James Raymond Benedict was born in Lansing, Michigan, a few months prior to America's involvement in World War Two.   Jim's father Ray was a motorcycle officer with the Lansing Police Department while his mother Verna was a nurse.  Jim has one younger sister, Jeanie.

As WTVT's Ernie Lee said, "fishing is good 'fer ya!"
Young Jim in the early 1950's.

The Benedicts moved south to Tampa in 1945 when Ray accepted a job with Hillsborough County's traffic court and the driver's school operated in connection with the court.  He also worked with the Department of Traffic Safety of the county Sheriff's office. 

Ray went full-time with the Sheriff's Department in 1947. In addition to his regular duties Ray used his talents with ventriloquism and a wooden pal named 'Johnnie McSafety' to educate area children on the dangers of city traffic and potentially harmful strangers. 

In 1949, Jim's family moved to Tallahassee for Ray's new job setting up the Accident Records Bureau at the Florida Highway Patrol.  Upon completion of Ray's work for the FHP in 1950, the Benedicts returned to Tampa and Ray resumed his work at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department.  The Benedict family moved into a two-story house at 405 N. Westland Avenue, just north of Grand Central Avenue between Howard and Armenia.  

Ray's position on the force involved hazardous duty, something his doctor advised against when the veteran officer experienced heart problems.  "Dad's doctor had told him after his second heart attack that if he didn't slow down, he could have a fatal one…but slowing down wasn't in his vocabulary," relates Jim. 

Ray later joined Florida's Beverage Enforcement Department, an agency with wide-ranging responsibilities that kept him on the road away from home for long periods of time.  With his father often gone and his mother working long hours as a nurse, Jim and sister Jeanie became independent, self-sufficient youngsters.  Jim inherited his Dad's work ethic and soon had his own paper route.


DOWNTOWN TAMPA in the 1950's

In the early 1950's Tampa and St. Petersburg were on the verge of becoming powerhouse Florida municipalities.  Although the cities were well served by newspapers and radio stations, television was still a few years off.  So Jim and his friends would do what all kids did before television…create their own fun. 

"We didn't have TV," recalls Jim.  "We had to amuse ourselves.  In the summertime we'd go out about eight o'clock in the morning and play baseball all day at West Pines Playground behind Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory.  We'd come home, have dinner, go to bed, and do the same thing the next day.  We used to get on our bikes and ride down Memorial Highway to Tampa Bay.  Everything west of Dale Mabry was a two lane road with woods on both sides.  There was a Phillip's 66 station at the corner of West Shore and Memorial Hwy.  We'd swim about where the Howard Frankland Bridge started in the sixties.  At the time this area was all wooded."  


Jim was a member of Boy Scout Troop 4, attended First Christian Church and went with his pals to the movies in downtown Tampa every Saturday morning at nine.  Ray Benedict made sure the boys knew the right bus connection by riding the stops and routes with them first.  Saturday matinees at Tampa's Florida Theater included two feature films, a serial, some cartoons…and contests on stage.