We’ll miss Bennie,
he was an original

Dec 2, 2003 7:42 AM

THIS TOWN WAS FULL OF GUYS. But we’re losing them, one by one. The latest to check out was Bennie Abrams.

I got word that Bennie had passed on while on a trip to Philadelphia. A native of Omaha, he was laid to rest last week in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

Bennie was part of the downtown crowd that included, among others, Don McKinney, also known as The Duck, Coco Torogian, and Johnny Quinn

The fellows liked to congregate in downtown bet shops like the Union Plaza, the Rosebowl and Santa Anita sports books and the Frontier, where they bet their money and told stories ”” very colorful ones ”” until their nag came in.

The Duck, now 90, liked to tell a story involving Bennie and a trick they played on Coco, who were both from Omaha.

It went something like this: Bennie used to spend most of his betting dollars downtown. He was in good standing with Jackie Gaughan and had an ongoing comp at the Union Plaza. He and Coco Âí­always hung out together.

Well, anytime Bennie had a meal on the cuff, he would leave a tip at the table and immediately head back to the race book to get down to business. Usually he called back to Coco to sign the tab.

Coco did as he was told, but it always made him Âí­nervous. After all, he wasn’t the big bettor, Bennie was. He worried that if he signed all the time his bets might not justify the bill. And, he was always willing to share his worries with anyone who’d listen.

One day a bunch of us guys were sitting around in Johnny Quinn’s office at the Plaza race book. During the conversation, Coco’s name came up and I commented on how nervous he was when he signed Bennie’s check the other night.

One thing led to another and Bennie hatched an idea. We were going to send Coco a bill for all of the comps he had signed! We had Johnny Quinn get us some Plaza stationary and created a letter telling Coco he had gone over his comp limit by $1,250. He was requested to pay up with a check.

Every day after the letter was mailed, Bennie would head over to Coco’s apartment to handicap horses and wait for the mailman. After a couple of days it showed up.

"Coco was nervous. Why are they sending me a Âí­letter?" he asked his buddy, Bennie.

"It’s probably from Frank Scott," suggested Bennie. Âí­"Remember, we sent over some of those nice Omaha steaks we got for him and his wife. Go ahead, open it."

Coco did just that. He turned red, started pacing up and down and sputtered, "This is an outrage. What am I going to do? I told you guys I shouldn’t sign. They want $1,250. I don’t have that kind of money! What am I going to do?"

It was all we could do from laughing hysterically. Bennie suggested he go see Johnny Quinn, which he did.

Johnny played it straight. He told Coco he would talk to Jackie Gaughan and try to find out what the problem was. Johnny said he was sure there was some sort of mistake.

We let him stew for a couple of days and then Johnny told him that everything was straightened out and he didn’t owe the money.

After that, Bennie said that anytime they ate together Coco would protest having to sign the comp slip. But he did, nonetheless. I guess he enjoyed the free grub! Bennie was a character with a great sense of humor. But he was much more.

I recall one year when the National Order of Battlefield Commissions convention was held in Las Vegas. A battlefield hero, Colonel Ben Cohen, also from Omaha, told me that he attributed much of his wartime exploits, including fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, to his days growing up in Omaha.

In fact, Col. Cohen gave credit for his toughness to Bennie Abrams. "I busted Bennie three times ... every time he got to the rank of PFC," the colonel told me. "He was a character, but I learned a lot from him."

We all learned a lot. We’ll all miss him.

Bennie Abrams was preceded in death by his parents, Rose and Samuel; brothers, Harry, Alan and William; sisters, Dorothy, Bertha and Evelyn. He is survived by son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Gloria Abrams, of Hawaii; 3 grandchildren, Brenden, Jennifer and Dulcie; brother, Erwin Abrams, of Calif.; many nieces and nephews.

Graveside services were held Nov. 26 at Pleasant Hill Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials are requested to Rose Blumkin Jewish Home or Jewish Family Service.