Hon. F. M. Benefiel. The State of Kansas can justly lay claim to many advantages, among these being a general citizenship that is enlightened and discriminating. It knows well how to choose its representative men, those to whom it entrusts its public responsibilities. Occasionally a mistake may be made but when public favor is shown to the same individual year after year and under many changing political conditions, it is made plain that merit and not mere popularity is at the root of such action. Among the favorite sons of Montgomery County is F. M. Benefiel, at present city collector in the water and light departments, Coffeyville, whose interests in the business affairs of his community have been extensive, and whose public activities have been of such importance as to materially affect and bring about beneficent legislation.
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Among the early settlers in the State of New York were the Benefiels. They were of Scotch extraction, seven brothers of the name coming from Scotland to the American colonies in 1754. In this as in many other families, useful data, early records were not preserved but, as the name is found in the annals of many states, the family presumably was a prolific one and undoubtedly possessed its national characteristics of perseverance and thrift.
F. M. Benefiel was born in Hendricks County, Indiana, February 24, 1862. He is a son of James R. and Sarah (Page) Benefiel, the former of whom was born in Putnam County, in 1825, and died in Hamilton County, Nebraska, in 1900. The latter was born in Hendricks County, Indiana, in 1826, and died there in 1867. Of their family of ten children F. M. was ninth in order of birth, the others being: Martha, who became the wife of James George and shortly afterward they went to Washington Territory and both died on their farm; Mary, who is deceased, was the wife of John Shepard, a farmer; Isaac O., who is a merchant at Coffeyville; John C., who is in business at Coffeyville; Lina N., who is deceased, was the wife of a Mr. Carty; Peter, who was a farmer, died in Oklahoma; Eliza, who died at the age of eighteen years; Asbury, who died in infancy; and Luella, who is the wife of Edward Burquin, a farmer near Bartlett, Kansas. The father of the above family was reared in Putnam County, Indiana, removing prior to marriage to Hendricks County and engaging there in farming until 1884 when he settled in Nebraska. In his political views he was a republican, scrupulously attending to every responsibility of citizenship but never accepting any public office. He was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
F. M. Benefiel secured his education in Indiana, completing the public school course and then entering the Central Indiana Normal School then at Ladoga but since removed to Danville, and from that institution was graduated in the class of 1883. After teaching one term of school there he went with his people to Nebraska and taught school for four years in Clay County. Although Mr. Benefiel returned then to Indiana he remained but a short time in his native state and in the fall of 1889 came to Coffeyville, Kansas. Here he embarked in a retail and wholesale meat business and for some fifteen years was extensively interested in the buying and shipping of cattle.
Although Mr. Benefiel so directed his business affairs that prosperity attended his efforts, it is not because of this evidence of good judgment that he is numbered with the representative men of this section. He was reared to believe in the principles of the republican party and after coming to Kansas entered more actively and heartily into politics than formerly. In 1892 he was first elected to the State Legislature and continued a member of that august body, through re-election, during the sessions of 1893-1895 and 1899, taking part in the making and passing of some of the wisest and most urgent laws of that period. It was in 1893 that he secured the passage of the educational bill, he being chairman of the committee on education. It is recalled that a stormy controversy arose between the republicans and populists during this session, legislation being carried on for four days behind barricaded doors, the trouble lasting for six weeks when the republicans gained their point through a decision by the Supreme Court. Mr. Benefiel was joint author, with President Taylor of the Emporia Normal School and President Quail, of Baker University, of the bill to regulate colleges by putting them on the same plane as the state university, which bill became a law. In 1899 he was the author of the anti-bucket shop bill, prohibiting gambling in stocks and futures, and in that year he was speaker of the House, pro tem. In 1896 he was on the state ticket, which met defeat as a ticket, for presidential elector. His whole career in the Legislature was marked with earnest public spirit, honesty of purpose and personal efficiency.
Mr. Benefiel was married in 1883, at Crawfordsville, Indiana, to Miss Lula Hillis, who is a daughter of Samuel H. and Alma Hillis, both now deceased. Mr. Hillis was a carpenter contractor. Mr. and Mrs. Benefiel have a family of six children: Elsie, who is the wife of William Wilkins, a painter and decorator at Coffeyville; Samuel R., who is city salesman at Kansas City, Missouri, for the Cudahy Packing Company; James H., who resides with his parents, is an instructor in the high school at Aetna, Kansas; Lelan, who lives at home, is employed with the Carey Commission Company; Alice, who is a graduate of the Coffeyville High School in the class of 1916; and Frances, who attends the public school in this city. Mr. Benefiel owns city real estate of value among which is included the family residence at No. 5 East Third Street.
Since 1899 Mr. Benefiel has been president of the board of education, and during 1915 was president of the Coffeyville Chamber of Commerce. In 1911 he was appointed collector in the city’s water and light department and has offices in the city hall. In fraternal life he is particularly interested in the Masons, belonging to Keystone Lodge No. 102, Free and Accepted Masons, and the Knights of Pythias, being a member of Verdegris Lodge No. 89, locally. He is serving as chancellor commander and for many years has been a member of the grand lodge and has recently been re-appointed chairman of the state committee.