A gala for the eyes

AKRON, Ohio — Cars routinely inch by David Benn's home in Akron, Ohio's, Kenmore area. Sometimes they come to a complete stop. The passengers gawk and point, but that's exactly how Benn wants it. So don't be shy about stopping out front and taking in the scenery.

It's a gala for the eyes. On the roof is a pair of mammoth fiberglass lips that serve as a chair to Kermit the Frog and a giant chicken head. There are signs advertising coney dogs and fresh eggs, bicycles galore, a very cool mailbox and a painting, by Benn, on the roof that offers a reward for his lost dog, Maggie.

It seems that the pug-beagle mix that used to live on top of the house during daylight — and indoors at night — disappeared in early June. Benn suspects that someone who didn't approve of Maggie's roof-top resort kidnapped the pooch.

"This is Camp David," Benn tells visitors, swinging his arm over the landscape.

The 62-year-old retired from Akron schools in November. For 36 years he taught art and readily jokes about what a kick it was to get paid for having fun. When Goodrich Middle School closed a couple of years ago, Benn moved some of the contents of his classroom into his living room, which are now piled beneath a chandelier fit for an estate.

His ranch-style home is packed with loads of odds and ends. Beautiful paintings and a genre of funky artwork. What makes up the man is a mix of his surroundings — mostly fun with a bit of seriousness thrown in for good measure.

Stuck to the mirror in his downstairs bathroom is a multitude of Post-it notes, scribbled with religious messages.

"Overcome evil with God," reads one, stuck to the mirror just a couple of feet away from a picture of Lady Gaga.

"Oh yeah, God is on my roller coaster," Benn said of his love for Christ.

The divorced father of three got his artistic ability from his late pop, Jack, who was a painter.

"My mom? She was a knucklehead," he said, joking.

Grandma, or granny as some called her, was Ellen Benn, a woman who was known as Kenmore High School's No. 1 Fan. So much so that the football coach used to send someone to pick her up on game nights in a school bus. And on her 80th birthday, upwards of 1,000 people showed up for a surprise party.

During a recent visit to his home, Benn was sporting blue polish on his toenails. While on vacation last summer he bought his teenage daughter a how-to book about nail polishing.

"Get out here and paint your daddy's toenails," he told her.

She painted them purple with yellow flowers.

"They looked so cool. It got people laughing. And I like to make people smile," he said.

Benn's scenery paintings are extraordinary. Saying that though, there are plenty of offbeat pictures — such as the one of his mother's toenails, one foot painted black, the other red. He painted them Kenmore's school colors when Granny was in the hospital. She died in 2006, at the age of 89.

When he was a student at Kenmore, Benn played football, where he was teammate to quarterback Don Plusquellic. Later, he received a scholarship to West Virginia University where he played outside linebacker and majored in art.

"Now, that's an oxymoron," teased his pal, Alan Fraser who was visiting from Ocracoke Island, N.C. "It's kind of like — take your helmet off and paint a beautiful picture."

Benn made up his mind a long time ago that if he couldn't be a head football coach then he would be an artist.

As far as his house, which sits on six city lots, he encourages people to swing by and take a look at his outdoor canvas, which routinely changes.

"My house does what I want it to do," he said. "I think that's one of my mission's in life — to slow people down."

And enjoy the scenery.

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