Sentry founder, publisher, community advocate
By Janet Wilson
Anita Bennyhoff, who founded the Foothills Sentry newspaper and used it to steadfastly defend Orange County’s rural areas for 44 years, has died. Bennyhoff, 82, passed unexpectedly but peacefully at her long-time Orange Park Acres home on May 13.
Family, friends, neighbors and Sentry followers remembered her at a memorial service, May 25, held at Salem Lutheran Church in OPA. About 300 people attended the service that celebrated Anita’s passion for her newspaper, her community and her family.
Anita was a fierce defender of the community, where she had resided since 1968, and about nearby unincorporated areas. She was a leader in efforts to minimize developer impact on the country character, using her monthly newspaper to keep horse trails open, residents informed and politicians on their toes.
Close to home
Years before ultra-local news sites and bloggers began proliferating online, she and her husband Bob Bennyhoff provided a reliable mixture of peppery libertarian editorials, local restaurant reviews and society news, alongside detailed reports on school and water district funding fiascos, fire authority shenanigans and city and county dealings. Even state and federal agencies didn’t escape their scrutiny.
They were particularly concerned about unabated proposals to develop their beloved foothills. They attended hundreds of zoning and planning meetings, and sometimes published detailed blueprints of projects on the front page.
Neighbors, old friends and even officials who sometimes found themselves on the wrong end of her pen recalled Bennyhoff with respect and affection.
“I could always count on Anita to be there, camera around her neck, smiling and bubbly,” said current Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer. “She was always there, always covering the news.”
He added of the Sentry, “The fact that you have an independent paper that covers news the dailies can’t is very important. It helps keep our cohesive community spirit going.”
“She was a committed journalist, covering what she cared about fervently,” said former supervisor and assemblyman Bill Campbell. “She will be missed very, very much.”
Bennyhoff was born Anita Kathryn Robertson on Sept. 21, 1930 in Kuttawa, Kentucky. She moved to Anaheim with her family as a child and grew up there, attending Anaheim High School and Fullerton Junior College. Her father owned an orange grove and also worked in real estate. After attending Fullerton Junior College, she went to work at the Anaheim Gazette, where she met Bill Gregory, who was her first husband. They married and had four children.
In 1968 they bought the three-bedroom, three-bath, 3,000-square-foot house in Orange Park Acres. She and Bill eventually divorced amicably, and were still neighbors on Morada Drive until her death.
Concerned by encroaching sprawl, she and Jeanette Kvinge, a neighbor, started the “Common Talk” newsletter in 1969. There was a gardening column, but their prime objective was to keep neighbors informed of current and future development proposals. Bennyhoff pressed her children into service to deliver the newsletter, usually on horseback. “It was her fifth child,” said her daughter Gretchen Cox, of Fullerton.
In 1978, Anita married Bob Bennyhoff, a UPI foreign correspondent, who she met while she worked at the OC Register.
Common Talk became the Foothills Sentry, and for more than a quarter century Bob and Anita were an inseparable team. When Bob died in 2004, Anita kept the paper going with enthusiasm.
Circulation swelled to nearly 50,000, and residents in North Tustin, Villa Park, Silverado, Modjeska and the city of Orange relied on her no-nonsense reports.
In addition to Cox, she is survived by daughters Lesley Gregory of Temecula; Allison Dietz of Austin, Texas; grandchildren Chelsey, Taylor, Ruby and Abraham; sister Marion Heiden of Anaheim; three nephews and their families; and Sweet Pea, the Sentry’s mascot. Besides her husband Bob, Anita was preceded in death by her daughter, Amanda Joyner.
Following Anita’s memorial service, guests were invited to a reception/lunch hosted by the Orange Park Association and the OPA Women’s League. Food was provided by Da Bianca, Wise Guys, Rockwell’s, the Villa and OABB 4-H Club.