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Benjamin Max Racusin

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“I only met Uncle Ben once and that was two years ago, but what a wonderful man he was.. He had so many stories to tell we wished we could have stayed...Read More »
1 of 1 | Posted by: Wini Johnson


Benjamin M. Racusin, 98, passed away on August 11, 2013 on Hilton Head Island. He was born on May 19, 1915 in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, the son of the late Carla and Max Racusin. He was preceded in death by the love of his life, Helen Schuler Racusin in 2011. Ben and his wife Helen had been members of the Seabrook and Fraser Health Center community for the past 15 years. They enjoyed the intellectual friendships that they both acquired. Ben Racusin led an intriguing life giving service to his community as a leader, a statesman, a former military officer serving in China with the OSS/CIA and as the distinguished first Mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island. He graduated with a liberal arts degree from Alfred University in Alfred, New York. After graduating from Alfred University, he accepted a position to teach history, political science, coach football, boxing and track in the high school in Oswego, New York. In 1942, he answered Uncle Sam's call and was assigned first to the Army Air Corps in Miami Beach as an athletic noncom. Shortly after, he was selected to attend Officers Candidate School and returned to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. In December 1944, after extensive training, he was recruited to volunteer for duty in China and left for the Far East and Pacific areas with the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He returned to Shanghai in December, 1946, and met his bride-to-be Helen Schuler, from Russell, Kansas. They married three months later on March 9, 1947. When Helen took her discharge, she joined Ben at the OSS. They both had successful careers with the CIA, ending as training officers in 1971. Ben always stated that "we enjoyed government service, traveling and serving our country," They visited the Island in 1967, purchased a lot in Sea Pines in two days and began to build their retirement home. Ben and Helen meshed into Island living among the residents retiring from hectic lives in the military, government, the arts community and the corporate world. He was looking forward to polishing his "golf game," knowing that it would be a matter of time before he got involved in the community. This was the beginning of the Community Association which later successfully opposed the building of the Chicago Bridge and Iron oil barges in the same area of the Colleton River. These events impacted the ultimate incorporation of The Town of Hilton Head Island. A population at that time did not envision an island of 35, 000-40, 000 persons and the term "Town" was more in keeping with the idyllic vision for which most of us came to the Island. In May, 1983, a referendum of incorporation was passed by over 60 percent of the votes cast. A group of Islanders asked Ben to run for Mayor. "I told them, 'No, I really don't want to do it," Racusin said. "Helen and I had a little dog at the time, a Schnauzer named Dee Dee. Holding a cookie in our hands, we'd trained her to roll over and play dead. So when this group insisted I run for Mayor, I said we should let Dee Dee decide. So I asked, 'Dee Dee what would you rather be, Mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island or a dead dog?' I held the cookie up and down she went," Racusin said. The group did not accept Dee Dee's decision. Ben won the election and had a huge task to achieve. August 5, 1983, Racusin and his Town Council took their seats and the Town of Hilton Head Island was born. It was a humbling experience and Ben had a tremendous job to do to get the building blocks in place. It was a hard working group and they all realized the unique position they were in. Some of his achievements include… First Mayor of Hilton Head Island; President and Board Member of the Hilton Head Island Community Association; Chairman, Commission for Island Government; Recipient, Chamber of Commerce Alice Glenn Doughtie "Citizen of the Year Award"; Member, Committee of 27 negotiating Sea Pines Covenants and Restrictions; Organizer and Co-Chairman, Island Emergency Council; Board Member, Hilton Head Island Human Relations; Council Member, Coastal Environmental Coalition; Elder and Member of Session, First Presbyterian Church; Treasurer and Board Member, HHI Hospital Auxiliary; Board Member, Child and Youth Development Center; Advisory Board Member, First Carolina Bank; Co-Organizer, Board Member and Vice President, Hilton Head Chapter, TROA; Chairman, Emergency Committee, 1974 Skull Creek Bridge outage ; Assistant District Commissioner, Boys Scouts of America; Member, BSA District Commissioner's Staff of Pioneer Scout Development; Organizing Committee and Board Member, The Community Playhouse; Former member, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 10-11; Honorary Member, Rotary Club, named "Paul Harris Fellow" in 1985; Recipient, First Presbyterian Church Distinguished Service Award; Sertoma "Service to Mankind" Award; Bahais "Human Rights" Award, The "Order of the Palmetto" Award by SC Governor Richard Riley; Member, Committee for Incorporation Transition Committee; Member, Ad Hoc Committee to Develop "Special District Development Standards" for Hilton Head Island; Chairman, S.C. District 123 Citizen's Committee for Bridges; Treasurer/Member Beaufort Jasper Mental Health Association; Board Member, The Seabrook; President and Member since 1972, HHI Community Association; Member, original Advisory Board, Sea Pines Property Owner's Association; Board Member, S.C. Municipal Association; Old Colony Trust; Hilton Head Humane Association; Hilton Head Rescue Squad; Chairman, the Advisory Board to Trustee in (Ginn) Bankruptcy; Chairman, 1991 Town of Hilton Head Island Commission to update the Comprehensive Plan; Trustee Emeritus, the Heritage Classic Foundation; Member, Former Mayors of Hilton Head Island; Supporter of many Island Charities, and a friend and mentor to many. On November 5, 2008, Mayor Thomas D. Peeples and the Hilton Head Island Town Council bestowed an incredible honor by naming the Building and Council Chambers at the Town of Hilton Head Island, the Benjamin M. Racusin Town Council Chambers. Ben is survived by his brother and sister-in-law Rita and

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