Ben White Boulevard named for popular city councilman

Ben White says he has been asked hundreds of times if he knew that there is a boulevard named after him in South Austin.

"Well, it's named for my grandfather," he said.

The elder Ben White served on Austin City Council from 1951–67. That 16-year span makes him one of the council's longest serving members, according to Jon Klummpe, husband of White's granddaughter and family historian.

Bennie White was born in a farm in Guadalupe County on April 19, 1889.

White, one of more than a dozen children, left home at age 14 when there was not enough food to go around, his son Will said.

He came to Austin at age 15 with an eighth grade education and worked for T.B. Walker Manufacturing Co. for about 47 years, Klummpe said.

"'Daddy Ben' had been [a superintendent and general manager] with Walker's Austex Chili Company," White said. "He worked there until he retired at age 65 [in 1953]."

His grandson, Alton White, said that friends and family contributed to his campaign, but that he financed much of it himself.

His granddaughter, Pat Keller, said he was still working at Walker's when he ran for office.

The Austin of White's time was much different than it is today.

During his tenure, I-35 and the Longhorn Dam were being built. MoPac did not yet exist.

White supported the construction of MoPac, but predicted that "Austin will never grow to the point where we'll need anything more than I-35."

"When I am sitting in traffic on I-35, I say to myself, 'Daddy Ben, what were you thinking?'" White said.

Ben White was well-regarded during his time on the council.

During the June 12, 1958, council meeting, resident Jesse Bartlett called White "an outstanding personality in the community, highly respected by everybody in Austin and Central Texas, and [someone] whom they could call on day or night."

In 1958, South Austin residents wanted to remove the confusion caused by having three First Streets (East, West and South).

More than 500 residents signed a petition asking the Austin City Council to rename South First Street to Ben White Boulevard.

"The Honorable Ben White ... is a resident of South Austin, and has for many years worked untiringly as a private citizen and civic leader for the improvement of South Austin, including the widening and paving of South First Street," according to the petition.

During that same meeting, the council voted 4–0 to rename the road Ben White Avenue after reviewing the roadway definitions. White abstained from the vote.

Alton White said that White did not want his fellow residents to be inconvenienced or have businesses incur any costs for renaming South First.

To honor his request, the council voted to name the then-future South Belt Loop "Ben White Boulevard."

The younger Ben White said that friends liked to tease 'Daddy Ben' by saying that he objected because he wanted a boulevard instead of an avenue.

Alton White had seen the roadway's path before Ben White Boulevard was built.

"It was all pasture land. It's amazing the growth that has occurred in the last 30 to 40 years," he said.

Ben White remembered his grandfather as a quiet, devout man who enjoyed reading his Bible in his favorite armchair with the screen door open.

White had been married to his wife for more than 50 years, Klummpe said.

"He was a man of the blue collar. He absolutely loved the city workers, particularly the firemen," he said. "My grandmother knew that if he did not come home for dinner, there was a fire department she could call and find him. He'd be playing dominoes."

White was given the ceremonial title of commodore during the Austin Aqua Festival, a summer boating festival held on Lady Bird Lake.

Klummpe said White was a member of the Scottish Rite Ben-Hur Shrine and a former president of the South Austin Civic Club.

He remembered White as never having an unkind word to say about anyone.

"To put up with Austin politics, it takes a different kind of person," he said. "But Austin was a lot smaller back then."

White died on Jan. 30, 1972 at age 82, Keller said.

Ben White Blvd. resolution, June 19, 1958

"Whereas, on June 12, 1958, there was presented to the Austin City Council a petition bearing the signatures of many hundreds of Austin citizens desiring to honor Ben White, one of their most patient and perservering servants who, in long labors of love for his fellow men, has generously shared his energies, his means, his judgments in the continuous enhancement of his community; and,

Whereas, with the humbleness which characterizes true greatness which is mindful of others and regardless of self, the said Ben White became concerned lest some fellow man might, in some way, be inconvenienced by changing the identification of an address, and requested the City Council not to change the name of South First Street; and,

"Whereas, the City Council ... has honored his request; but

"Whereas, the City Council ... has concluded that one certain project ... has not been officially named... and,

"Whereas, the said Ben White can not object to the official naming of a heretofore unnamed future street, intended for the convenience and comfort of numberless people who will pass this way;

"Now, therefore, be it resolved by the [Austin City Council] that the identity of the project herefore commonly known as South Belt Loop be hereby officially named and designated ... and shall henceforth be known as Ben White Boulevard."

Source: City of Austin