Today’s math assignment: Solve the equation:  If  (X) + (Y) = (Z) such that  (X) = Buzz Lightyear (the Toy Story movie’s astronaut), and (Y) = Buzz Aldrin (the real life Apollo 11 astronaut who walked on the moon’s surface this very month in 1969, 50 years ago), then how many subsets of shared common denominators between the lives of  (X) + (Y) can you find to equal the man who spells his name with only one (Z), and who ‘buzzes around our orbit’ here at St. Joseph Church—Buz Benza?

It’s a trick question, as our Buz, (A): is obviously not an astronaut, but a calm, gentleman-like career banker and family man with a keen intellect and mathematical mind, and, (B): no amount of people named Buzz (spelled with either one Z or two Zs) can ever add up to the one in our midst. Buz Benza, you see, is unique. He maintains and refreshes himself in both body and spirit by remaining physically active and spiritually alive. He has the reserved, business-like personality of a professional banker, yet is the antithesis of a ‘heartless-by-the-numbers’ kind of guy. That stereotype is so ‘out- of-this-world’ foreign to Buz, as he always remains grounded and down-to-earth. He keeps his eyes forever focused on his goals and higher purpose in life. WWJD is his motto: What Would Jesus Do?  He strives to see the world’s problems through the lens of differing viewpoints, and is measured at all times in his speech and thought processes. (Measured…hmmm, brings us back to the math)…

So, though you may find some similarities of coincidence throughout this short biographical summary of our Buz to the lives of the other two famous (X and Y ‘Buzzes’), the comparisons end there. The first similarity of coincidence you may find, however, has to do with the nickname itself. Buz’s real name is Sebastian. Since Buz’s fraternal twin brother, Frank, could not pronounce the name “Sebastian” when he was a child, it became Buster and Bus, until Buz’s wife, Pat, much later in life, dubbed him Buz with one Z, as “two are superfluous,” she felt. (Coincidentally, Buzz Aldrin’s sibling had the same problem with mispronunciation of the word brother, hence his Buzz nickname).

Our Buz was born to Italian Immigrants, Salvatore and Anna. “I want to give them credit for what they accomplished in their lives.” (That’s Buz, always giving credit where it’s due.)  He knows life was hard for them, his Dad a shipyard worker in New Jersey, and his mother, a dressmaker.  Buz grew up in a 5-story walk-up apartment in the Bronx of New York until his parents moved the family of 5 (a sister, 2 brothers, and the twins: Buz and Frank) to a home in Pelham Gardens, NY. (In typical Buz fashion, he rattles off from deep within his mathematical mind, all his siblings’ages, dates of their births, and other pertinent numbers.)  As for the twins, Buz is older by 15 minutes. Frank always joked that he kicked Buz out earlier “to check the weather.” They were a good balance. Buz teases, “I was the good twin.” He continues on with another family tale, recounting a story about his much older sister:  “She was the one that kind of raised us. When my twin and I were 4, my sister was 15.” He continues: “I guess, for my sister I was a little toy soldier to play with.”  (Gee, a ‘toy’ story—does it remind you of Buzz Lightyear?). Anyway, as this ‘Toy Story’ goes, when they moved to New York, his sister entered the twins in a local department store’s beauty contest, got them dressed, and Buz and his twin won! “I still have the silver trophy cup with our names on it, and 4 years old.” 

Beauty, again, entered his life when Buz was around the age of 16.  “God works in mysterious ways,” he says. His father passed away in February of 1947 (Buz quickly calculates here)…“at the age of 52.  It was a turning point in my life, as that is when I started dating the joy of my life,” his beauty, his future bride, Pat. As they say, it happened by chance, or in Buz’s case, by accident, a true accident on November 11th, 1947. Buz was playing football (as did Buzz Aldrin). It was a scrimmage game, with no helmet on his head. He ended up hitting his head hard, landing head-first into the player on the other team’s helmeted head. Buz was diagnosed with a resultant concussion. When home, the ‘dazed and confused’ Buz, ordered his twin to: “Get Pat!”  Frank, his twin, did proceed to get Pat, a neighbor, a guy named Pat…the wrong Pat! Buz insisted, “Get Pat…Pat Lynch!” She was one of the neighbor girls in their group that they hung around with. Though he hardly knew her, she came over, they bonded, and the rest became history—60 years of marital history, to be exact. (But, more on that romantic tale to follow: it was now time to concentrate on schooling and career.)

Buz attended public high school, Columbus High in NY with his twin, Frank, who ended up graduating 6 months after Buz. Frank failed an Italian class while Buz took Spanish, passed, and left high school ahead of his twin. “It seems I went to school all my life.”  He reminisces: “After high school, I went to New York University. Igraduated from Iona College and the Stonier College Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers, and the Advanced Management School, also at Rutgers University, achieving the equivalent of a Master’s degree.”  Buz also graduated from the American Institute of Banking (where he became President of the Westchester County Chapter of the American Institute of Banking). He also went to the Columbia Society of Real Estate Appraisers at Columbia University to get his certificate in that field.

