Ben Gaines is 100! His tip from him for a well-lived life: ‘I do not hate people’

Evanston resident Ben Gaines turned 100 on Dec. 10.

“I don’t have hatred in my heart, it’s just wasted energy,” said Ben Gaines, who turned 100 this month. “I try to be nice to everybody.” Credit: Richard Cahan

I have known Ben since I was a little girl and was ecstatic at the opportunity to interview him on his momentous birthday. When I went to talk with him on the eve of his party, I was prepared with many questions about his long life and his connections to Evanston. What I didn’t expect was for Ben to ask me the majority of questions and to have most of mine remain unanswered, or even unasked.

One of the questions I was able to squeeze in was Ben’s secret to longevity. His answer from him was n’t what I expected. “I love myself,” he declared. “You probably think that’s a weird answer.” Gaines said his late wife, Lydia, had been taken back by his response from him too. She once asked him if he loved her. “I told her I can’t love you unless I love myself,” but of course he loved her. The two were happily married for 62 years until her death de ella in 2008. Lydia Gaines was a smart woman and ella soon understood her husband’s response de ella. “She looked at me and she said, ‘That makes a lot of sense,’” he recalled.

Benjamin Franklin Gaines was born in 1922 in segregated Dixon, Kentucky. After finishing grammar school, Gaines’ mother sent him to live with his aunt in Evansville, Indiana, to attend high school. “There was a high school in Dixon, but it was a white high school, so I couldn’t go there,” he said. “I had to go to Evansville to go to an all-colored high school.” Ben met Lydia at a church in Evansville and the two were married in 1946.

It was during his post as a Pullman porter that Ben and his wife moved to Chicago. They soon relocated to Evanston and built a house here in 1959. He still lives in that house, along with his son Ben Jr. His son Michael lives on the Hawaiian island of Maui and made the trip home in honor of his dad’s birthday.

When asked why the Gaines family chose Evanston, Gaines said he deferred to his wife’s decision-making. “Because of the schools,” he said. “My wife was a teacher and she wanted the boys to have a good education.” Michael and Bennie attended Dewey Elementary School, Skiles Middle School (now King Literary & Fine Arts school) and ETHS.

Following his time with the railroad, Ben worked for a time in the shipping room for the Encyclopedia Americana. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. “Michael and Bennie would come down to 333 N. Michigan Ave. and jump up on the boxes.”

Ben Gaines is applauded Dec. 4 at Lake Street Church, where he is a longtime member. Credit: Christopher Walker

Around 1960, Ben became a postal carrier based at the Evanston Post Office, and it was in this capacity where my incredibly fond memories of him were formed. Ben was our mailman for as long as I can remember, and spending time with him was a highlight of my day as a young child. I have worked for the Postal Service for 28 years.

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