Benedict Peter Reyes
The following article appeared in the Native Hoop Magazine, Issue 14, published 2/1/14
Benedict Peter Reyes, known as “Ben” was ahead of his time, yet espoused the ancient values of Native culture. An Oklahoma Creek with family stories of the Trail of Tears, he grew up on New York’s Long Island with his grandmother. In high school, he was a stellar athlete and popular with everyone. Ben was known for his indomitable spirit, engaging gargantuan smile, brilliant business sense, and generosity and kindness to worthy causes and needy individuals. Everyone loved Ben.
Ben’s radiance had a positive effect on all who knew him, yet he had faced many obstacles that could have shaken his confidence and paralyzed his will. A Vietnam Vet, he was a ground member of the Air Force mobile communications unit, coordinating air guidance systems during the 1968 Tet Offensive, labeled the worst battle of the Vietnam War. Not only did he lose friends, but Ben’s health was severely affected by his exposure to Agent Orange. He empathized with Vets and was an active member of his local veteran’s associations. Ben made sure Native Vets had traditional medicine and helped create safe and supportive housing for those affected by service related issues.
Working his way up to an operations engineer, Ben got his Riggers union card and then became a US Navy Seabee, working with heavy construction equipment as well as an instructor. He credited those years with giving him the foundation to open his own business. In 1993, Ben founded Iron Eagle, a company engaged in every part of the construction industry with a focus on innovative environmental services like asbestos removal and resolving other environmental hazards. Eventually he changed the name to Iron Eagle Environmental Services, to reflect the company’s focus.
Ben found time for a myriad of causes from Down’s Syndrome to Native economic development. He was a cherished advisor to Carroll Cocchia, President of the Native American Chamber of Commerce. “Ben Reyes knew EVERYONE and everyone knew him. No matter what you needed – a business connection – a friendly shoulder to cry on – an answer to a perplexing problem – Ben was always there to help. He had revolutionary ideas for the preservation of the environment that were well before his time. The major strategies and concepts that are cutting edge today were his ideas and concepts years ago. Ben knew how to develop business opportunities and assistance for Native People – he wanted so much to help them succeed. Ben had the biggest caring heart of anyone it has been my privilege to know – he has always been there for me – he was easily my best and most trusted friend.”
Marsha Vander Heyden (Mohawk), owner of Vander Heyden Woodworking, Inc. and a NYC community activist recruited Ben to help develop a youth project aimed at exploring careers in the building industry including architects, engineers and trades people. “When Ben called, he’d ask if I had been in jail yet and offered to bail me out. We shared endless laughs, trade talk and conversations about what was happening in Indian country. He must have had a double to meet all his obligations. Not only was he a busy business man: but he took great pleasure training his union’s new recruits, played the flugelhorn and was involved in numerous charitable activities. Couldn’t find a better buddy anywhere!!”
Mike Amato of Iron Eagle will never forget his partner. “I spent the last 16 years with Benny, we traveled the business world together. We had great times; he told me everything he did in his life. Every day was a different story, and the stories kept coming. He had an unbelievable life and I am blessed to be part of it.”
Hundred of mourners attended Ben Reyes’ funeral: dozens shared their thoughts.
“Ben was a gentle giant, who touched many lives. His kindness and work brought the vision of the Native American Medicine Wheel to the VA.”
“The world would be a much better place with more people like Ben..no drama, peaceful, giving and forgiving.”
“No finer human has ever walked the face of this earth and the world is a sadder place without him. Heaven has gained an archangel.”
“His smile was infectious, his laugh unmistakable, his attitude remarkable and his will unbreakable”.
“Benny was a true friend and completely unique individual. He was giving, laughing, teasing and tough all rolled into one.”
“Ben touched all of our lives. He was such a kind giving person and lit up the room when he entered.”
“His big heart, talented hands and mind are known all over this country.”
“He is missed and treasured by so many”
Benedict Peter Reyes is survived by his wife, Rose, daughter, Erin, cousins and many other friends and community members.