Ben Gibbs: The School Years and a Fluke Career Decision.

Today’s post is a little longer than usual, but I think you’ll enjoy reading about Dad’s school years and his career decision, as part of the Grandparents Series in At Home with Cheri.

As a young boy, Ben (Lucky) walked two miles to Grantville elementary school. Three teachers taught all six grades, with two grades in each room. Mrs. Bender taught 1st and 2nd, Miss Ritchie 3rd and 4th, and Mrs. Ellis 5th and 6th. Mrs. Ellis was also the school principal. Each class had 30-40 kids. If the students didn’t do their work, or didn’t pay attention, the teachers would occasionally rap their knuckles. “We often went to school barefooted. Sometimes red ants would crawl over our feet and bite us– that hurt!”

But the teachers’ discipline and devotion paid off.  Eventually Ben and his fellow students graduated to schools in the downtown San Diego area. The students from Ben’s small school excelled. Because of this, he feels strongly about today’s education system. “We need more good teachers and less administration.”

Ben’s creative skills earned him a mention in the local newspaper. “In junior high school wood and sheet-metal shops I built three little sail boats and raced them in a model yacht regatta. My sailboats won first, second and third. One won for how it was built, and the other two won for speed.

A popular kid, Ben was elected Junior Class Vice President. And his long hair got him voted “Best Hair” in junior high. It was the 1950s, and boys used to wear “pompadours and greasy stuff on their hair. First it was Fitch Jelly, then Bryllcreem, with the slogan ‘a little dab’ll do ya.’ But right after the yearbook came out, I got a butch.”

Here’s Ben around the age of 17, 1953.



Ben was active in sports. He was elected commissioner of boys’ athletics for his high school. In junior high he had enjoyed softball, football and track. In high school, basketball was his favorite sport. He was too small for first string varsity, so played on the B team. “My strongest skill was being able to shoot long set shots, now called 3 pointers. I was elected ‘Most Valuable Player’ and Team Captain for the Hoover High B team. I think we came in last in the league, but nevertheless the San Diego sportswriters named me to the all city team, probably out of sympathy for Hoover High.”


Ben attended Sunday school, and he remembers Mrs. Barker’s class. Sunday school caused some consternation which he still struggles with. “Mrs. Barker was quite a fundamentalist. She taught that Jesus was going to come and those of us who weren’t saved would be left behind. Believing friends would be gathered up into the clouds, but questioners wouldn’t get to go. This made me feel guilty and fearful. The teachers would say ‘you’ll know if you’re saved. All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your savior.’ I tried, but didn’t have the rapture experience that some of the kids reported. I think some kids pretended, and the others may have been under the spell of mass psychology.” One summer, Ben attended a church summer camp. “During campfire everyone went down in front to get saved, including me. But now I look back upon it with some suspicion that I was under the influence of the crowd. I still have trouble with people who are touchy-feely about their religion and totally lacking in questions.”


After high school,  Ben went to college at UC Berkeley. It was there he decided to pursue medicine as a career. He had not grown up wanting to be a doctor. It was a fluke decision that would shape his life, and he remembers it happened like this: As a freshman at Cal he stood on the lawn with thousands of other kids to be counseled about his major and assignment of classes. The peer counselor, a girl two or three years older than he was, asked Ben what he wanted to major in, and he said he wanted to be a Forest Ranger. She advised him not to do that, and suggested he declare Pre-Med because it was broader and would cover classes he needed to be a Forest Ranger. But Pre-Med would give him more career options.

So he took her advice and declared his major Pre-Med.

Medical School

To his surprise, during his third year at Berkeley, Ben was accepted into medical school even though he wasn’t an all-A student. He credits his success with taking a challenging course-load. He never chose the easy classes. As a co-op housing manager, he’d go to bed right after dinner and get up in the middle of the night to study so he could concentrate after the other kids were asleep. His house mates would party, but Ben wasn’t nearly as social as some kids his age. He had to focus to get good grades.  At Cal in those days, ROTC was required, and being a private pilot, Ben chose the Air Force ROTC. He took the aptitude tests for Air Force pilot cadet training, and was assured acceptance. So the acceptance to medical school at about the same time made for an interesting decision regarding his career path.

Odds of getting into medical school were about one in 14 in those days.  Odds of getting into flight training were maybe one in three. Ben chose the more challenging course of medicine, and never regretted it. But he feels that the other path, possibly resulting in an airline career, might also have been satisfying. His love of flying did not suffer. Over the years he obtained advanced pilot ratings including commercial pilot, glider, multi-engine, seaplane, flight instructor and instrument instructor ratings. He has owned several planes and has accumulated almost 5000 hours of flying experience.

I hope you enjoyed Part II of Ben Gibbs’ story. Coming Up in my next post about Ben: Career Success, Marriage and Kids


Filed under College, Grandparents, Parents, School, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Ben Gibbs: The School Years and a Fluke Career Decision.

  1. suzy

    I like how your dad thinks! Handsome guy too!!

    • Thanks Suzy! I’m sure Dad’ll appreciate hearing that. He truly is a thinker, and has always shared his views about controversial subjects for as long as I can remember– sometimes my siblings and I agree with him, and sometimes we don’t, but we always have a good time!

  2. Bert Willoughby

    I lived with Ben at Westminster House in Berkeley in the 1955-56 Ben was a great student but still had plenty of fun. My wife and I also met up with him once in San Diego. Bert Willoughby (graduated from CAL in 1956 and live in Santa Barbara where I was raised.

  3. Bert, glad to learn you knew Dad during his Berkeley years. He’s living in Walla Walla now, with his lovely wife Jean and their 15 year old daughter Sarah. I’ll let him know you said hello!

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