Who are YLPers? Why, all of us who call Yosemite Lakes Park our home. We’re more than an HOA, we are a community of people who love where we live!
More than just a place of majestic mountain views, YLP is people — individuals of all backgrounds and interests. In this series of periodic profiles, we hope to introduce you to many of these folks — to YLOA board members, to managers, to employees, to our valued volunteers and notable neighbors who share our 21 square miles of Sierra foothills. We hope you enjoy learning about these YLPers.
This week it’s Todd Benzie, a member of the YLOA and YSPUC Board of Directors, a retired corrections administrator and 25-year YLP resident whose family has long been active in the community.
Tell us about your early life, where you were born and grew up, recollections
I grew up in a very small town in the Appalachian Mountains and the Allegheny Mountains on the Allegheny River. I grew up in a town called Tidioute, Pennsylvania, born and raised. I just got back from there a couple weeks ago, my mom and brother is still there in the original house.
I grew up with two brothers and two sisters. My father was a physicist. My older sister’s a librarian, and my brother was an engineer for NASA. he worked on the shuttle, was a mathematical engineer.
When I was 17, even though I had all the pre-college courses, I dropped out of high school and joined the Army. When I came out of the Army I worked various jobs growing up. I’ve baled hay.
I grew up working in sawmills and hay fields and ranches.
When I came home, it was during the big Rust Belt era sweeping through there. My dream was always, it used to be a steel mill worker, but they were all shutting down. So I moved to Jersey and then my sister married an individual that didn’t like living in the cold. So they moved to California. He called me out to California and I was living in Oakland with them working in a clothing store and I went up to the unemployment office in Oakland and ask for any jobs in like law enforcement or something, and he threw me a flyer and said, San Quentin prison is always hiring — that was 1983.
So, I went to work for the prison system, spent four years with San Quentin, went back to school, got my (bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice) at the University of Cincinnati — total of 26 years in corrections — and retired at 50 like 12 years ago.
Tell us more about your family.
My dad was a physicist. He had his master’s in physics from the University of Texas, and he and my brother collect college degrees. They both had about 10 degrees each.
My mother worked at a hospital. She was just clerical. Her family are old-time Americana. Her family came from the first White descendants that settled in America. Her great-great-great grandfather died in the French-Indian war and was buried at sea in Lake Erie. His son was a colonel in the Revolutionary Army and her family were the first settlers of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. Her great-great-grandfather was Moses Knapp. That’s where Punxsutawney Phil is. Like it’s said to be a descendant of that ancestor is to be able to hold Punxsutawney Phil. So I’m actually qualified to take Punxsutawney Phil out because I’m a descendant of Moses Knapp.
Tell us about your accomplishments, training, degrees and such.
I dropped out of high school at 17 and joined the Army. The Army actually was kind of weird. I thought I was going to be, you know, the next commando. But because of my test scores, even though I didn’t have a high school diploma my test scores were so high…. I had all the pre-college courses. I had algebra, geometry. I wasn’t stupid, but they actually they offered me West Point when I went in but it was like a 10-year commitment.
So they put me in Military Intelligence. I got a TS-SI-TK clearance and I worked at Army intelligence Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. I would transport the courier that would do the black book briefings for the president. The information we brought was from was the intelligent threat analysis center and he and I would take that to the Pentagon and pick up stuff.
I went to college as soon as I came out, but I didn’t finish my degree. (He then moved to California and got the job in corrections).
(Working in corrections) was enjoyable for me… it was in my wheelhouse. Only 1 in 20 people make it more than 15 years. I mean, I never was a high-stress person. I’m not high-strung. I’m pretty low-key.
I got into the intricacies of classification in law and the application of it, in my mind it was interesting. The first few years of, when I was basically just a regular officer, it was the thrill of San Quentin. It was just constant, you know, action.
When I started San Quentin there were only 13 prisons in California. It was Stone Age models. It’s like, I went from 1,300 seniority to number 325 in like a matter of four years because it was just total chaos. A friend was murdered when I was there, like we had an officer stabbed every month and two inmates stabbed every week. As a young man it was okay but as you got older, you know, you’re only going to do that for a certain period of your life.
What do you regard as the high points of your career?
And so then when I was at the prison, I went back to school, I started to major in something else. I was thinking about preparing for a career beyond corrections.
One of my professors says, look you got you know 15 to 20 years in law enforcement already. He says, you might as well build on that. It would be much more beneficial to you to build on that with the experience then it actually means something. He says, you start a whole new career now you’re going to be like a 22-year-old kid. So I did, with straight criminal justice (and earned degrees from the University of Cincinnati).
Tell us about your wife, Gwyn, and your kids.
