Tributes to Senator Scott Bennett Monday brought tears, laughs, and memories of the Champaign lawmaker who passed away December 9.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois campus to remember Bennett, who died at just 45 as the result of a previously undiagnosed brain tumor.
Moved to tears, Senate President Don Harmon reflected on Bennett’s kindness.
“Senator Scott Bennett was a unique creature. In an era of soaring political egos and red meat rhetoric, Scott proudly took a different path,” he said. “He was first and foremost a good and decent human being who brought that graciousness to public office.”
State Treasurer Mike Frerichs, one of Bennett’s best friends, joked he felt more comfortable about speaking while dealing with his emotions at the service until Harmon broke into tears.
“Damn you, Don Harmon,” Frerichs said to laughter. “You started this all over again.”
Bennett replaced Frerichs in the Senate when Frerichs was elected statewide in 2014.
“Scott was the best kind of friend. The one that doesn’t need a modifier. He was just a friend,” Frerichs said. “He wasn’t a political friend or a Senate friend. He was just a friend.”
Governor JB Pritzker praised Bennett’s efficacy in the Senate.
“Scott was an incredibly effective lawmaker in part because he infused humor into our lives while demonstrating the most enviable traits, like extraordinary integrity and radical compassion,” Pritzker said. “When things got heated, like they sometimes do under the dome, we could always count on Scott for a good dad joke.”
Bennett was praised for his moderate politics.
“Scott was also special because he didn’t buy in to party politics. Yes, he was a loyal Democrat, but what was more important to him than what party you belonged to was your heart and the work you were trying to do,” said Champaign Mayor Deb Frank Feinen. “Scott reached across the aisle to try and work with everyone and anyone that had similar goals as him.”
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, Bennett’s former boss, said his passion for doing the right thing sometimes led to Bennett receiving criticism.
“Scott took his abilities to find that middle ground along with his passion for protecting children with him when he went to the Senate,” she said. “Politically, we all know Scott was a moderate. A friend recently described being a moderate as standing in the middle of a two lane road with traffic going in both directions. You get hit from both sides.”
Former Sen. Rachelle Crowe, now the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, was one of Bennett’s closest confidantes in the Senate. She described the way Bennett dealt with people on all sides.
“He had the great attribute of caring so much that he made each of us feel special. What a gift it was,” Crowe said. “It’s hard to think of many people who are to even a few as Scott was to all of us.”
Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City), Bennett’s uncle spoke of his time each fall working on the family farm in Ford County.
“Over the last several years, Scott would drive a semi, hauling grain to the local elevator. He was so proud the day he got his CDL,” Tom Bennett said. “When he was on the farm waiting on his semi [trailer] to fill up, he would send e-mails and make phone calls to Springfield, constituents, and others. He loved the harvest.”
But it was Bennett’s commitment to family, his wife and two children, that strung through all comments during Monday’s memorial.
“The countless times we would talk or text it was always clear that his family was the most important thing in his life,” Feinen said. “He drove home during session so he could spend time with them. He was present even with the demands of his job. They were his reason for being.”
Frerichs encouraged mourners to be more like Bennett and to make their lives more impactful.
“I like to think that Scott doesn’t have to be gone. Scott can live on in every one of us in this room,” Frerichs said. “Let his life be an example to push you as well, to give more back to your communities, to commit more toward your families, and to help your friends be a better version of themselves. I know Scott did that for me.”
A fundraiser for Bennett’s family remains active on the MealTrain website.
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December 20, 2022 at 03:40PM