Through my eyes, I see EVERY member of the 501st as a hero!!!
I LOVE YOU ALL...
But there is one member who stands out!
Perhaps it's because I've never met anyone who would donate their kidney to help someone else....
That is, Until now!
Please allow me to introduce you:
"Trooper of The Year"
Barry Benecke is not only a member of the 501st Legion, but He is the epitome of Ghandi’s famous words & my favorite quote
“Be the change you wish to see in this world”
I contacted Barry about interviewing him for my 501st series “It’s All About The Members”, and he was kind
enough to want to share his incredible story...
-Barry, You were given an award for "Trooper of The Year" WOW! Would you mind sharing your
amazing story about what you did?
I was surprised and honored to be chosen as trooper of the year. I think it happened because my fellow trooper, Phyllis Schulte had nominated me on the legion level for Trooper of the month. I was ecstatic about getting nominated for that award. I had donated my kidney to a guy I met on-line through a Star Wars toy collecting forum known
as SirStevesGuide. I knew this person as "Tycho" on-line, and one day he wrote about his kidney health declining, he had PKD or "Polycystic Kidney Disease". After losing my mother to cancer in 2005, as well as Katie Johnson, the
daughter of 501st founding member Albin Johnson, my friend Mike Crawford, and my wife's Uncle Jim to different forms of cancer, I wanted to help if I could to try to make a difference, so I offered to be tested to be a living kidney donor. It took many years of testing, but on February 3rd of 2009, the surgery was a success! Then a fellow 501st member, Eric Seeman donated his kidney to a fellow Stormtrooper, Jeff Romanoff. Both Eric and I were given Trooper of the Year. Since then, "Tycho", or Josh as I know him now, and I are good friends, I try to keep in touch with him
once a week. He is doing fantastic, he is playing baseball again, and has got a new lease on life.
-How did you find out about the 501st?
When putting my armor together, I was looking on the internet for reference pictures of Stormtroopers. I came acros
s a site belonging to TK 604, Luis Boileve. While looking over the pictures on his site, I saw a small ad for "Got Armor?" shirts, I e-mailed the person known as Duffy, as I was working on my armor, so I was interested in getting a t-shirt.
When I got his answer, he asked "Are you 501st?". I had no idea what the 501st was, let alone there were other people out there who also wanted to dress up in Imperial "bad guys". Duffy wrote back and explained to me about the
501st, he put me in touch with the person to contact, and even drove out to my place to show me what a completed suit of Stormtrooper armor should look like. Then he invited me to an armor party where I was given advice and tips on how to finish my armor. It was a great experience, and I met a lot of really nice people.
-What inspired you to want to join?
Well, first it was just how friendly and fun some of my fellow members were to me even befor
e I had joined. Finding
people around my age who loved the Star Wars films as much as I did, opened up a whole new world for me. Then I came to find that they did a lot of charitable work. One of the events that I don't miss due to losing so many people I know to cancer, is attending the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life". I drive to Normal, Illinois and get together
with my fellow team mates on the team "Imperial Walkers". The first year we got together in 2005, we made the front page of the paper because here were these costumed Stormtroopers walking and raising money for a great cause.
Evey year I have managed to raise over $1,000.00, this year was my personal best, I raised a little over $1,600.00 and Team Imperial walkers each year raises over $3,000.00! My band of brothers!
-Which Garrison are you a part of?
I am part of the Midwest Garrison. When I joined shortly before the Star Wars celebration II held in Indianapolis, our garrison comprised of 5 states, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, since then several of the states got
enough members that they were able to break off into their own garrisons. Currently the Midwest Garrison is Illinois and Wisconsin. I am a proud member of the Midwest Garrison, and hope to be for a long, long time.
-When did you join? How long have you been a member?
I believe I joined in April of 2002, just shortly before Star Wars celebration II, held in Indianapolis, Indiana in May of 2002. SWCII was the first time I trooped with the 501st, I had just completed my armor in early April, and I wore it to the Wal-Mart where I worked. They had the toy release about a month prior to CII, and my manager was kind enough to let me wear my armor and greet costumers as they first came in. I got such a positive reaction, and I kept running into the restroom to look at my costume in the mirror, and I remember saying to myself "your an Imperial Stormtrooper", I was very excited . So I'm in my 7th year as a member of the 501st
-How did you decide on your costume?
Well, as a kid, I was around 12 when Star Wars Episode IV came out, and I remember getting so blown away when the Stormtroopers came barging on to Princess Leia's ship, I always wanted to be an Imperial Stormtrooper. Then I went to Wizard World in Chicago, I think it was late 2001, I went there because I had heard that Dave Prowse, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew were going to be there signing autographs. I went there when down one of the isles I see three people dressed in Stormtrooper armor, I remember my knees felt like jello, I felt like a kid again, seeing these professional looking Stormtroopers, but I was to afraid to go talk with them. I had seen the licensed costumes which where just fabric, and I was disappointed in those, so I spent some prior years dressing like a Jedi
-Where did you get your costume? Did you make yours?
