As we virtually celebrated the IJA Festival last month, we honored the memory of Henry Benton, who typically spent most of the fest behind a camera lens. Henry passed away on March 14th in Florida after battling a non-smoker’s type of lung cancer, diagnosed last July.
Many jugglers remember Henry’s presence as an official IJA videographer, a job he took on in 2008 while also attending and filming regional festivals on the east coast to share on his YouTube channel. Henry helped film, process and organize the IJA festival footage for 12 consecutive years, fellow videographer Jay Ko said.
“Henry was a quiet man with the ability to notice a lot about other people,” recalled Shana Lenhert, a friend who first met him at the Fairfax, Va., juggling club. “The future will be different without him.”
Henry Watson Benton was born on June 3, 1971, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. His parents, Doug and Kathie Benton, raised him in Gaithersburg, Md., where Doug ran a dental practice with the family’s help.
Henry started working in his father’s office when he was 12, assisting with all aspects of the business, including making three-dimensional models of patients’ teeth, which fueled his interest in sculpture.
Henry attended Sandy Springs Friends School, a private Quaker school, followed by Frostburg State University, where he studied photography and sculpture to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Metal sculptures by Henry Benton. Photos courtesy of Kathie Benton.
When he graduated, the university asked him to design a metal sculpture for the campus mall, but he declined. “They were going to put a big sculpture up,” his mother, Kathie, said. “But he said he didn’t want his name on anything. He was too shy.”
Fortunately, his love of kinetic sculpture was well known to the IJA community, in the form of kendama, Rubik’s cubes, handheld puzzles, and ‘the big screen,’ a curved rectangular surface that allowed him to create mesmerizing patterns with rolled silicone balls.
Henry taught himself to juggle when he was 13 years old. He had already been juggling for a decade when his parents learned that it was part of their family history. Antoni Schafer, his great grandmother, who emigrated from Germany to the U.S. when she was 12, used to juggle oranges for the children in her neighborhood, Kathie said.
Henry’s incredible reflexes are on full display in this video, where he plays the juggling-adjacent arcade game ReRave at Disney World in 2017. Henry was a big fan of Disney theme parks, and documented many of their rides’ final days of operation on his YouTube channel The Magic Lives On.
It was at King’s Dominion amusement park in Virginia where Henry met Jimmy Robertson, who was working as a roving juggler there in the early nineties.
Jimmy said he taught Henry several new patterns and tricks, but figured he would be like most park guests who expressed interest in juggling, then failed to pursue it further. Five years later, he was surprised to see Henry at a juggling convention, and they remained friends ever since.
In 2011, Henry attended the European Juggling Convention in Munich, Germany. Before flying to Europe, he challenged his mom — who was serving as a caretaker for her aunt at the time — to learn how to juggle before he returned.
“I would throw the beanbags up in the air, and they would come crashing down,” Kathie said. “But at the end of two weeks, I could juggle for a hundred catches,” she said — an accomplishment not lost on her aunt. “She had Alzheimer’s, so she couldn’t remember the dropping,” Kathie recalled, laughing.
IJA championships director Viveca Gardiner remembered Henry’s kindness and professionalism.
“Henry often found himself in the middle of high-stress and emotional situations, like being among competitors as they first learned they didn’t place as they’d hoped,” she said. “Henry was always very considerate of the situation and made himself invisible while working right up close with us, and the IJA is richer for the results he produced.”
Emily Moore said she appreciated Henry’s dedication of waking up early to film the joggling events she organized. She also remembered gleaning inspiration from the festival DVDs he contributed to.
“After my first festival, when I spotted myself on the DVD, the young juggler in me was ecstatic at being recognized as part of the IJA. I’m sure many others have felt similarly when their accomplishments, big or small, have been captured on film,” she said. “We have Henry to thank for a lot of those special moments.”
Brian Koenig recalled Henry’s omnipresence as a videographer: “I genuinely can’t think of an event at the last few IJAs that he wasn’t present to document, whether that was very late night gym antics or workshops with three people,” he said. “He always knew where to be and was a huge part of making the festival videos great.”
Up until his passing, Henry worked for real estate companies in Maryland, West Virginia and Florida — where he moved in 2013 — to produce photos, videos and other digital media for realty sales. Doug and Kathie said their son could fix anything, and was so computer-savvy that they never had to worry about their own technological shortcomings.
Kathie said she always enjoyed going to juggling conventions and theme parks with Henry, and that his juggling had connected them to people worldwide. During one visit to Berlin, she and her husband noticed a juggler performing near the Brandenburg Gate.
“I said to Doug, the juggler’s creed is to take care of one another. We should go watch his show and put money in the hat,” she said.
When they spoke to the performer after the show, they were amazed to learn that he knew Henry.
“There we were, in the middle of Germany — complete strangers — and there was a connection because Henry knew so many jugglers,” she said. “He was a joy of our life. I’ve always loved juggling because of Henry.”
Several jugglers shared their tributes to Henry for this article. Their words are printed below. Feel free to add your own memories and tributes in the comments.
I just assumed that the IJA was going to be cancelled this year. Even worse, I won’t get a chance to be with Henry any more. He gave so much of his time to the IJA as a videographer. I remember using his puzzles that he brought. I liked rolling balls around in his repurposed TV screen that he lugged around. Heck, I just enjoyed having him as a friend. He will be missed.
Jim Koschella, Massachusetts
Henry was an important part of the area’s juggling community. He used to bring curved tables to our club and demonstrate patterns of roll-juggling. Then he was a videographer, always at the Congress of Jugglers. I enjoyed talking with him whenever we met. If you want an example of “Life is unfair”, this is it. RIP Henry.
