To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.
Retired Air Force Colonel Benjamin G. Neff died peacefully at his home in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. on April 7 after a short illness. He was 93. Born March 29, 1925 in Newville, Pa., he was the son of Clinton and Lillian Neff and was raised in a loving family with four doting sisters, Charlotte, Evelyn, Daisy and Ursula. He was always industrious as a young man growing up in a small town. He worked in his father’s barber shop, played the trombone in both the high school band and in community groups, and worked as a deli clerk at the grocery store. In 1944, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet. During his Air Force career, he was a bomber pilot, flying B-47s and his aviator call sign was Hot Dog 2. The Neff family was stationed numerous places including Nebraska, Alabama, New York, Virginia and Pakistan. His last assignment was at the Pentagon and he retired in 1971 after 28 years. He was a member of the American Legion Post 235 and the Daedalians, a fraternal order of American military pilots. Ben held a bachelor of science from Florida Southern College and a master of science in education from Hofstra University. When he retired from the Air Force in 1971, Ben taught elementary school for 15 years in Fairfax County Public Schools (Va.). One of few men teaching, he was often assigned the tough kids because he was gruff, yet kindhearted and friendly. Ben married Rena in 1949 in her grandfather’s church in Bristol, Fla. He was her best friend, inspiration and rock for 63 years of marriage. Ben and Rena retired to Shalimar in 1993 from the metro Washington, D.C. area. Longtime members of Shalimar Presbyterian Church, they designed and dedicated a stained-glass window in the sanctuary of what is now Shalimar Community Church. Survivors include his devoted daughters, Anita Vasquez (James) of Shalimar and Karen Kitzel (Brad) of Frederick, Md.; loving grandchildren Ben Pierce (Jessie) of Severna Park, Md.; Gregg Cowan (Cortney) of Raleigh, N.C.; Tina Duncan of Winterville, N.C.; step-grandchildren Kate Kitzel of Atlanta, Ga. and Ben Kitzel of Pensacola, Fla.; and seven beautiful great-grandchildren including Brooke, Courtney and Holly Pierce; Will and Kate Cowan; and Kameron and Jack Duncan; and many wonderful nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife, Warrena (Rena), daughter, Lee Neff Givens and grandson, Daniel Vasquez. Ben appreciated his many good friends and neighbors, the staff at The Meridian at Westwood, his home for the past four years; and the recent care from Regency Hospice. A private family service will be held at Heritage Gardens Cemetery in Niceville, Fla. with interment next to his wife and daughter. You may go online to offer condolences or sign the guestbook at www.heritagegardensfuneralhome.com. If you wish, a donation in Ben’s memory can be made to Regency Hospice: www.regencyhospice.com/donate. Heritage Gardens Funeral Home of Niceville is entrusted with the arrangements.