Benson Lumber marked its Pawhuska centennial in 2020

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Benson family has been in the lumber and building trades businesses in Pawhuska, along with other commercial activities, for 100 years. 2020 has been the centennial year.

Harry E. "Hank" Benson and his wife, Patricia "Patti" Benson, are the owners of Benson Lumber Co., 1020 Lynn Ave., which is the remaining element of a larger business endeavor that once included 10 retail locations, two wholesale distribution operations, three subdivisions, and a company called Home Loan and Investment Co., which provided loans for houses. There was also Benson Oil Co.

Among the Pawhuska buildings owned by the Benson business was a warehouse-style structure downtown, near Allen Feed & Seed, that burned in 2013.

Hank Benson says Patti's participation has been essential to the recent survival of the business.

"She is the president of the company and she basically made sure we survived the past 15 years and it worked again," he said.

The Benson family business in Pawhuska began in 1920 as the endeavor of brothers Harry Garfield Benson and Herbert L. Benson. They had previously been participants in a family business enterprise in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, going back to 1916.

Hank Benson, grandson of Harry Garfield Benson, explains the Benson brothers were drawn to Pawhuska because it was a prosperous community where businesses were thriving. According to one account, Hank explains, Harry Garfield Benson got his start in Pawhuska selling cement for 5 cents a bag.

"It kind of makes me dizzy, all of the things he was doing," Hank says of Harry Garfield Benson. He recalls his grandfather as a man who always wore a tie, usually wore a straw hat and frequently had an El Producto cigar somewhere about him.

The Benson family business has, through the years, sold a wide variety of products to all sorts of people -- products ranging from dishes to shortwave radios to chicken houses, and beyond.

For decades, the secret to success was having the product or service that people wanted and providing it to them in a fair manner, Hank Benson said. In other words, it was all about good customer service and integrity.

"The main thing was just providing the material and the service and pricing things fairly," Hank Benson said.

In recent years it has been necessary to take into account changes in business practices and make adjustments where necessary, but Benson Lumber in 2020 remained a ready source of friendly customer service.

Hank, who grew up in the business, has taken steps through the years to add to his business knowledge and diversify the services offered. He became a real estate agent in 1986 for his own knowledge. Then, in 1992, he became a state-certified appraiser. He also did his first subdivision development in 1992, at Skiatook Lake. In 2001, he started offering mini-storage service. He has also added sawmilling service.

Hank, the son of Harry D. Benson, was one of five siblings. He had four younger sisters.

He said a future generation of Benson Lumber is by no means guaranteed at this point, but he does have two grandchildren who have been exposed to the business. One of those youngsters has learned to mix paint, make keys and check out customers, he said.

The Benson family's involvement with building trades dates back at least to the relatively early 1800s. Hank's research shows that Birkett Benson, who was born in October 1811 in Hawkshead, Lancaster County, England, migrated to the United States and worked as a master carpenter and joiner by the 1830s. He supervised the building of the Clifton House Hotel near Niagara Falls, New York. Harry Garfield Benson, who was Birkett Benson's grandson, was born in September 1889 in Leavenworth, Kansas. He died in 1964.

When Harry G. and Herbert L. Benson opened their lumber yard in Pawhuska a century ago, it was one of about 10 such businesses in the community. Today, it is the only one.