I was at San Quentin when I met her. I was running, I had just moved to Santa Rosa and I was running and I got lost and she was working in a Chinese restaurant. And I saw it there and I went and I met her. And then I ended up seeing her later, playing pool at a club that’s kind of across the street from the place. And we met her there and we talked and stuff and, you know, went out.
So my two daughters were born in Sonora and then my son was born here. Genevieve’s 27-28, born in ’93. Adelina, she was born in 1988, works for PG&E, and just bought a house in the park last year. She was a sergeant in the Army, served in Afghanistan. She just got out. My son Jeremiah went to Minarets to play football. He’s at Fresno State. His last semester is coming up. He’s 22, a business major.
My wife and my kids all have worked various jobs in the park, my wife and my daughter were here at the Blue Heron. And then my wife, my son, and my daughter all worked at the Fairway.
My daughter Genevieve Alberta still fills in at the Fairway. She’s married to Blaine Alberta. She’s had two kids.
What brought you to YLP and when?
(After working at San Quentin) then I transferred around the state. I grew up in Appalachia. So the city doesn’t do well for me. So I always look for the country. So I moved to Sonora, the Jamestown prison to get in the country. To promote me, they sent me to L.A. And so the next prison to open where you kind of get the transfer kind of free on the state was Chowchilla, but it was back to the country. And I was driving around and just happen to run into YLP. So I bought here, 25 years ago.
Why did you run for the board (he was elected to serve from 2020 to 2022)?
I was hoping I could at least bring some knowledge of the years I’ve been here and my knowledge of management to it. And some maybe some leadership and some ideas maybe, resolve some conflict and, you know, to see commitment to ensure that we’re heading the right direction.
When I ran, unlike a lot of other candidates that promised, like, I’m going to bring down your dues, I’m going to fix your roads, I didn’t make any promises.
I didn’t put up signs, make any campaign promises. So why would I promise a bunch of stuff that I don’t know if it’s the best avenue to take before? Why would I make promises to people that I might not be able to keep?
As I said, I’ll go look and see where we’re going. How we’re doing? And if I feel, you know, it’s proper, to make my own assessment. And if it’s good, I’ll vote for it. If it’s bad, I’ll vote against it.
As a YLOA board member, what have you learned?
You need to look at what would benefit the whole I think especially within the association and you know, it took a lot more work than I realized as well too. It was a lot more hours and I realize that it’s a lot more things that need to be considered. A lot ahead of us. It’s like the problems are going to be ongoing forever. Just like anything else, though.
What are your priorities?
The water is the thing I care about most. If we have water, our property is worth something… I’m concerned about it. I want to make sure our water is protected because I know in the only communities I’ve seen that have actually failed, it’s the (lack of) water. The community can come back from anything else. (Like all directors, Todd is a member of the YSPUC Board of Directors.)
What has been the biggest surprise?
The surprise is how much they curtail, how much you can voice your opinion, publicly of what you actually think and feel. I mean, it would be nice to be able to relate to the members and to the community as a whole of what you think about this that or the other thing. But you, but as a board member, you’re severely limited on your, on your ability, to vocalize what you think and feel because as you speak, you suddenly realize you (have) the legal obligation to speak for the whole board. So you can’t speak as an individual anymore. That’s kind of somewhat frustrating because you would like to say, you know, to some people that are posting certain things on social media or whatever, it’s like they’re complaining about the lake going dry. Well, the lake’s been dry about 15 of the 25 years I’ve been here…. Like why’d you buy here?
For others who may want to run for the board, what would you tell them?
You have to stay focused… be true to yourself and your core beliefs. But you also have to be willing to compromise and work with others. You have to look at their perspective, and take it into weight and consideration. And sometimes you have to compromise. It might not be something that you’re a hundred percent agreement with, but it’s probably something, maybe you’re not a hundred percent in disagreement with either.
You always have to be willing to compromise and work with others. That’s the most important thing. On the board you are acting as a group of people making a decision. It’s not all you.
What about the value of volunteering?
I mean individuals want to keep the cost down, volunteerism is probably the most (important) thing to keep the association fees down. If we had to hire people to do the things that the volunteers do, our dues would be probably increased 30% to 40%. You just can’t overemphasize the importance volunteerism is here.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I got a boat. I do fishing and I do some shooting. My son likes to shoot too and we do our have an RV. I do some RV camping, I like to travel here and there, you know. I hang out at my daughter’s ranch and stuff. We go there and goof off, right?
I don’t ride (horses) any more but I grew up on a horse…. I used to be a trail guide and trail hand at the Flying W Ranch in Pennsylvania.
You might want to say to folks, well, I got my two granddaughters and that’s it, two granddaughters and three kids. That’s it. It’s my family here.
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