Biography of John Downing Benedict
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John Downing Benedict was born in Clermont, a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana, on the 27th of May, 1854, and there began his education in the common schools. Accompanying his parents on their removal to Vermilion county, Illinois , he there worked on a farm during the summer months, while the winter seasons were spent as a student in the Rossville high school. When eighteen years of age he took up the profession of teaching, which he followed through the succeeding five years in the country and village schools. Subsequently he attended the University of Illinois for one year and then began the study of law in Danville, Illinois. In 1881 a vacancy occurred in the office of county superintendent of schools of Vermilion county and his love of educational work prompted him to accept it. He was a pioneer, in the work of grading the rural schools of his state and was a member of the first commission appointed to prepare a uniform course of study for the rural schools of Illinois. This course of study was afterward adopted by several other states, including Kansas and Oklahoma and Indian Territories. After serving as county superintendent of schools for eight years, he was appointed assistant state superintendent of Illinois, with headquarters in Springfield. In this position he was required to write all the official opinions upon questions of school law that arose in the one hundred and two counties of the state, compile the school statistics of the state and conduct meetings of county superintendents in various sections of the state of Illinois for the purpose of explaining the system of grading rural schools.
In 1891 his health became impaired from overwork and he was compelled to abandon educational labors for a time. He then returned to his old home at Danville, where for four years he held the position of master in chancery of the circuit court. In 1898 he was asked by the secretary of the interior to undertake the organization of the vast forest reserves of the territories of New Mexico and Arizona, which had just been created by the United States government but which had not yet been surveyed nor organized. While exploring the rugged, mountainous regions of those two territories he encountered many thrilling experiences, but the climate and out-of-door life proved very beneficial to his health. The weird Petrified Forest of Arizona was taken over by the federal government and converted into a National Reserve upon his examination and report. The vast Gila River Forest Reserve of western New Mexico was also created upon his recommendation. While on a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, he received a telegram from Washington, D. C., tendering him the position of superintendent of schools fog Indian Territory . He accepted this offer and two weeks later arrived in Muskogee, where he continued in charge of the Indian schools for ten years and where he has since resided.
While residing in Illinois Mr. Benedict served the city of Danville as a member of its board of education for five years and was a member of the state board of education of Illinois for six years. Soon after coming to Muskogee he was elected as a member of the city board of education, in which position he served for ten years and in which capacity he assisted in building the first ten school buildings and in formulating the splendid school system of which the citizens of Muskogee are justly proud. When Oklahoma became a state, Governor Haskell appointed Mr. Benedict as a member of the first state board of education and as a member of the first state textbook commission to select the books to be used in the public schools of the state. When, in 1910, the citizens of Muskogee voted to adopt the charter form of government, Mr. Benedict was elected as one of the eight freeholders to write the city charter.
Mr. Benedict has also been an active member of several secret societies, being a Master Mason, a past exalted ruler of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and a past grand chancellor of the Knights of Pythias. While residing in Illinois he served the state for six years as a member of the state militia, retiring with the rank of captain. Not many men have given as much of their time to the service of the public, without compensation, as has Mr. Benedict.