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SHE LITERALLY SPREAD SWEETNESS IN HER WAKE

Every afternoon, Linda and Earl Bennett would drive off, dining destination unknown. Maybe Steve's Fountain View. Maybe Piccola Italia. Maybe Red Lobster.

One thing was certain. Linda Bennett would take her little drawstring bag. Inside sat a supply of A&W root beer barrels, sweet hard candies.

No one knows why she started. But for 10 years, Mrs. Bennett pressed two root beer barrels into the hands of restaurant servers, nurses and doctors all over Zephyrhills.

She lived as a quiet military wife, mother and homemaker. She loved computer card games and eating out with her husband. They would sometimes talk, sometimes sit comfortably in silence. And each time, she'd end with a bit of sweetness.

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"She reminded me of an old-fashioned grandma. Last night, there were four or five root beer barrels sitting in the waiter's station from when she was here Sunday. They're lying there, and my daughter said, 'Oh, mom.' She put them in the drawer." - Sandy Gogas, manager at Steve's Fountain View restaurant.

"I waited on her for two years. I said to her, 'My husband wants to know where you get these because they're so good.' If she didn't have any, she would apologize and say, 'I'll give you four next time.'" - Carol Gerardi, server at John's Steak and Seafood.

"A couple months ago, she was in the hospital, so I went to visit her. I can't explain how I loved her. She had her favorite cooks, too. She'd put some root beer barrels in my hand and say, 'Hey, give these to Carlos.'" - Sandra Griffith, server at John's Steak and Seafood.

"I will always remember her with the root beer barrels. It was just a nice treat. We have a lot of regulars that come in and lot of them are getting older now. It's sad to see them leave." - Debbie Speer, server at Piccola Italia.

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Mrs. Bennett didn't eat her own root beer barrels. She was diabetic, and had other health problems. In August, she fell and broke her leg. Paramedics helped her into a wheelchair. As they wheeled her away, she called to her husband.

"Earl, don't forget to bring my root beer barrels, and give these guys some, too. They did a great job of getting me off the floor."

Tuesday she died. She was 74.

Recently, Mrs. Bennett had purchased 15 pounds of barrels to restock. At her funeral, her granddaughters will press them into people's hands.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Biography

Linda Bennett

Born: Oct. 4, 1933.

Died: Jan. 29, 2008.

Survivors: husband, Earl Bennett; son, Earl Jr. and his wife, Jodi; stepdaughter, Lorna Fletcher; granddaughters, Sarah Elizabeth and Lauren Marie Bennett; sisters, Patricia Byrnes and Stella Miller; brother, Leland A. Denny Jr.; three stepgrandchildren; six stepgreat-grandchildren; many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Services: Visitation at 1 p.m. Saturday at Faith Baptist Church, 38634 County Road 54, Zephyrhills. Service following at 2 p.m.

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