Book to tell stories of Long Beach benches

Jeff Singer, the self-appointed "Long Beach Bench Mensch," is writing a book about the more than 700 benches lining the Long Beach boardwalk that have been dedicated and feature memorial plaques. Videojournalist: Patrick Whittle (Oct. 5, 2012)

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Jeff Singer sees Long Beach's memorial benches and imagines a story behind every resting place -- stories he wants to help tell.

Singer, a 69-year-old retired English teacher who lives across the channel in Oceanside, is working on a book about the people remembered on the city's 722 memorial benches. He got the idea while speed-walking along Long Beach's oceanfront boardwalk, where most of the benches are located.

"I would be looking and checking what the plaques said," Singer said. "It struck a chord."

Benches and plaques are purchased from the city and dedicated -- often to a deceased loved one. Singer estimates about 100 benches honor victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Long Beach officials are working with Singer to help him locate people who dedicated benches through the program, which began in the 1990s.

Singer -- who calls himself "the Bench Mench," using a Yiddish word that means "person of integrity" -- said his plan is "to contact everybody and get them to write 200 words." So far he has collected about 20 stories. The easiest tale to procure was the one about himself: He received a bench as a birthday present from his wife and children in 2002.

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Proceeds from the book -- which Singer said would double as a guide and map -- are to be donated to causes such as the Wounded Warrior Project and Sept. 11 victims' charities, Singer said. Some also will go to charitable foundations set up in the names of people memorialized with benches, he said.

Singer said the first installment of the book, which he hopes to finish by June, could include about 200 stories.

The city believes Singer's book will be a fitting tribute, said Mike Robinson, Long Beach's director of community development.

"It's a very emotional thing for people," Robinson said. "It's a symbol, it means a lot to them."

Greg Fried -- whose father Murray Fried and other family members are memorialized in a boardwalk bench -- told Singer about his late father, who owned a furniture store in Long Beach for about 30 years. Fried said Singer has a tall but rewarding task ahead of him.

"It'll be nice, for the people who lost relatives," Fried said, adding that Singer is "crazy for doing it" but "it will mean a lot to a lot of people."

Some of Singer's subjects won't be so easy to find. One bench is dedicated to "the Brooklyn Boys," and city records only show it as having been purchased by "the Brooklyn Boys." If the boys are actually from Brooklyn, that narrows the pool down to about 1.25 million people.

But Singer, undaunted, said the hunt is worth it.

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"There are many poignant thoughts," he said.

Singer can be reached atbenchmench@aol.com.

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