Cover photo for Benjamin David Phipps's Obituary
Benjamin David Phipps Profile Photo
1933 Benjamin 2023

Benjamin David Phipps

April 13, 1933 — March 29, 2023

Benjamin D. Phipps - contractor/developer, Bakersfield planning commissioner, city council candidate, entrepreneur, husband, father and grandfather - died suddenly on March 29. He was 89. During his most active period, Ben was a City of Bakersfield planning commissioner beginning in the late 1970s and Bakersfield City Council Ward 4 candidate in 1980, losing by just a few hundred votes. Beginning in 1983, he was also the last operator of the renowned Rancho Bakersfield Motel, restaurant (Benjamin's) and bar, which closed for good in 1990. With more than 240 rooms, it was at the time the third largest motel in the city, trailing only the Bakersfield Inn and Red Lion (now DoubleTree Hotel). A tireless worker and cunning, creative, stern businessman, Ben overcame the extreme poverty into which he was born on April 13, 1933 in Henryetta, OK to Robert Lee and Nellie Irene Phipps. His father, a truck driver, abandoned the family that year, leaving Nellie Phipps to raise three children on her own. She joined her father Virgil Townsend and other extended members of the family to look for farm labor work in California in 1942, becoming some of the last Dust Bowl migrants. Settling in Delano, Ben worked alongside his mother, brother Bob and sister Hazel picking cotton, grapes and any other crop requiring labor. After graduating Delano High School, he joined the newly formed U.S. Air Force in 1951, receiving basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX with orders to ship out to Hickam AFB in Honolulu, HI, serving as a chef/baker. Raised in an environment of hard, physical labor, Ben routinely earned extra money taking on weekend shifts at base for airmen who wanted time off. It was at the base and Scofield Barracks that Ben met the very Catholic Lillian Mary-Margaret Croteau, a weather technician four years his senior, whom he would marry and love for the next 64 years, beginning in January 1956. Together they would raise four sons and enjoy two grandsons. Upon discharge, Ben and his new bride remained in Delano for only a month before moving to Bakersfield. With their first child Steven arriving in January 1957, Ben began working a series of jobs in an effort to establish his financial footing. Like many men of his era, he held multiple positions into the early 1960s, including warehouse worker for Fedway, milkman for Wayne's Dairy and as insurance salesman for New York Life. On the side, he worked construction and would occasionally help pour cement in his suit from N.Y. Life. With his youthful energy, Ben worked tirelessly to support a growing family that included sons Richard and Ronald, arriving in 1958 and 1961, respectively. Eventually, he studied for and received his contractor's license in the mid-1960s with the intent of never having to answer to another employer again. Beginning with commissioned work and Lillian's salary from the U.S. Post Office, together the couple began saving enough money to purchase and renovate multiple duplex, triplex and four-plex apartment buildings and single-family homes around Bakersfield. In the early 1970s, he opened his construction/development company Five-Star Enterprises, naming it after his now-four sons, with himself and Lillian as the star on top. Over time, he expanded his construction business to include commercial and industrial developments as well, including a car wash, strip mall, office buildings and small warehouses. An avid cook, Ben' purchase of the aging Rancho Bakersfield allowed him to expand his horizons into restaurant ownership, which he had always wanted to try. He worked alongside his chefs to develop classic American diner recipes to serve hungry patrons. In later years, Ben flipped houses with the help of his oldest son Steve as he slowed his pace to spend more time at home. Almost daily, he complained about Lillian cheating at cribbage, while suffering a few of his own "miscounts" in the scoring process. They would also routinely compete for who had the lowest blood pressure. Ben is survived by his four sons - Steven, Richard, Ronald and Robert - as well as his daughters-in-law Michelle and Alison Phipps, grandsons Randy and Ryan, sister Hazel, and several nieces and nephews. The Phipps family would like to thank staff with the Veteran's Administration medical clinic, as well as Dr. Sam Ratanyake for their gentle handling of Ben's sometimes prickly demeanor during medical visits. The family especially thanks and appreciates the outstanding and compassionate care provided by caregivers: Isabel Garcia, Naomi Martinez, Judy Luquingan, Rogean and Mae Agatep, and Marilyn Naz with Guardian Home Care.
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