Kent award-winning volunteer Sister Janet Benish dies | 1921-2014

Sister Janet Benish comforts a baby in 2008 as a volunteer at the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent.  - Kent Reporter, file photo
Sister Janet Benish comforts a baby in 2008 as a volunteer at the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

Sister Janet Benish, who won state and local awards for her volunteer work in Kent, has died.

Benish, 92, died Feb. 13 at the Talbot Center in Renton after living the previous 19 years at the Harrison House in Kent.

A memorial mass is set for 10 a.m. Friday, March 21 in the St. Anthony Chapel at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 304 Third Ave. S., in downtown Kent.

Benish won the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Service award in 2008. She crocheted hats and scarves for the homeless for decades. She helped with numerous projects at the Kent Chamber of Commerce, the Kent Downtown Partnership and the Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC) in Kent, where she cuddled drug-exposed babies.

“Sister Benish is an angel in our eyes,” said Barbara Drennen, executive director at PICC, in a 2008 Kent Reporter article. “When she comes down to hold the babies, everyone goes out of their way to give her babies to hold. She’s very special to everyone here. We love her.”

In 2010 at the Kent Senior Activity Center, Benish received the Kent Lions Club Senior Citizen of the Year award for 2009.

"I thought I came here to pick up an award for someone else who was sick and could not make it," Benish said after receiving the honor. "It makes me feel embarrassed. It's just a matter of the years add up."

She volunteered more than 10,000 hours with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, called RSVP.

“Janet has done so much, yet she remains so humble,” said Robin Knudson, program coordinator at RSVP, in an 2008 article. “She has a quiet, selfless nature yet she has made an irreplaceable impact in the community. She truly has a servant’s heart.”

Benish was born May 20, 1921, in Denver. She was the eldest of four children. She wrote a book of poetry, “Angels’ Advocate," with her sister, Maggi Nolan, and had poems published in various publications throughout the years, according to her obituary posted on the Kent Reporter website.

She was briefly married to Bill Benish, an artist, in the late 1940s. She worked as a bookkeeper in the early 1950s before converting to Catholicism and becoming a cloistered nun. In the late 1970s, she left the cloistered life, but maintained her vows. She worked for the House of Charity in Spokane before becoming a bookkeeper for Sacred Heart Hospital, which she retired from in 1989 at age 68.

Survivors include her sister, Maggi Nolan, one nephew, four nieces and their families and numerous friends.

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