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  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Jodie Provencher of Manchester is the daughter of former Benson’s Animal Farm owner Arthur Provencher and says she spent a lot of her childhood growing up and working a variety of jobs in the park. She was among the attendees at an employee reunion picnic held Saturday afternoon.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Brad and Mary Ford met when they both worked at Benson’s Animal Farm as children, and recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. The two were among the former employees who attended a reunion picnic held at the park on Saturday afternoon


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Harold Merrill of Greenville shows a photo taken of him when he was in his early teens and worked at Benson’s Animal Farm as a bear trainer. He estimates that they photo was taken in the ‘late 30’s or early 40’s’. Merrill was among the attendees at an employee reunion picnic held at the park on Saturday afternoon.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Arthur Provencher, who was the owner of Benson’s Animal Farm from 1979 to 1989, speaks with Natalie Undercofler at an employee reunion picnic held at the park on Saturday afternoon.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Clara “Sally” Vautier of Nashua, left, worked at Benson’s Animal Farm from 1953 to 1956 and Juliette Beaudin of Hudson, right, worked there in 1955. The two were among the attendees at an employee reunion picnic held at the park on Saturday afternoon.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Harold Merrill of Greenville shows a photo taken of him when he was in his early teens and worked at Benson’s Animal Farm as a bear trainer. He estimates that they photo was taken in the ‘late 30’s or early 40’s’. Merrill was among the attendees at an employee reunion picnic held at the park on Saturday afternoon.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Jodie Provencher of Manchester looks over one of the spots that she worked at as a child at Benson’s Animal Farm. She is the daughter of former owner Arthur Provencher and says she spent a lot of her childhood growing up and working a variety of jobs in the park. She was among the attendees at an employee reunion picnic held Saturday afternoon.


  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Jodie Provencher of Manchester looks over the elephant barn at Benson’s Park in Hudson. Provencher is the daughter of former Benson’s Animal Farm owner Arthur Provencher and says she spent a lot of her childhood growing up and working a variety of jobs in the park. She was among the attendees at an employee reunion picnic held Saturday afternoon.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reunion held for historic animal farm

HUDSON – Brad Ford met his wife, Mary, at Benson’s Wild Animal Farm in 1953. He was 14, she 13, when Brad watched Mary dance with her younger sister up on stage during one of the park’s old staff parties.

“I saw her up there and I thought, ‘That’s for me,’” Brad said.

Brad found Mary afterward and asked her if she would join him for a ride on the farm’s miniature train.

“He coaxed me into going on a train ride,” Mary said, “and the rest is history.”

Brad and Mary married in 1957. Now living in Gilmanton, the couple celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this month by taking a trip to their old hometown for the Benson’s Wild Animal Farm reunion Saturday, held at the newly renovated Benson Park.

The afternoon was full of cherished memories shared between dozens of Benson’s former employees, who worked from the early 1930s all the way up to the park’s closing in 1987.

Cindy Provencher, 52, of New Boston, organized the reunion. She worked at the park from 1979 to 1987 and her uncle, Arthur Provencher, was the last man to own the park before it closed.

She was happy with the turnout early in the day, as many people came by to share their Benson’s pictures and memories.

“Quite a few different years have showed up,” Provencher said. “They’re mingling, they’re excited. This is what I wanted it to be, getting everybody together.”

The Fords worked at the park from 1953 to 1955. The site has a special meaning for both of them, Brad said.

“It means a lot to us; this is where I first held her hand,” he said.

“It meant the world to everybody in Hudson,” Mary said.

Russ Goss, 79, of Nashua, worked in refrigeration maintenance at Benson’s in the 1980s and shared stories at the reunion. He said one time when he was fixing a machine, he tensed up as he felt something around his neck.

“I turn around and it was a giraffe,” he said, laughing. “Even without the animals, this place was a zoo. It was so much fun. There was always something going on.”

Bob Turmel, 78, of Hudson, was part of a family of 13 and said he and six of his siblings worked at Benson’s to help pay family bills.

He said he loved his job, watching over the horse barn and pony track from 1945 to 1950 and leading young kids around for pony rides.

“Just about all the kids in Nashua and Hudson worked here once they turned 14,” Brad said. “It was the perfect summer job.”

Harold Merrill, 84, of Greenville, worked as the bear trainer in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He raised the bears and “brought them up from a milk bottle” until they were ready to perform tricks and participate in Sunday shows at the park. Merrill was 13 at the time.

“It wasn’t bad to begin with, but once the bears got older sometimes they’d get up on the wrong side of the bed and fight with each other. I’d have to get in the middle and pull ’em apart,” Merrill said.

He lived in Nashua and rode his bike over to Hudson for work. Merrill did the job for three or four years, he said, and even worked with elephants and tigers, despite his young age.

“They didn’t think nothing of it,” he said. “Mr. Benson had me as a trainer in every department there was.”

Merrill was paid 75 cents a day when he started and was bumped up to $1.50 a day by the time he left – “a lot of money in those days,” he said.

Merrill now has some trouble hearing, but he still enjoyed several conversations at the reunion and tried to piece together what the park used to look like.

Many of the employees said while Benson Park looks great, it’s hard for it to live up to the park’s legacy from 1926 to 1987.

“It’s difficult to go back 70 years,” Merrill said. “I lived here in its heyday. (The park now) is a nice place for people to come out, but this was a bustling place on weekends. It’s a ghost of the past.”

“It’s nice now, as far as a park goes, but it’s a shame the state or the town didn’t keep this place open,” Goss said.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CK) on Twitter.