protect the people of Illinois. Senator Bennett was a passionate advocate for his constituents and was able to fight for them while maintaining genuine and unwavering civility. At a time of increased rancor and partisan divide, Scott treated those around him with dignity and garnered respect from both sides of the aisle. This is a tragic loss to the state of Illinois.”

Appointing Sen. Bennett’s successor falls to a weighted vote of the Democratic Party chairpersons of Champaign and Vermilion counties, which must conduct a public meeting on the matter within 30 days. Sen. Bennett’s term expires in January 2025, so voters will decide on who gets the seat in the 2024 election.

A celebration of Sen. Bennett’s life is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Frerichs and Rietz are expected to speak at the celebration.

At this time, Sen. Bennett’s family has requested no flowers and plants. In upcoming days, the family plans to name a charity to which donations can be sent to honor his memory.

Associated Press political writer John O’Connor contributed to this report.

The post A life remembered: Sen. Scott Bennett made his native Gibson City proud first appeared on Ford County Chronicle.

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December 12, 2022 at 04:57PM

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