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March 30, 2013

DODD: Remembering Ethan Bennett

“Ethan would hug you with his whole soul.” — Tony Bennett, talking about his son Ethan.

Tony and Kelly Bennett were in the most beautiful place when their world as they knew it ended with a text message. Their 19-year-old son Ethan had not returned home on Sept. 11. Ethan Bennett was never to return home.

What do you do while enjoying the trip of a lifetime (“a second honeymoon”) and you find out your child is missing? They were in Italy and the trip was to culminate in Zurich, Switzerland. It took two days to make arrangements to get home. They arrived after midnight on a Saturday.

The next several weeks involved following up every lead, no mater how insignificant. They drove through every local apartment complex looking for the family car. After each alleged sighting, the couple or other family members would follow the leads. Facebook and other social media became their message board.

There is no plan for a missing child.

Kelly said they always tried to think of a logical explanation. Perhaps he was just going to stay gone until their scheduled return the following week. But she instinctively knew better. When he was out, there would be a note.  Kelly remembers, “You know it is bad. You hang on to that sliver of hope.”

She wistfully lamented, “He would have called. He just would have.”

Ethan was not a scholastic star but a very accomplished and well-read young man who was voracious in his appetite for learning. Per Tony, “He had a 1.99 collective GPA in high school but on the ACT he scored a 33 in reading.” Thirty-five is a perfect score. He read the “Twilight” novel in one day.

One of the things Tony missed most: “He had a razor sharp wit.”

Both observed an all-around accomplished sandlot athlete who refused repeated requests to join school teams.

Kelly remembered how quickly Ethan learned to play chess. Tony recalled, “I brought home a chess set one day. I explained to him that it was not checkers but a more complicated game. He was beating me within a couple of weeks.”

That was when he was around 8 or 9 years old.  

Silver Creek High School teacher Jan Jackson remembered Ethan from “The Heart Club,” which she started nine years ago. He didn’t care that he was unusual as a male member of a philanthropy school group that held sales to benefit local causes.

“He was a good boy. He had a big heart. He wore the ‘Heart Club’ black T-shirt with a pink heart on it.”

This year’s proceeds will go to the Ethan Bennett Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Kelly told of being at Peddler’s Mall and buying a case of Power Bars for $5. Ethan had an idea.

“I’ll just keep these in my car and when I see a homeless person, I’ll just throw them one.”

She laughed and said that’s what he did until they were gone. He had stints at Jefferson Community College and Ivy Tech. He had planned to re-enroll at Ivy Tech this fall.

The worst afternoon of their lives was the day in mid-December they got the news that the Jaguar had been located down a ravine in Floyds Knobs.

How does life go on after receiving such news? First, there are two other children: Collin, 14, and Zachary, 21.

Tony wanted me to express their heartfelt appreciation.

“People in this community were incredibly supportive with their time, their efforts, their generosity and their prayers.”

Kelly then added that while going through some old notebooks from Ethan’s days at JCC, she ran across some prose he had written. Tony Bennett was moved to put them to music and record a song.

He played the instruments and others sang the lyrics. He asked me if I would like to hear it. He left and went outside, overcome with emotion as it began to play. Kelly’s tears flowed as we listened to Ethan’s own words set to music.

Ethan was like any normal 19-year-old who was finding his way in life. Tony did not want to portray him as a perfect kid. He and Kelly both stressed there were the normal problems and angst that come from raising teenagers. Ethan was not of the cookie-cutter mold.

He once wanted to be an actor and go to California. Just weeks before he went missing, Ethan and Tony had discussed bankrolling him to be a stock day trader following kind of in dad’s footsteps as an investment professional. Dad had taught him well.

“He knew more about the technical awareness about stock trading than most people in the business.”

It was the last serious father-son discussion Tony remembers having with Ethan.

Ethan Bennett was born July 11, 1993. His life ended Sept. 10, 2012. Those dates will never define his life. The story of Ethan Bennett will forever be told by those who knew him all of the days in between.

• A fundraiser will be held in memory of Ethan Bennett on Saturday, March 30, at Lakeside Reflection in Jeffersonville located at 617 Brown Forman Road from at 7 P.M.- Midnight. There is no admission charge and there will be live music and both a silent and live auction held. 100% of monies raised will fund a scholarship in Ethan’s name. Anyone who cannot attend can still make a donation in Ethan Bennett’s name and send it to Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, 4104 Charlestown Road, New Albany, Indiana 47150.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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