Jefferson Award winner inspires through art - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Jefferson Award winner inspires through art

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BELOIT (WKOW)  -- Ben Henthorn had to medically retire from the Air Force in his mid 20's, just a few years after enlisting.

"I passed out on the flight line. They diagnosed me with epilepsy and a condition like that disqualifies me for worldwide service."

His plan for a military career changed in an instant.

After years of struggling to find a job that suited him and a bad motorcycle accident,

"I was diagnosed as severe clinical depressed. I found myself being a recluse in my home."

Ben needed something to bring him back to life.

"I just need a place to go. I need to feel needed."

The Beloit Fine Arts Incubator became that place.  

"Art was a way of getting to my voice."

Ben knew he could help others find their voice too.

The incubator is a non-profit that showcases the work of emerging artists.

It also offers classes and affordable studio space.  

But eight years ago, when Ben first went there, it was struggling to stay open.  

"I was frustrated coming down here and the door being closed, no regular hours , no consistency. And I said, 'That I can do. "

Ben made it his mission to be at the incubator every day,  with his service dog Lucy at his side, to keep the doors open.

Board President Jerry Sveum says, "He was the stabilizing force of the incubator. I dont know if we'd be open today if it wasn't for him. The spirit that he brings to it is phenomenal."

Ben volunteers 20 hours a week, helping artists and visitors of all ages, planning fundraisers, even teaching classes for kids.

"Don't be afraid of art. There's not too many straight lines in nature," says Ben.

Ben is also a really big part of preparing for the shows and they change every month.

So as part of his volunteering, he takes down the artwork, patches up the walls and puts up the new pieces.

"He's the color and the heart and soul of the incubator," says Sveum.

"It's spreading the benefit that I've received over the years onto other people," says Ben.

That's what makes Ben Henthorn our Jefferson Award winner for March. 

For more on the shows, classes and studio space offered at the Beloit Fine Arts Incubator, click here.

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