Turk & Bennie: Two great ones

Published 11:03 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Billy Joel once sang “Only The Good Die Young.” But he was wrong.

In a span of less than a week, two sports fans who were often side-by-side at a ball game are now side-by-side as they sit at the pearly gates.

Charles Donohue and Ralph Blankenship died the first week of January. Doesn’t sound familiar? OK, it was Turk and Bennie.

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Oh, yeah, I know them.

Both were big Ironton Fighting Tiger fans, but they were also St. Joseph Flyer fans. And Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Browns. Well, you get the picture.

Many a time Turk would call me to ask about something he had heard and wanted the “inside scoop.” And he’d always ask me, “How are the Tigers going to be this year?” or “How are the Dutch going to do?” The Dutch meaning the Flyers who were originally called The Flying Dutchmen of which Turk was familiar since he  was a 1958 graduate of St. Joseph.

Turk also liked to flash that famous smile and crack a joke. He told me once, “You probably think I’m smart ass. Well, you’re right,” and then just chuckled.

And then there was Bennie who in his retirement used to man the desk at Tri-State Rehab and Fitness in Ironton and he would immediately strike up a conversation about sports when you walked through the door.

But both were more than just fans. They were members of the Tiger Clan and were always looking to help. Bennie was also a member of the V.F.W. honor guard and was part of the ceremony for former military members. I remember him at the gravesite of my father who was a former Marine and served in the Korean War.

“Those two guys were big Tiger fans and they did a lot of things to help when they could,” said Mike Burcham, the Hall of Fame athletic director at Ironton as well as head baseball and assistant football coach.

“When the field used to be grass and we’d be out there painting it on a Friday morning, they’d show up to help.”

Blankenship was also a member of the Ironton chain gang for nearly three decades of Ironton football games.

Last Sunday Kay Blankenship, Bennie’s wife, was in the couple’s usual seat for the 9 a.m. Mass and I told her afterwards that Bennie was a great guy and “he was always good to talk to.”

Kay grinned and jokingly said, “Well, sometimes.”

Kay and Bennie spent 60 years together watching their children and grandchildren and hundreds of other children play ball at the local schools.

Bennie and Turk had a great appreciation for good players regardless of the team they represented and often would go to the Ohio University Convocation Center just to watch the basketball tournament games.

And complain about the officials, but that goes with the territory for about everyone.

Turk was 81 and Bennie 85 and both just great guys who will be missed. I know I will.

So, maybe Billy Joel was right. Maybe only the good die young. But the great ones stick around for quite some time.


Jim Walker is sports editor emeritus of The Ironton Tribune.