by Julie Price Davidson

In the field of journalism, the deadline is king. This reality came back to haunt me earlier this year when I heard about the death of an Edison teacher. Benson was not just any teacher. For me, she was THE teacher – the one whose influence was real and still remains with me today. Many of my high school memories have faded through the years, but the experiences with Benson remain vivid. She was direct, often confrontational, and always uncompromising in her pursuit of educating her students.

I first met Sandra Benson in sophomore journalism class, and I was hooked. She was unlike any teacher I had ever known – welcoming any and all questions and enthusiastically sharing the knowledge and practical expertise she had gained as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. She was ahead of her time in many ways, working in what was then a male-dominated profession and earning a master’s degree. And that energy and drive translated well to the classroom. She made it fun to learn, giving us an uncensored peek into the real world, which made us feel informed and emboldened.

Benson with her daughter at an EHS excurricular event.

Benson and her daughter Laura at an EHS extracurricular activity.

In the pre-digital era, Benson taught us the hands-on skills of laying out a page with a pica pole, counting a headline to fit, and using a proportional wheel to size photos. We learned the inverted pyramid style of newswriting, how to construct a strong “lead,” and the importance of proofreading (complete with hilarious and usually off-color examples of typos from her newspaper days.)

She was just plain cool – insisting we call her “Benson,” instead of “Mrs.” Benson; letting us sit on the tables as she taught us the art of collaboration; giving us freedom to come and go as needed to pursue a story or shoot the right photo; constantly challenging us to dig deeper; and most of all, treating us like people who could be trusted. Yet, there was never any doubt who was in charge!

Junior and senior years, I had her for both journalism and yearbook. She had instituted the awesome tradition of an early morning “kidnapping” of the new Torch staff members each year, followed by breakfast and her announcement of the new staff positions. A bit shy and somewhat insecure, I had applied to be a section editor as a senior. When she named me the new editor-in-chief, I was completely intimidated. I hadn’t asked for that role and I wasn’t sure I could do it. But in her inimitable way, Benson was telling me that I could and that I would.

I went on to major in journalism and am still working in the field of communications. It’s taken me years to fully appreciate the many life lessons Benson taught me and I had always intended to write her a letter of thanks someday. Then I read of her passing on Dec. 30, 2013. She had served Edison students for nearly 40 years, ending her career as a school counselor. Benson, thank you for caring about young people and for contributing so significantly to my life. And please forgive me for missing my deadline.

With Benson's blessing, the Torch staff had our yearbook photo taken at the Tulsa County jail.

With Benson’s blessing, the Torch staff had our yearbook photo taken at the Tulsa County jail.