Family and Educational Background:
Benjamin(Ben) Schiff was born, at home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on May 5, 1927. His parents, Harry and Molly Schiff, and his older siblings, Max and Sally, were delighted to welcome this blond, blue-eyed, bouncing baby boy to the family. When he was six years old, he attended PS 164 in Brooklyn, and later Montauk Junior High, also in Brooklyn. Later he attended The High School for the Performing Arts, a branch of which was then located on South Street in Manhattan, where for three years he specialized in photography. In 1976, Ben met and married the lovely Josephine Avone. She and Ben lived many happy and successful years together, until her death in 1999. Josephine's sister, Frances Avone, lives in Maspeth, and she and Ben are frequently seen worshipping at local churches and dining at area restaurants.
Like most high school youngsters of his day, Ben was expected to work part-time to help out with family finances. At first, he started a sidewalk business selling shopping bags. He also delivered telegrams for Western Union. Many of those telegrams contained sad wartime messages of injury, death, and missing person notices.
Because of his training in photography at the High School for the Performing Arts, Ben secured employment with the Associated Press in Manhattan, initially part-time as a photo messenger, delivering photographs to local newspapers. Later he was employed by AP as a full-time photo technician on the 3:00 p.m. to midnight shift. During his 45 years with the Associated Press, Ben had the opportunity to meet and photograph many famous people, some of whom were: Jacqueline Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Winston Churchill on the Queen Mary, Benny Goodman, Jack Benny, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, the Pope, and even bank-robber Willie Sutton. Although based in Manhattan, he traveled throughout the country on photographic assignments.
As Ben considered retirement from the Associated Press, he gave serious thought to how he might occupy his time and with which organizations he would like to volunteer. One of his choices was The Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps. For the past eighteen years, on a weekly basis, he has served as "the Radio Man," dispatching the ambulance to emergency calls, and maintaining open lines of communication with the ambulance crew, while they are on the road. He also served on the Executive Board of MVVAC as Treasurer and Secretary.
As a deeply religious man, Ben also chose to become a member of the Secular Franciscan organization. As an active member, he visits the sick, takes elderly people shopping, and performs other charitable acts for persons in need, like St. Francis of Assisi did. The organization also established a hot-line to maintain communication with the sick and homebound. He takes photos at organizational events, and produces a quarterly newsletter entitled, "The Torch."
Through the years, he has maintained his membership with the National Press Photographers and regularly attends seminars and educational updates. He is also an honorary member of the Mario Lanzo organization.
Some Final Thoughts . . .
When he was retiring from the Associated Press, a woman by the name of Heidi Schmeck, wrote on a portrait of the Pope: "Benny, a very nice guy and a terrific printer." When speaking of his long association with MVVAC, Ben said that he likes to be of service to others, especially in health related situations. Working with the young people at the ambulance corps gives him hope. He is encouraged by how successful many of these young volunteers have become in their lives and careers. He feels blessed to have this opportunity to serve his community.