No one knew
Benny Herrick was a "natural." Not his parents, not the drama
teacher who would become his favorite, not even Benny himself.
When he went out for football, theater was not in the picture.
Then came a toe injury that ended his football season and
created the need to fill the time at Oak Park High School in
Kansas City. He took a theater class and fell right into it.
After he graduated in 1966, Herrick planned to attend
Southwest Missouri State University to continue his drama
studies, but duty nagged at him. America was at war in
Vietnam, and he felt the need to do his part. He was 19 years
old when he died in Vietnam, his dream of a theater career cut
short by the war.
But in his absence through all the intervening years, many
others have followed Bennett Herrick's dream, each carrying
his name and memory forward.
A year after his death, his parents, Loren and Marge Herrick,
wanted to honor his memory. They offered a $1,500 college
scholarship in his name to be given to an Oak Park High School
drama student. They had no long-term plans for the
scholarship. At the time, it was something they simply wanted
to do for their son.
"It was selfish," Loren Herrick said. "We did it for ourselves
because it made us feel good."
In the spring of 2002, the Herricks sent their 35th Oak Park
High School drama student to college.
"Success? We didn't really think about it at all back then,"
Loren, 81, said. "It was just something we felt compelled to
do. For the first five or six years, it was, 'Well, I guess
we'll do it again this year.' Finally, it became clear it was
going to go on and so we made arrangements to continue it
after we're gone."
Benny's death in Vietnam was not the only loss that the war
brought to the Herrick's doorstep. Their second son, Dennis,
followed in his brother's footsteps, going to Vietnam in 1970.
He died there in a non-combat incident.
"No one had the faintest idea that Benny was a natural actor,"
Herrick said. "We didn't and neither did the school. It turned
out he was a natural, and he put the first trophy in Oak Park
High School. It was a new school in 1965. He and his partner
did a takeout on The Rainmaker in a three-school drama
festival. They won. In January of 1966, Benny got the award
for best actor at the Missouri state drama festival."
Loren and Marge, known in the Oak Park drama department as
"Pa" and "Ma," have reserved seats for all of the school's
productions. When they arrive, an outpouring of affection
When the school considered producing A Piece of My Heart,
a play about how the Vietnam experience affected the lives of
four women, one of the drama teachers spoke first with the
Herricks, concerned that the play's subject matter might be
too upsetting to them.
"They said if it was going to upset us, they wouldn't do the
play," Loren said. "But if we gave them the okay, they'd go
ahead with it. We said, 'Sure, go right ahead and do it. And
let us help if you will.' "
In May, well-known Hollywood actor, Jeff Daniels, came to Oak
Park High School to honor the Herricks and speak with
students. Daniels is a friend of Michigan car dealer and
Vietnam veteran John Colone. The Herricks met Colone three
years ago at a reunion of Vietnam veterans and families of
those killed in the war.
Last year, when Loren called Colone to thank him for sending
flowers to Benny's grave, he mentioned an effort of the drama
department to raise money for homeless veterans. Colone, who
is on the board of directors of Daniels' Purple Rose Theatre
Company in Chelsea, Mich., asked Daniels to make an appearance
at the school.
"He thought it would be a lot better than just sending a check
because this was strictly a drama department thing and Benny
was so involved with the theater," Loren said.
The Herricks often hear from former students who have won the
scholarship. Some are now teachers themselves. Working in
conjunction with VVA Chapter 317, the Herricks have
established a fund to continue the scholarship well into the
"I know anybody's son is always better than anybody else's,
but Benny was a terrific guy," Loren said. "If it hadn't been
for Vietnam, his intent was to become either a drama teacher
or an actor. But Vietnam came along, and he told me he just
didn't think he could apply himself to school feeling the way
he did about an obligation to his country. He had good plans
for his future, but it just didn't turn out. With the
scholarship, we'll still have Benny's memory, the memory of
the war, and all of the lives that have been affected by it
for so long."