Ben Ewell grew up on a small farm near Brighton, Ohio, 45 miles southwest of Cleveland in Lorain County. One of five children, with three brothers and one sister, over the past seven decades Ewell has dealt with tragedy, love and divorce, all of which are highlighted in his new book, Sunday Afternoons and Other Times Remembered, released June 13.
“[Our family] had a normal farm life, with four boys, something chaotic was always going on,” Ewell explains. “We had a race car, we had a jalopy. Then my older brother, Dale, got into flying and he used to land his airplane in a beanfield to the west of our house.”
Eventually Ewell, and his three brothers, would go on to attend Miami University in Oxford. After graduation, he moved to California to pursue a law degree. “I’d never been west of Indiana,” Ewell said. “I hitched a ride, answered an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about rides to California if you paid for gas and helped drive.”
Ewell wound up in San Francisco, more specifically Haight-Ashbury, in the 1960’s. “I lived on Central and Ashbury. One set of neighbors was the Grateful Dead. Just about everybody in the music business, all lived in that area at the time,” he recalled.
After Ewell received his J.D. from UC Hastings College of Law, he moved to Fresno. He was active in law and politics, serving as Ronald Reagan’s campaign chair for the Central Valley in California. Ewell was then appointed to the U.S. Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C.
Trials and tragedies
Ben married his first wife and had two children. Then three things happened that forever altered his life and provided fodder for his writing. First, his marriage went sideways and after several years of hearings, Ewell was awarded full custody of his two sons. He was simultaneously taking care of them, practicing law and working on the development of a building project.
On Easter Sunday 1992, Ewell’s brother, Dale, sister-in-law and niece were found murdered in their home. He said, “I got a call from a district attorney, who I deal with in politics, he basically said, ‘Ben, I hope you’re sitting down because I’ve got some news for you.’” The investigation into the murders would last three years, followed by another three years of trials and hearings. In the end, four perpetrators were convicted, one of which was Ewell’s nephew.
In another tragic event, Ewell’s father’s home exploded and was destroyed by a fire. “We never were sure what happened,” he said. “There was a sump pump in the basement, and he had a little Briggs & Stratton engine hooked into the pump. The thinking is that he went down there and tried to pour gasoline into the tank of the engine and it exploded.” After being kept alive on a ventilator for several months, Ewell’s father passed away.
Stay on the train
To describe and relate those ups-and-downs, Ewell uses a train as a metaphor for life. “You’re headed toward the station, and there’s people, they get on, they get off. Sometimes it goes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes it’s rough, others it’s smooth,” he said. “The idea is to stay on the train and head toward the station.”