Gisela Malwina Benavidez had a full life which began in Konigsberg, Germany where she was born to Max and Emma Frenzel and became a sister to Helga in 1928. Gisela developed her love of water while taking long walks with her father and mother on the Baltic Sea.
In her early years her family moved to Bad Kreuznach, Germany where she flourished in music, sports and art. Despite being horribly dragged by a motorcycle at the tender age of about three, she survived her severe head injury to become an accomplished pianist by age twelve. This was a love and talent she carried with her throughout her life. During her younger school years, she was known for her gymnastics. Taught by her father, Gisela also became a strong swimmer which lead her becoming a lifeguard in her early teens for pools and rivers. She was so grateful for her strength and training when one day two girls were swimming at her assigned community pool and they began drowning. She immediately jumped in the water and saved both girls to the tune of Glen Miller music blaring over the loud speakers. Till the end of her life, she loved big band music and all the wonderful memories the melodies brought her, including saving the two lives.
During World War II, neighbors often took care of Gisela as her mother worked for the Red Cross. Her sister worked on local farms, and her father served in the German Army. In spite of all the suffering before and after the war, Gisela managed to graduate high school and become accomplished in everything from ping pong, skiing to fencing. She was the only young girl in her city allowed to be taught how to fly a sail plane. Sadly with all her talent in sports, World War II interrupted her training for the Olympics.
As the war progressed, Gisela learned the true meaning of kindness and grace as her friends and neighbors both German, Jewish and others shared food and looked out for each other. In her mid teens, she found refuge from war through playing the piano from classical to Boogie Woogie and dancing swing. She also admired American Cinema, especially musicals, and was touched by the protective kindness that some of the American soldiers demonstrated to her.
Gisela came to ballet relatively late in her teens, her many athletic skills opened the door for her to join a national German ballet troupe that toured throughout Germany. The highlight of her experience came at a time when her troupe joined up with the circus. Because most of the performance theaters had been bombed, her company performed their ballets under the Big Top. Her years in the circus taught her all kinds of dancing, trapeze work, tight roping, and bareback riding.
In her early twenties, she returned home to Bad Kreuznach to craft lenses in a factory that specialized in producing a variety of lenses and also as a model for a local photographer. One of her beautiful poses, showing Gisela dancing in a field, was on display in the photographer’s store window and caught the eye of a young American Army soldier, Gilberto Benavidez. Immediately smitten, his detective journey unfolded by finding where the beautiful dancer worked and lived. Singing Spanish and American love songs under her window, he won her heart and earned the respect of her family,to make her his bride. In 1954 Gisela Benavidez stepped off a military plane on the arm of Gilberto and traveled to their new home in Harlingen, Texas.
In her new community, Gisela learned Spanish as well, since this was other main language spoken in the Rio Grande Valley. In Harlingen, she gained new cooking skills which included a variety of Mexican dishes. In turn, Gisela shared with her new family and neighbors her wonderful German baked goods. While living in Texas, she became a nurse’s aide, sharpened her piano playing, enjoyed creative drawing, which she shared with the children in the iron lung machines at the hospital. She also gave birth to her eldest daughter, Cornelia.
Eventually better job opportunities drew the Benavidez family to Michigan. Gisela fell in love with the Great Lakes, the lush trees, and wildlife of the state. Work in factories for her husband brought her to Albion. In the surrounding area, she loved swimming and/or boating in Duck Lake and Swains Lake. In Albion, she loved watching and feeding the ducks in Reiger park and strolling through Victory Park enjoying the rose garden that was there at the time.
At this point, Gisela and Gilberto (Benny) had their second child, Sylvia. Walking through the pine forests of Michigan brought her sweet memories of Germany and inspired her to share the folk stories and fairy tales of her original country with her children.
Even with two children to raise, Gisela kept stretching her abilities. Her past modeling experience served well, as she was offered a few guest appearances on the Martha Dixon show, a popular local TV show in the early 60’s. Fostering her children’s love of theater in the 70’s, she tirelessly drove them back and forth to rehearsal and helped them learn their lines as well as design and sew their costumes. Yet, Gisela still found time to write her own classic piano compositions. Beginning in the early 80’s she participated in producing her husband’s radio ministry broadcast in and around Albion.
As her children grew up, she helped make ends meet by doing everything from working with a carpenter to design and build the family garage to driving the limo for Floyd Starr. Gisela also studied for and attained a manicurist license when her kids left for college.
The Benavidez family attended St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Albion. Over her 60 years there, Gisela made sure her children saw her faith in action. She was a trusted friend, loving mother and wife. Some of her quiet ways of service to the church included helping to drive Albion residents to kidney dialysis, organizing regular fellowship meetings, and supplying beautifully decorated cakes for various church functions.
Gisela Benavidez, 87, of Albion and Marshall, Michigan passed away with her loving family by her side on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Left to cherish Gisela’s memory are her husband, Gilberto Benavidez of Albion and Marshall, daughter Cornelia and (John) Benavidez Doyle of McMinnville, OR, daughter Sylvia Benavidez of Albion MI, and Gisela’s nephew Diedrich (Renate) Cornelius of Germany. She was preceded in death by her father and mother Max and Emma Frenzel, and her sister Helga Cornelius.
Gisela’s family honored her at a private graveside service at Fort Custer in Battle Creek on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. A memorial service will be held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 100 Luther Blvd., Albion, Michigan on Saturday, October 8, 2016 at 2PM.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Gisela’s love of Albion to the Local History Room of the Albion District Library, Citizens to Beautify Albion, or the American Stroke Association.