Well yes, you could say I made mine, because a friend of mine sold me a kit. I had to put it together like a modeling kit. I was so nervous that I was going to mess it up, but over all I think mine came out very well. Also having many of the Midwest Garrison members willing to give me a hand in getting my armor together was a great help.
-Where have you traveled to participate in 501st events?
Like I mentioned earlier, I went to Indianapolis for celebration II, and downstate Normal for the "Relay for Life", I've also been to Chicago for several news broadcasts, as well as an event at FAO Swartz toy store, the Chicago walk for
hunger, as well as a few Cubs games. Also I've been to the Oakbrook Borders bookstore for several Star Wars authors book signings. Hey, if I can get dressed up as an Imperial bad guy, and people have a good time, then I'm all for it.
-Where’s the farthest you’ve traveled?
I would say Indianopolis. I wish I could go farther, but financially, I could not afford it. Also up until recently, I was
working 3 jobs. Trying to tell all of them that I needed a day or so off for an event was very hard to coordinate. I did wear my armor in St. Germain, Wisconsin, but it was just to show my brother, and wasn't an official 501st event.
-What’s your fondest 501st memory?
Probably attending Celebration II and just seeing all of these new friends come together in one mass gathering of Star Wars bad guys, plus I got to ticket check for the Indianapolis symphony orchestra. I was at the first door, and everyone had color coded tickets, if they had say "green" tickets, I would let them in, but if they had "red" or "Blue'
tickets, I had to direct them down the hall. Getting to watch the celebs walk by, then also being able to take in in the
concert, amazing. When they started playing some of John Williams masterpieces, I got goose pimples under my armor. Also that weekend, I got Carrie Fishers autograph! I was dressed up in my armor still after a morning photo shoot, and I waited in line for about 6 hours, but many of the fans around my were very cool, and got me something to lean on while I was enduring the long line. I don't know if you've ever had the chance to wear a set of stormtrooper armor, but it isn't one of the most comfortable things to wear for long periods of time. I have a lot of respect for the actors who donned the Imperial armor.
-What’s your favorite thing about being a 501st member?
I can't say I have just one favorite thing about being a member of the 501st. There are many things as a whole that go into what makes me proud to be a member of the 501st. The camaraderie for one, being with others who enjoy Star Wars, but also other wide array of topics, being able to party with celebs who were in the films, hey I got to party with Peter Mayhew, how cool is that? Also being able to bring a smile to a kids face, I remember we were at the Marcus Addison theaters for the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith, and this small child with Yoda ears on,
comes up and held my hand and just stayed there for a long while. Also the fact that the theater owners were so cool to let us dress up and entertain the moviegoers, then we got to sit with the theater staff to watch the movie, it was just way to cool.
-What’s the day like for you as a 501st member preparing for an event?
I usually go through my tote to make sure all my equipment is there, I try to polish up my armor, shine my stormtrooper boots, make sure I have fresh batteries for my helmet. There is nothing like getting to an event, and realizing you left your body suit in the wash! There is also the process of registering for an event, which we do through the Midwest Garrison boards. This gives the coordinator of the event an idea of who is showing up and which costume they'll be wearing. I mean if you have 2 Vaders, or 3 Boba Fetts at an event, then it wouldn't go well. I have two costumes, I also dress as a Tusken Raider, much more comfortable then the Stormtrooper, but the kids tend to shy away for the most part, can you blame them though, those Tuskens are ugly and kind of scary looking no matter how
friendly you might be.
-Does the 501st have ranks or positions? Do you have duties you have to adhere to during events?
The 501st has many ranks, every garrison has a commanding officer, as well as several other posts. I don't really know to much about it, other than we get the chance to vote every year for folks who want to run for the position. I'm glad they are there, so we have someone to turn to if we have questions or concerns. The people who have been in the leadership roles for the MWG have done fantastic work, they are also the ones you would contact if you wanted to have some Stormtroopers at your event. I don't know about duties that I would have to adhere to, other than leaving my helmet on during an event, and no using foul language, as we are representing more then just ourselves, or our garrisons, we are representing this worldwide costuming club, known as the 501st, as well as the Star Wars movies, and George Lucas himself.
-Any upcoming events?
There is the Ron Santo walk for a cure coming up early next month, but I am still waiting to see if I get my scheduled day of request from work. I usually play it by ear, depending on what my work schedule is like, and I also got married in June of 2008, so now I have to take in to consideration if my better half has any plans for the dates of some of these events. So far she has attended 3 of the "Relay for Life" events with me. I got engaged to her at the 2007 "Relay for Life" in front of my fellow "Imperial Walkers" team.
-Anything else you would like to add?
I am proud to be a member of the 501st. They are a bunch of great people who do fantastic things to help raise awareness of worthwhile causes, raise money for charity, are willing to go out in all kinds of weather, I remember one time doing an event to promote a Star Wars game for a gateway computer store and it was over 100 degree's outside, at the time my armor was held together in many areas with Velcro, well the glue of the Velcro started melting as well as I was sweating underneath. The things you are willing to do endure being a member of the 501st.
Thank you Barry for being YOU & everything you do!
Your spirit, heart & soul is truly inspiring !
The world is a better place for having people like YOU in it!