Remembering Marilyn Benis

Marilyn Mercia Benis passed away unexpectedly the morning of November 27, 2019 at the young age of 66, a heartbreaking loss beyond words.

Marilyn was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1953 in Columbus, Ohio, but she will always be remembered as the true Vermonter she was. Barbara and Leonard Mercia raised Marilyn with her three siblings, Jackie, Bill, and Kathie, in a colonial farmhouse in Williston, Vermont. A quiet, nature-loving young girl with ringlets in her hair, Marilyn led day-long adventures exploring nature in the hills beyond their property limits, picking raspberries for her mother’s famous pies, and organizing games with her siblings and neighbors.

Marilyn flourished as a student at Champlain Valley Union High School where she met her best friends Suzanne Durrell and Laura Benis. They rode horses and made plans to live off the land as adults, building a cabin in the woods without running water or electricity. Through Laura, Marilyn met and fell in love with Henry Benis. They married in 1972 and thus began their 47-year partnership, raising four children, Leah, Jason, Sarah, and Carrie.

Marilyn and Henry’s children grew up in a magical world, filled with a menagerie of animals, garden-grown vegetables, home-cooked meals, and ample space to create, imagine, and play. Marilyn was a fierce advocate for her children; any obstacle could be surpassed to fulfill the dreams of each of her children. She intentionally encouraged and guided each of her children to find and pursue their own passions in life, emphasizing the ultimate goal of leading happy and fulfilled lives.

Marilyn began working toward her teaching degree at UVM, but with the birth of Leah and Jason, she experienced a power and joy of caring for others. While being the primary caretaker for four young children and keeping the books for Henry’s business, she also started and completed her associates degree to become a registered nurse. She began her 37-year career at the UVM Medical Center, working first as a float nurse in 1982, then moving to Newborn Nursery, and then the NICU beginning in 1988.

Those around her always admired Marilyn for her trailblazing nature and scholarly abilities; in 1992, she was awarded the opportunity to attend Georgetown University to earn her Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) license. Upon graduation in 1993, she launched the NNP team at the hospital that eventually grew to become a service that continues to support and deliver quality care to families. Marilyn continued her neonatal studies through a masters degree at Northeastern University. Through her service and dedication, she impacted countless lives by launching the NICU Transport Team, developing manuals for care for patients, publishing research studies, coordinating countless conferences in her field, and leading professional learning for her co-workers. Marilyn’s example of daily courage and compassion set the standard of care in the NICU, from saving lives to counseling grieving families to mentoring her colleagues.

As Marilyn’s career expanded, so did her family with the birth of her first two grandchildren. To Eva and Bella, Marilyn became their Mimi. She cherished her time with the girls and never wavered in her support of her eldest daughter Leah through both pregnancies. Solomon and Eli, Mimi’s first two grandsons, joined the girls in their love of spending time in Mimi’s garden, picking berries and enjoying the daily garden tours. Mimi was present to welcome her third grandson Simon into the family in 2018.

After the loss of her mother in 1985, Marilyn became the force that held the family together, hosting and organizing family gatherings and reunions. She baked and hand-delivered thousands of raspberry pies over her lifetime, bringing warmth and sweetness to those in her life. An avid storyteller and frequent embellisher, Marilyn took joy in hosting gatherings around her and Henry’s famous ring of fire for the Hill People Tribe, family members, and anyone lucky enough to receive an invitation.

Marilyn’s most recent passion was her love of cruising the open seas with her co-pilot Henry. Traveling the world on over 20 cruises, Marilyn developed an expertise that earned her near celebrity status as “VTCruiser.” With nearly 9,000 posts on the Celebrity Cruise Critic Forum, Marilyn followed the launch of new ships, answered questions, organized new excursions, and “virtually” befriended countless individuals who sought out her in-depth knowledge and advice. As one fellow cruiser posted, VTCruiser was “curious, generous, intelligent, witty, and blessed with a wonderful sense of humor.”

We knew you as Marilyn, Ma, Mimi, and as we are pulling things together we are only beginning to understand the scope of our loss and the countless people’s lives you have touched. We know you will always be thinking of us, worrying, laughing, and working, but please know you have built a strong family and community. Be reassured that you have done what you need to do for us to carry on your legacy. You may rest in peace.

Marilyn leaves behind her husband, Henry Gordon Benis, Jr. of Hinesburg, daughter Leah Joly (John) and granddaughters Eva and Bella of Essex Junction, son Jason Benis (Sarah) of Essex Junction, daughter Sarah Benis Scheier-Dolberg (Joe) and grandson Solomon of New York City, daughter Carrie Benis (Bereket) and grandsons Elias and Simon of Watertown, MA.

She also leaves her father Leonard S. Mercia (Shirley), sister Jackie Owen (Gordie), brother Bill Mercia (Susan), sister Kathie Mercia, sister-in-law Liz Waterhouse (Brent), and sister-in-law Laura Benis (Pat) as well as many nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and countless close friends. 

Marilyn was predeceased by her mother Barbara Martin Mercia, her father-in-law Henry Benis, mother-in-law Catherine Benis, brother-in-law David Kuusela, and sister-in-law Joanne Benis.

The family is hosting visiting hours on Sunday, December 8, 2019 at the Catamount Country Club, 1400 Mountain View Road, Williston, Vermont from 2-4 pm.

A Ring of Fire Celebration of Marilyn’s life will be held in the spring of 2020.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Marilyn’s name to the Hinesburg Food Shelf.

Please visit Marilyn’s online memorial.