As one would imagine, all this education landed Buz with many opportunities for prestigious positions within his chosen career path, as he moved up the rungs of the banking world’s ladder in New York. At one point, Buz was the youngest regional Vice President for the County Trust Company at the age of 42, a long climb from his first job as a messenger and file clerk at the Dollar Savings Bank in 1949. Buz was ambitious with his education goals, attending school 4 nights a week, taking the train after work at 18 years-old to NYU. He was also ambitious in those early years with his romantic goals. He and the then, Pat Lynch (the woman who came to his bedside to visit during his football concussion) had been dating since he was 16. When the Korean War broke out, Buz volunteered to go, as both he and his twin were summoned. (Yet another Buzz Aldrin coincidence, as Aldrin also served in Korea.) Buz went through basic training and leadership school, and OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. (This is so fitting of his personality: Buz Benza: “The Officer and a Gentleman!”) At any rate, it was 1953, when he and the love of his life tied the knot. Buz was still in the Army. They got married on a 3-day pass. He flew out for the big wedding in New Rochelle, NY where they danced to their song: “Too Young (To Really Be in Love). The Mass before the reception had 5 priests on the altar. (No waiting in line for communion at that wedding! Another coincidence:  there was no waiting in line either for Buzz Aldrin:  he took communion privately on the moon when he landed there in 1969.).  Anyway, back to earth for the rest of the story: Buz and Pat later left for the honeymoon suite at the Waldorf Astoria. When Buz returned to report back to base at Ft. Hood, Texas from hismoon-shot (the 3-day pass), he was considered AWOL on a technicality, as he was not supposed to be more than 50 miles away from Ft. Hood. Thankfully, his company punishment (that he decided to take, instead of going to trial) consisted of getting up at 5 a.m. daily for a month to report to his duty officer.

Career and marriage pressed on after the war, first in Texas and later in New York. Buz and Pat’s love blossomed, their union giving life to 5 children in 7 years. Life was good. When the County Trust Company later merged with the Bank of New York, Buz made a decision. After a 40-year-career in banking, he took an early retirement at the age of 57.

In July of 1982, Buz and Pat came looking to move to the quieter country life of NH from the hectic pace of city-life in NY. His twin, Frank, owned property in Woodstock, NH, and suggested they search out a place nearby, across a lake, as there was property for sale. “My Mom always wanted her twins to be together.” As luck would have it, they put in an offer and have been in Woodstock ever since. For 20 of those years, Buz and Pat would vacation in winters down to Florida’s Satellite Beach. (Hmmm, sounds like a place an astronaut would visit!) Satellite Beach is located right next to Kennedy Space Center where they would watch rocket launches from the front of their house. Their kids would come and visit too. “Family has been my whole life,” Buz proudly announces. At present, Buz has 11 grandkids and 9 great-grandchildren.

Buz has enjoyed many leisure activities with family, enjoying all the beauty that nature in the mountains has to offer. In the past, also in winter, he and Pat went skiing and snowmobiling. These days, he enjoys gardening in the spring, tennis and golf in the summer. He is literally ‘A Man For All Seasons,’ adding: “The sum of all my hobbies is my love of golf,” Buz has been playing the game since he was 14. He jokes, “I think I have more mileage on a golf cart than on a regular car.”  (Buz still drives at the age of 88, a Chevy Colorado truck.)  But, it is the game of golf that has sustained him in retirement, working at Jack O’Lantern for 10 years and now entering his 21st year at Owl’s Nest Golf Course off of Exit 28 as a starter and a ranger.

Golf has given him some perspective in life too. He tells how he doesn’t look to have the best cars or personal things in life. “I try to set an example primarily to live a good life according to the gospels. I’m hoping that I leave the world a better place than I found it. Just like on the golf course, you always replace your divots and fix your ball marks.” He believes everyone should share their 3 Ts: Time/Treasure/Talent. In Buz’s case, though, it’s Time as Treasurer and his Talent as such. Buz has served as Treasurer on more charitable organizations and committees than you can count, everything from Boy Scouts to the Red Cross.  He has continued to share that talent here at Saint Joseph Church, serving in the past as Chairman of the Finance Committee, and now as a Trustee of the Knights of Columbus. He also serves as an usher and greeter at the 10 o’clock Mass on Sundays. He requests many of those Masses for his beloved wife, Pat, who passed away in 2013 from pancreatic cancer. Their hearts will always be intertwined; they have been since the tender “Too Young” age of 16 years-old. He tells a story that illustrates their bond beautifully: “In 2004, Pat had a heart attack and was operated on at CMC for bypass surgery.” While visiting his wife there, Buz was told by doctors that he didn’t look so good himself. “We ended up being operated on in the same hospital within a day of each other for the same heart surgery.”  (Now, that’s two hearts that are one!)  He also is deeply saddened by the very recent loss of his twin, Frank. These two loves of his life are now buried in Woodstock under the same cemetery stone. He misses both of them dearly. Many years from now, Buz, will take that ‘giant leap’ into the unknown and join them. When he does, I’m willing to bet he’ll shout with joy at each ‘small step’ of the way: “To Infinity and Beyond!”  (That, my friends, you can take to the bank.)