Incredible partnerships often start in unusual places. For Beth (Bretzman) ’74 and Keith Benson ’73, it was a shortage of German textbooks that sparked 40-plus years of Redbird romance.
Flash back to fall 1970, Beth’s second day as a freshman French major at Illinois State, and Keith’s first semester on campus after four years in the Navy and some community college. The bookstore ran out of the textbook Beth needed for her German night class. Their quirky professor told his bookless students to share with those who had books. So Beth paired up with Keith.
It took six weeks of prodding from a friend, but Keith finally asked her out. After their first pitcher of beer at Shakey’s Pizza, Keith asked how old Beth was. She was 18. He was 25.
“I thought, ‘Oh wow, I’m contributing to the delinquency of a minor,’” Keith recalls. “So out the door we go at Shakey’s. And that was our first date.”
They got married in June 1972, after Beth’s sophomore year. Beth and Keith celebrated 40 years of marriage last summer with a trip to Paris, London, and Scotland. Then they returned home to St. Petersburg, Florida, where they’ve lived since 1982.
Beth is an obstetrician/gynecologist (OBGYN) physician, a passion she discovered at Keith’s urging. She was a straight-A student, and Keith, a biological sciences major at Illinois State, wondered if someone with so much “intellectual horsepower” would be stimulated by anything other than medicine. So Keith pushed her that direction, even setting up a visit to his see his brother, a practicing physician in Michigan.
Beth got wait-listed, however, when she applied to medical schools around Illinois. But everything changed on graduation day in June 1974, when both Beth and Keith walked. They returned home to their trailer after the ceremony, only to find an acceptance letter from the University of Illinois’ medical school in Chicago.
“That was something,” Keith said. “That was a big deal. That was huge.”
So they moved to Chicago—Keith just six credits short of his master’s degree at Illinois State—and made it work. Keith got a job at a U of I lab and was soon doing research and, eventually, teaching himself. Beth intended to pursue neurology—using her psychology major at Illinois State—but changed course.
“When I hit my OBGYN rotation, I absolutely loved it,” Beth told STATEside. “It was the greatest thing—you do surgery, you deliver babies, you do office work. You never get bored.”
After one too many harsh winters in Chicago, they bolted for Florida when Beth finished residence training.
“We both looked at each other and said, ‘We gotta get out of here,’” Beth recalls.
Beth is now part of a medical group of seven doctors and midwives that delivers 100 babies a month. (Beth’s 30-year career in medicine means she’s now delivered 10 babies for women she delivered herself.) Keith “dropped science” when they moved to Florida, where he picked up flying. He worked for a long-haul air ambulance, then became an airline transport pilot, with enough experience to teach others to fly.
But it was Illinois State where it all began, where one German textbook (or lack thereof) sparked love.
“Redbird love survives,” Beth says.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.