William Bennett, Farm-show Host

Posted: January 06, 2000

William Bennett, 78, who for nearly two decades was known as the earthy host of the WCAU-TV show Farm Reporter, died Monday at the Arcadia Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.

He died of Pick's Disease, which attacks the brain's frontal lobes.

He moved to Hamilton Township a year ago after living much of his life in Jeffersonville, Pa., and spending winters in Indian Creek, Fla. He was born in Philadelphia and raised in West Philadelphia. He attended West Philadelphia High School.

Mr. Bennett was host of Farm Reporter when it debuted in 1956. The program was produced in conjunction with the agricultural extension departments of Pennsylvania State and Rutgers Universities.

Eventually named the station's farm director, Mr. Bennett worked for WCAU for 18 years and produced a farm segment for the local news hour in the mid-1960s.

He received numerous awards for his reporting, including the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters' Public Service Award in 1966, the National Safety Council's Farm Safety Award in 1963, and the National Milk Producers Federation's Spotlight on Dairying award in 1959.

"Bill was an anomaly to Philadelphia - a country guy, a real genial hick," said Herb Clarke, retired WCAU weatherman and newscaster. "He was a warm communicator, and nothing flustered him."

Mr. Bennett for a time owned a farm in Lederach, Pa.

Unknown to most of his viewers, Mr. Bennett maintained a farm of sorts, almost a zoo, on WCAU's back lots.

"He had a lot of little buildings left over from when WCAU produced a live cowboy show on the back lot," Clarke recalled. "Bill kept goats and sheep and pigs and chickens and even a donkey or two there."

The donkey was known to viewers as "Mr. Williams."

When CBS bought the station and brought in a young station manager, Mr. Bennett's farming ways produced one of the station's most humorous moments, Clarke said.

The station manager had ordered a "new, brilliant white wool rug for his office floor," Clarke said. "He was sitting at his desk when in comes this character in knee-high boots coated with all kinds of stuff. He strode right across the new carpet and stuck out his hand and said, 'Hi, I'm Bill Bennett.' "

The manager simply responded, "I knoooow, I knoooow," Clarke said.

For the most part, Mr. Bennett's personality was a winning one.

"People delighted in knowing Bill Bennett," Clarke said. "He was just a down-to-earth guy who enjoyed his animals, digging in the earth and people."

After he finished his morning program each day, Mr. Bennett returned to his full-time job. He also taught at the Saul School of Agriculture in Philadelphia for more than 20 years.

He was a graduate of Delaware Valley School of Agriculture, then called the Farm School, outside Doylestown; Oregon State University, where he received his bachelor's degree in dairy husbandry and horticulture; and Penn State, where he received his master's degree in dairy husbandry, specializing in reproductive physiology and agricultural biochemistry.

A Navy veteran of World War II, he was a seaman first class on the South Dakota for four years, including when the battleship was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. He served in 11 major engagements.

After retiring from teaching and television, Mr. Bennett traveled extensively. He started with a bus journey across New Zealand, stopping in small towns and striking up numerous acquaintances.

He is survived by a son, Adam; brothers Robert Bennett and Edward Bershtein; and several nephews and nieces.

Funeral services will be held at 1:30 p.m. today at the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery Chapel, Providencetown Road, Arneytown.

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