His name will not come to mind when you think of Canadian heroes.
His music will never be immortalized and etched in the minds or included in the record collections of millions.
His deeds, however, will be fondly remembered for years to come by thousands in Windsor, Ontario, Canada’s southernmost city.
Percival Joseph Beneteau, was born to live a life of service in 1913, in Anderdon Township, a farming community south of Windsor. His early passion for music and his love of the Roman Catholic Church merged. A young Percy could be found playing the pipe organ and directing the choir at St. Joseph’s Church in nearby River Canard every Sunday. It was a tradition he maintained for his whole life, hardly ever missing playing Sunday masses in the three parishes he belonged to.
It wasn’t only hymns that stirred his soul. Tickling the ivories, he joined some of the hippest depression-era and thirties-forties bands, in many of his border city’s top clubs and speakeasies, in what became one of Prohibition’s most notorious rum-running areas.
Taking full advantage of his musical popularity, his entrepreneurial side soon came to the fore. In 1939, he borrowed money from a friend and started a dry cleaning company, scouring the county drumming up business with discount coupons. He couldn’t operate the machines or press a pair of pants, or even sew a seam, but his uncanny ability as a public relations master saw his start-up, Master Cleaners, flourish for decades.
During the thirties, Percy mentored a young woman, a local singer who eventually went on to fame and fortune in Hollywood. Marjorie Chandler, who changed her name to Dorothy Collins, was a fixture on popular shows such as NBC’s Your Hit Parade, The Steve Allen Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, and The Hollywood Palace, as well as being a regular guest on Candid Camera. "The Sweetheart of Lucky Strike," as she eventually became known, Dorothy also had several hit records during her long and successful career.
Joining the Canadian Armed Forces at the beginning of WWII, he didn’t serve overseas because the morale-building he brought to recruits, with his inspiring gift of music was deemed essential. He spent his entire enlistment time in boot camp, bringing joy to the boys who were about to enter the fray.
After the war, while operating his dry cleaning business by the seat of his piano, Percy became active in community service. Joining Canada's first Lions Club, the Windsor Lion’s Club, he was a dedicated member for the remainder of his life. He not only served as the club’s president, but went on to serve as its provincial president. During his membership, the conventions were always made brighter by Percy’s infectious spirit and piano playing, earning him countless service pins and awards.
Believing with all his heart in the Law of Reciprocity, you could always find Percy behind one cause or another, using his popularity and influence in any way he could, to help those in need.
Diagnosed with gout in the sixties, the debilitating pain and severe disfiguration of his fingers could not hold this music lover back. After undergoing several surgeries at Detroit’s legendary Henry Ford Hospital, he continued to play piano and pipe organ, although his gnarled hands prevented him from playing like the Percy-of-old.
In the seventies, he assembled a group of his musical pals, and 'til the day he died, he donned his striped jacket and straw hat performing his vaudeville act ‘gratuitement’ in the area’s nursing homes, much to the delight of the senior residents.
Suffice it to say, whoever he was with and wherever he went, he brought joy into the lives of others with his music, and his passion for life!
In 1994, Pope John Paul II awarded the Vatican’s highest civilian award, The Benemerenti Medal, to Percy J. Beneteau, honoring his life of service to humankind.
In 1996, he passed suddenly and peacefully while enjoying the company of his best friends, doing what he loved most in this world—playing golf.
A year later, family and hundreds of his friends, and those he so richly impacted, filled a church in Windsor for a dedication ceremony to celebrate the The Percy Beneteau Memorial Bursary, which his fellow Lion’s Club members established at the University of Windsor. Performing at the two-hour event were many of the music elite from Windsor and Detroit. Now, his name lives on, helping young students who want, like he did, to devote their lives to bringing beauty to the world with music!
I attended this ceremony because I knew this great man very well. I was his son. I was deeply touched and honored to have been asked to speak that day. Looking out at the crowd of people who loved this giving man, through misty eyes, I could only speak from my heart. “The measure of a person's greatness is not made by the number of people they have touched, but rather by how they have touched them.”
By some standards he may be an unsung hero, but my Father will always be my hero.