Luther woman dedicates bench 43 years after mother's murder

LUTHER — With friends and loved ones gathered in support for Victoria Bennett on a beautiful sunny day, with late May flowers perfuming the air, something beautiful took place at North Park Cemetery, bringing some light and peace for the decades of tears and questions when her mother, Diane Chorba, was taken from then 13-year-old Bennett on May 24, 1979 — changing the young girl's life forever. 

Fourty-three years after the murder of Chorba by Clarence Oliver "Ollie" Bean, both of the Luther area, a conversation bench was dedicated in her memory by Bennett, offering a tribute to her mother and all the loved ones who passed in Bennett's immediate family — a place symbolizing where the conversations and love can continue. 

Chorba's body has never been found, and although Bennett has placed a bench in honor of her mother, the search through the area woods continues, with a lead Bennett and law officials will be checking out — offering hope in the long quest to find her mother's body. 

Chorba was 30 years old and pregnant with Bean's second child when she disappeared. After her disappearance, Bean told Bennett and her father, Ernie Chorba, that Diane was in the fatal crash American Airlines 191 in Chicago, however, her remains were never found. 

About half a year later, Bean moved his family to Oregon, where he was arrested and transported back to Michigan in 2001. He was convicted second-degree of murder of Chorba, on confession of his wife, Judy, who told police Bean shot Diane, and drove her to the burial site at the end of a road. She further testified, with Bean owning a pulpwood business, he cut a tree stump down upon Chorba's body. The court case was unusual, as there was lack of a body, but he was sentenced to prison, where he died about a decade-and-a-half later.

During the dedication of the conversation bench, Pastor Jerry Gomez, of Cherry Grove Church of the Nazarene, offered prayer and some words of comfort. 

"Diane was a very fun loving easy going type of woman," he said. "You look at a little girl and a little girl tells you stories as she is dancing and twirling around. But when she becomes a woman, a lot of times that little girl is lost. And for a dad, you always want to see the little girl come back. I have a feeling Diane didn't lose that sense of the little girl, laughing and telling jokes, memories of being in the woods, searching for morels. She was a person with a peace about her.

"So as we we're talking, everyone knows that she is not here. Really, none of these people are here," he said, referring to the family burial plot with Ernie, Diane and their daughter, Kama, who died as a little girl in 1974. "These are just places to hold a that which we're made out of."

"C.S. Lewis said we're not a body with a spirit; we are a soul that has a body. I do look at the bench. I see what a beautiful bench this is. And really, the bench has a story. This whole area has a story. This tree represents Victoria's sister, who passed away when Victoria was 8. Her mother planted this tree. Victoria's brother passed away when he was younger too, and her dad passed away, so this bench is really a place to have that conversation." 

After, Bennett's friend Cindy Holmes offered some words. 

"My heart breaks with you and for you in your journey to find closure. I believe this bench will provide some closure, but hopefully sooner rather than later you'll be able to place your mom here," Holmes said. "You are one of the strongest people I know. I am so sorry your mom was taken from you so very long ago."  

Tara Henson, another friend of Bennett's, read a touching poem. 

Then, Bennett presented a guitar given to her when she was 8, by the late Carlyle Avery, who was best friends with her parents, and also worked in the pulpwood for Bean in the 1970s, to Avery's daughter, who was present at the ceremony. The daughter spoke about some of the memories of the friendship between the two families, and played a song the Chorba family always requested Avery to play, "Daisy a Day," a 1970s country folk ballad. 

The tribute to Chorba was dismissed in prayer, and Bennett thanked everyone for gathering for the special occasion, and letting them know, even though this bench was placed in honor of her mother, the search for her body continues. Bennett also wants her own story with her mother to bring hope to other families who have missing loved ones — to never give up.