Jan. 24, 2009 — Ever the raconteur, Guy Benjamin, the 95-year-old retired educator whose name graces the Coral Bay elementary school where he taught years ago, had some stories to tell the nearly two dozen people gathered Friday for the weekly Rotary Club of St. John meeting. That includes the tale about the clever donkey in his room.
But before getting to that one, Benjamin had to pinch himself up and down his arm to make sure he wasn't dreaming that a black man became President of the United States this week.
"I have seen the impossible happen," he told Rotarians at the Westin Resort and Villas Beach Café. "The impossible dream has become a reality."
With the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Benjamin said the U.S. was the only place in the world where anyone can be anything they want to be if they have the ability.
"They can be anything from a sweeper to the president of the United States," he said.
In a wide-ranging talk, Benjamin also spoke about growing up on St. John's East End. Everyone was very poor but the children lacked for nothing, he said.
"We could fish, go to school, visit our neighbors, and we played from morning to night," he said.
And gifts from the "Red Cross" and visitors to his school often arrived as well.
Benjamin has seen nearly a century's worth of change, some of it unpredictable, some less so. As a child, for example, he said his grandfather told him that he'd see "ships in the air."
Later, when his grandfather was bedridden with cancer, Benjamin went to visit. When the two of them heard a strange noise far off, he went outside to investigate.
"It was coming," he said, "from ships flying in the air." The airplane had come to the islands.
Vast changes have come to St. John too, which Benjamin sees as a challenge facing the island's residents. In particular, he said the native population needs to realize that both black and white residents depend on each other.
And on a lighter note, Benjamin told a story about how he woke up one night and "felt there was a presence in my room."
"Did I die?" he said. "I opened my eyes, and there was a donkey, looking at me."
The beast apparently had somehow opened the door to Benjamin's house and sauntered into his bedroom. So, naturally, Benjamin told the donkey to open the door and go right back out.
Smart or simply compliant, the donkey did just that.
At the close of his talk, those in attendance gave Benjamin a standing ovation.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.