Barry Sperling, Virginia
Henry was a member of the Fairfax Jugglers for a number of years when he lived in the DC area. He would bring some of the most interesting props to club to share with everyone. He brought an old projector TV screen to club sometimes, with its slight curve, and created juggling patterns by rolling balls across the surface, using the physics of the curved screen to roll them back.
He also had a large collection of Rubik’s cubes of varying sizes and dimensions,
and I am pretty sure he could solve them all. He would invite others to try out his toys, and the discussions surrounding them would always be intriguing.
Aside from the odd props, he was always up for passing clubs, and was undoubtedly a better juggler than I will ever be. But his willingness to explore new ways to manipulate objects, and expand on basic juggling skills, was absolutely a benefit to all the jugglers who had the pleasure of meeting him. His quiet enthusiasm, curious spirit, and willingness to serve will be remembered fondly by his many friends in the juggling community.
Kim Jordan, Virginia
I first met Henry when he was a guest at King’s Dominion and I was a roving juggler there with my partner, Todd Blair. Henry had just learned to juggle and was wanting some advice on clubs. We showed him a whole lot of different ball patterns that he had never seen before and gave him some advice on clubs and where he could get some good ones. We were super friendly, but figured he would be like thousands of other people who expressed interest, but never really did anything beyond that.
He came up to me at a convention about 5 years later and asked if we remembered teaching him all these things at King’s Dominion. I actually did remember him (which surprised me) and we were friends ever since.
I always thought he was a really nice guy and I loved when he brought a lot of his puzzles to juggling conventions (not that I could ever solve any of them, though). He was a genuinely nice guy and will be missed.
Jimmy Robertson, Georgia
Henry has been a behind-the-scenes enabler for our community. He’s been extremely generous with his own time, and dedicated to make sure others have a great experience. Some of the world records and group memories might not have been documented if it weren’t for Henry’s devotion.
I’ve been attending the IJA festivals since 2006, prior to which my parents bought me several IJA festival DVDs so I could see what IJA fests were like. After my first festival, when I spotted myself on DVD, the young juggler in me was ecstatic at being recognized as part of the IJA. I’m sure many others have felt similarly when their accomplishments, big or small, have been captured on film. We have Henry to thank for a lot of those special moments. We will all miss him greatly.
Emily Moore, Ontario, Canada
We remember Henry fondly. Henry was commonly seen with a video camera and a tripod at juggling festivals. He did the camera work for local festivals and even helped with the IJA videos. The joy of our recorded memories at these events is thanks, in part, to Henry.
I remember passing with Henry many times at the Chevy Chase Community Center outside of DC. We both enjoyed trading kendama tricks as well. Thinking of this sad news made me actually dust off my kendama and play around.
Henry was a fixture in the local DC juggling scene for years. I can remember that for many festivals he also brought along a giant curved TV screen for folks to play with, rolling silicone balls in various juggling patterns. Henry was at every local juggling festival, and at most IJA festivals as well, where he would often spend the week tent-camping off-site before rolling into the gym each day. Henry, you will be missed!
John and Kelly Chase, Maryland
To be honest, I only spoke with him a handful of times, but often it was me apologizing for being in his way because he had a perfect spot to film! I genuinely can’t think of an event at the last few IJA’s that he wasn’t present to document, whether that was very late night gym antics or workshops with 3 people. He always knew where to be and was a huge part of making the festival videos great. Just a really nice guy.
Brian Koenig, Ohio
Henry was a very gentle soul, and sacrificed much of his time at the annual IJA festival documenting the events on video. He was a genuinely nice guy and will be missed by many, including me.
Scott Cain, Ohio
While videotaping backstage during the IJA Juggling Championships Henry often found himself in the middle of high-stress and emotional situations, for example being among competitors as they first learned they didn’t place as they’d hoped, or I admit, being around the crew and me when technical rehearsals were behind schedule or otherwise difficult. Henry was always very considerate of the situation and made himself invisible while working right up close with us, and the IJA is richer for the results he produced. His passing is a great loss to the juggling community.
Viveca Gardiner, New York City
That is really sad. I have tons of Congress of Jugglers footage — and many other videos — that just wouldn’t exist without him.
Adam Schwarzwald, California
I didn’t know him very well, but it’s always been a delight to meet up with him at juggling conventions. He is one of those friends I always looked forward to meeting up with.
Heidi Thalman, Maryland
I met Henry when I lived in Virginia and became part of the Fairfax Juggling Club. Henry had been a member before moving away, but still managed to visit once in a while.
He was always there for the Maryland Congress of Jugglers festival. It was during one of those Congress festivals that Henry taught me how to use the kendama. We talked about the various levels of competition and how the national competitions were judged. He shared his interest in Rubik’s Cubes. I think that year he had 7 different kinds with him. I coaxed Henry into proving to me that he could, in fact, juggle more than three balls.
Most of you know that Henry was one of the videographers for the IJA festivals. He would spend most of the week ghosting around to all the workshops, getting shots from the competitions, and working with Jay at night to fix any time lapse camera poses. He would also spend time outside of that week putting those shots together with Jay’s for the DVD.
IJA was a good opportunity for the Fairfax Jugglers to gather together for photos with their club t-shirts. Many times, the group photo revolved around Henry’s break time during the week. He was always considered one of us.
Henry was a quiet man with the ability to notice a lot about other people. I miss him.
The last time I saw him was at IJA in June 2019. He had a slight cough that I commented on. “Must be some dust or something.” I had no idea it could be something as serious as lung cancer.
I have learned over the years to treasure moments with my friends. I have a lot of great memories of chatting with Henry and helping him with small errands during IJA. I will remember his quiet smile and small frustrations over lighting conditions. The future will be different without him.
Rest in Peace, Henry.
Shana Lenhert, Colorado
Article by Christian Kloc