Vernetta Benton guided her own five children with a stern hand while simultaneously beaming with pride at their accomplishments — and she extended her mothering ways to every child in the neighborhood, making each one feel special.
"She expected excellence and greatness from [her children]," said Desireé Benton, her granddaughter. "One stern look and you knew to get it together."
Benton, 87, died Sept. 7 in her sleep at her Bloomington home.
She was born Vernetta Mae Lewis in Omaha in 1936 to parents Vivian Mae Lewis and Charles Jones, though she was mostly raised by Roy Miller, her mother's husband. She had two younger siblings, Anna and Wayne Miller.
She graduated with honors from Omaha Technical High School in 1953, a strong student and cheerleader who was athletically gifted.
She went on to work as a nursing assistant at Omaha Veterans Administration Medical Center and gave birth to two sons, Daryll and Terry Lewis.
Terry Lewis would become a well-known songwriter and music producer, partnering with his friend and colleague, James "Jimmy Jam" Harris to win five Grammys.
In 1959, she married Jesse Benton and had three more children: Jerome, Bonita and Brenda. After an economic downturn hit Omaha, she moved to St. Paul in 1969 to continue working in nursing at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
She later relocated to north Minneapolis, where she earned her nickname.
"We know her government name but I knew her as 'Momma B,' " said Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, who spoke at her Oct. 7 funeral. "Momma B was not only a mother to the Bentons and Lewises, but she was a community mother as well. She made sure you behaved at all times."
Champion added that she had the "brightest smile" when she saw children doing good.
Desireé Benton described her grandmother as warm, vivacious, hilarious and real. She loved fresh flowers, eating oysters and the color red.
"She was very authentic — she didn't mince words," her granddaughter said.
Vernetta Benton, who later moved to Bloomington, loved bowling, gardening, cooking, swimming, following Minnesota's professional sports teams and sewing — especially making bathrobes and winter gear for her grandchildren. She was a world traveler.
Vernetta Benton especially enjoyed fishing, Desireé Benton said, and taught women — and some men — about the sport, including how to operate and care for a boat, as she owned one herself.
Tina Outlaw, a fishing buddy of 30 years, recalled Vernetta's patient lessons in running a boat and her joy after catching a particularly large rainbow trout, which ended up in her frying pan.
"One of the things we learned from Vernetta was to laugh at ourselves," Outlaw said at Benton's funeral. "That was the best medicine for all of us when we are taking life too seriously."
Vernetta Benton was injured on the job during her nursing career and transitioned to volunteering, including at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital and her church, Speak the Word Church International, where she helped at the bookstore and served as an usher and greeter.
A woman of great faith, she often said every day was like a birthday because it was a gift from God, Desireé Benton said. Her tagline was, "Be blessed."
Vernetta Benton is survived by her sister Anna Miller of Omaha; her five children 15 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.