Lunch with Marjorie: The art of living in Rockford

We enjoyed mesquite turkey wraps with cranberry cream cheese at Kiki B’s in Rockford. Our server, Natalia, from Uruguay, added ambiance in Kiki Benson’s upscale eatery. Kay Kentner and I recently spent 50 hours training for Stephen Ministry, an active listening ministry, and I wanted to explore what sparked that interest and to find out more about her art. She’s one of the artists featured in the new Jeanne Coe and John Hurley ArtRockford book.

“Did you draw as a kid?”

“Oh, yes. Grade school for sure. I would copy figures in pencil. I’ve always been fascinated by lines.”

She went to school in Rockford from sixth grade on. Before that, she lived in Olney, Ill., “The home of the white squirrel,” she said, with typical humor.

“I really got into painting: acrylics on stretch canvas. I do a little bit of everything; whatever hits me. I try to do different things. Some things are not as successful, but I like to give them a try. It fulfills me…adds a wonderful dimension to my life. If somebody else likes it, man, that’s great, but that isn’t necessary.”

“How do people respond?”

“Rockford is very conservative. We have a wonderful artist community. It’s been my experience that people come to a show or opening, and they really enjoy coming and seeing it, but they don’t necessarily purchase it or own it. We hear wonderful things. It makes you feel good. But it doesn’t pay my bills.” Her laughter is completely contagious.


“I can get very frustrated at times if I know what I want to do and can’t get there—and wipe it all out. That’s the beauty of acrylics, but it can be very frustrating.”

“Can you talk about your painting, ‘Union of our Spirits?’ It’s about your mom?”

“Well, loosely, everybody sees what they see in a painting. I don’t want to tell anybody what they should see. I see it as…I am kind of spiritual by nature, and I believe in an afterlife. I see…someday when we come together with those we have loved in life, with color and beauty…trying to capture that. It’s amazing how that was something that came together so quickly. Sometimes it’s almost a surprise.”

“You’re very Renoir,” I said. “Peachy coloring. I always think of you as a peach.”

“I love earth colors, using them all together. I love all the impressionists: Monet, Renoir. I love all of them.”

“Did you go to college?”

“Yes, always practical—respiratory therapy.”

“Was that fulfilling?”

“It was…because of the people. I really love people. And there was a practical side—making the money to get the kids through school.”

Our wraps arrived. We shared grapes (hers) and garlic chips (mine). She admired Natalia’s porcelain white cheeks. “Ah, youth,” Kay mused.

“What haven’t you done yet?”

“I’d like to take a cruise. We went to Russia last year…travel…places I haven’t been, I guess. Parasailing,” she added.

She has three adult children.

“The joys of your life?”

“Oh, yes. I tell them about children, ‘they drive you crazy now, but when you get to be my age, you realize that’s the most important thing you’ve ever done.’ It’s not that I did such a bang-up job. It’s just—what a responsibility, what an opportunity. But to see them become…citizens that are giving something back to the world…then it kind of makes sense. And grandchildren…it just goes on and on.”

“Kids today?”

“I think our kids are growing up so fast. Little girls are like…Britney Spears! That’s my age speaking. I don’t buy little girls’ clothes. There’s nothing out there. I’m kind of glad that I was raised when I was raised. It was a much simpler age. I don’t think we had the pressure that the kids these days have.”

We indulged in Kiki’s espresso brownie.

“You have to pause for this,” I advised.

“Um, um, oh my goodness. That isn’t even like a brownie; it’s hot fudge.”

“Why did you decide to be a Stephen Minister?”

“It was that 40 Days of Purpose thing. And I hear the clock ticking and see the sand going through. I almost died in a bad car accident. I had this sense of peace. I knew I wasn’t alone.”

She also fought a life-threatening infection.

“I guess…I want to give something back. I don’t want to live just for me.”

“This is the most serious I’ve ever seen you. You are usually laughing.”

“I live like that a lot.”

“I like both,” I said.

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the July 6-12, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!