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Eleanor Benbow, area's 'Broom Lady,' lived on streets of Worth, Ridge


By Bob Jaderberg

Eleanor Benbow, a homeless woman who lived on area streets for about 40 years, died last week at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

Miss Benbow suffered from colon cancer and had been staying at an Oak Lawn health and rehabilitation center, according to relatives. She was taken to the hospital last Thursday and died the same day. She was 59.

Mrs. Benbow, though she had few close friends, was known by many area residents by several names including Shirley, Tammy and Jett. Some people called the lanky, weathered street woman “Broom Lady” because she was often seen sweeping sidewalks in Worth and Chicago Ridge.

The woman who would one day become something of a local icon grew up in Chicago Ridge. It was there on Marshall Avenue that friends and family first experienced the erratic, unpredictable behavior brought on by mental illness and her refusal to always take her medication — that eventually alienated her from everyone including her husband, Ralph, and two sons, Ralph Jr., whom she called “Tike,” and Mike.

Ralph and Eleanor eventually divorced, and Miss Benbow chose to live under bridges and overpasses, in a place she called “the dome,” and anywhere else she could safely lay her head at night. She was even known to pop up in her brother Jim’s garden a time or two, her sister-in-law, Phyllis Benbow, told The Reporter in July.

While living an unencumbered life seemed to suit Miss Benbow’s free spirit, it also enslaved her to her mental illness. Eleanor was free to come and go wherever she pleased, and also to refuse treatment and medication for her delusions. As a result, she was no stranger to the police. She was capable of violence and prone to profanity-laced outbursts, though many who knew her said those came more infrequently in recent years.

It was Jim’s hope that Eleanor would come off the street in time to get the help she needed to battle her demons and cancer. To the end, Jim tracked her down nearly every other day to give her cash, cigarettes and check on her general well-being, Phyllis said.

“We could tell Eleanor was hurting. She was obviously in pain, she was bent over some from it,” Phyllis added. “But she was still sweeping.”

She is survived by her brothers, Jim, George and Thomas; her sister, Linda; and her sons, Ralph and Mike. She was born in Chicago on March 27, 1951.

A funeral service for Miss Benbow is to beheld at Schmaedeke Funeral Home in Worth on Oct. 16 from 2 to 6 p.m. A funeral Mass will be said at 4 p.m. Burial will be at Bethania Cemetery in Justice.