The contributions Khalil Bennett made to the plastering industry in Northern California are numerous and impressive. To me, he was a boss, a friend, a mentor and a father figure. Much of this post is taken from the eulogy I gave at his memorial in 2011. I felt to include it here because without him I would not be the person or the plaster that I am today.
Khalil was a gentleman, a gentleman with stories, 55 by my count, that he told everyone over and over and over again. He loved to meet new people, or in my case new wives, because they hadn’t heard his stories.
He was proud of and a product of his upbringing. During the depression, he was loaned to a farmer because his parents couldn’t feed him. He got 3 daily meals as payment for irrigating the farmer’s fields.
His dad started out herding sheep in Idaho but became a stone mason and plasterer. Khalil learned how to shovel and sift sand through a box sieve on the shores of a river in Grass Valley, after dredging the bottom of the river with a horse and drag line.
At age 12 he was dropped off at a boarding house in Sacramento when his parents moved to San Francisco to work. He worked at a grocery market and later fixed tires at the Firestone. He had his first shot of bourbon at that boarding house.
He lived in San Francisco after the war and rarely spoke about his Navy experiences except to explain that if you tossed a bucket of diesel oil into the air on his LST it was so hot in the Philippines that the oil would evaporate before it hit the deck. On the golf course he’d say, “I couldn’t get to that putting green with a line throwing cannon.” He went to Advanced gunnery school at Treasure Island prior to going overseas.
After he was discharged from the military in 1946 he learned how to pack hod from an Irish hodcarrier who used to put bricks in the water bucket of his English Plasterers. You couldn’t get plasterers after the war so they came from Europe.
He began his apprenticeship in San Francisco, but ran away one night after a fight over a dash bucket. That night me moved to Sacramento. He got a job with a Non-Union Contractor who stiffed him with a bounced check one Friday. He had to literally fight the guy to get his money. That’s why he was so strong an advocate for Union Workers. A lesson re-counted during labor negotiations over and over.
One of his favorite expressions was that he became who he was because of what he did. During his development as a leader, he became a member of Plasterer’s Local Union #295 Executive Board and was elected President. During his tenure as President and throughout his career as a Contractor, he helped establish the Northern California Plasterers Health and Welfare Trust and the NorCal Plasterers Pension Trust. He guided those Trusts for more than 50 years. He read Roberts Rules of Order and became an accomplished meeting Chair conducting hundreds of meetings with precision and flair.
He was the first Director of the Sacramento Valley Bureau for Lath & Plaster. He only lasted three months. He said it wasn’t the poor salary or the suit and tie he had to wear each day. He understood with his temperament ( that would be his tendency to tell Architects what he really thought) he should do something else.
Khalil used his experience working in San Francisco in ornamental plaster and became a respected Sacramento Plastering Contractor. He helped grow and develop the California Lathing and Plastering Contractors Association, Sacramento Chapter, served 2 terms as the President of the Sacramento Builders Exchange and had 2 terms as the President of the California State Lathing and Plastering Contractors Association. With others he formed the Plasterer’s Work Preservation Committee. He was the force behind Sacramento’s Plasterers Apprenticeship Committee having land and a building in West Sacramento.
If something needed to be done, he showed up to make it happen. His mantra was, “It’s just a matter of doing it, Sport.” He drank, he smoked and when he quit he put his camels on the mantle over the fireplace and they stayed there for years. He fought, he’d argue with anyone… sometimes just for fun, but he got huge things done.
As he matured and after his first heart attack he took up golf and helped start the CLPCA Architects Golf Tournament where he became more accomplished as a speaker and host. He had learned how to palm tickets working at the Crest Theater and used that talent to give every woman participant at every golf tournament a winning raffle ticket. He was a gentleman.
But more than any of this, Khalil was fully engaged in the process of living. He often went to Tahoe where he had a cabin. One weekend he invited me along. It wasn’t until we got there that I discovered that the place had slipped off several foundation piers. He needed help with the house jacks. I got to go under the house and drag the rotted beam and piers out, then fix the new piers in cement. Then we fixed the chimney stack that had fallen down, set scaffold staging, put 8 pieces of pipe back into place 25’ in the air on wobbly staging. Then we went to the casino to gamble and have dinner before going home. I was in my 40’s and he was in his 60’s at the time and I could barely keep up with him. He enjoyed gambling and was the luckiest man I ever spent time with in a Casino. He also loved horse racing and owned a horse named KhalilB.
He was always available for anyone who had a project. He helped plaster many, many of his employee’s homes, he would donate materials to the apprenticeship school where he taught for decades. He was Chairman of the Plasterer’s Health and Welfare Committee until 6 months before he died. He loved horse races, dances and any other social event. He often drank until he was goofy but always showed up for work the next day. You could count on one hand the meetings he missed, always on time, usually early.
He took full advantage of the opportunities the United States offered after World War II and he tried to make sure others did too. He used to say, “My dad died with $2,356 to his name, and nobody should have to go through life and end up like that.” He helped people fulfill their dreams. He helped his adversaries and his competitors indiscriminately. He was free with his information, his skill, his friendship and his advice. He was a mentor not just to me, but to the entire industry.
He had a quiet sense of his own worth. He had quiet confidence and quiet insecurities. He was insecure about his vocabulary and would latch onto a good word like a Welsh terrier. “Ludicrous” he’d say just “Ludicrous”. He was insecure about his education but would read Pension and Health & Welfare Trust documents over and over until he knew everything there was to know about the subject.
Lastly he used to say, “There are two types of people in the world Kid, ‘I’ people and ‘WE’ people.” He liked “We” people, but the thing that separated him from everyone else is he accepted “I” people. He worked hard, he played hard and the man could putt.