Benett Kessler, founder and owner of Sierra Wave Media, dies

Benett Kessler, one of the most recognized and trusted journalists in the Eastern Sierra for a generation, has died. She was 65.

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Kessler died Jan. 2 in Northern Inyo Hospital after battling cancer for more than three years, her close friend Scott Clark, a physician at the Bishop facility, said.

Kessler, the majority owner of Sierra Broadcasters, LLC in Independence, was a daily presence in Owens Valley and Mono County homes, delivering news  reports and opinion pieces on television, radio, online and in print for 38 years about the most controversial issues in the region.

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“Benett was the premier journalist in the Eastern Sierra,” said Bob Todd, operations manager at Sierra Wave Media, which is owned by Sierra Broadcasters. “She approached each day at work and every story with enthusiasm that we found amazing and contagious. It was an honor and privilege to work with her.”

Lone Pine environmentalist Michael Prather remembered Kessler as “an incredibly gutsy woman – she never took a step backward. All of us should feel grateful for her efforts to provide comprehensive daily coverage of our most pressing issues.”

John Heston and Benett Kessler, 1985

John Heston and Benett Kessler, 1985

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Owens Valley’s largest landlord and controller of most of its land and water, became her great subject. It was one she found inexhaustible.

“I started reporting in 1976, a year of a terrible drought and heavy groundwater pumping by the DWP,” Kessler recalled in a recent interview with Louis Sahagun, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. “Locals became outraged — and wanted to know more.”

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“Over the years, I produced so many DWP articles it’s hard to remember them all,” she added with a laugh. “But the work I’m most proud of shined a critical light on the suffering of people and the environment at the hands of bully officials and powerful vested interests.”

Friends and relatives remember Kessler as an indefatigable journalist and explorer of ideas and trends. She had a keen interest in spiritual teachings, as well as in the latest scientific breakthroughs. Her hobbies included painting and gardening. She also had a .38 Special handgun and knew how to use it.

Bob Todd and Benett Kessler, 2000

Bob Todd and Benett Kessler, 2000

Mary Roper, president of the Owens Valley Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to monitoring the region’s land and resources, remembered Kessler as “an investigative reporter of great courage and insight. People in positions of power had good reason to worry because she asked the right questions.”

Kessler was born on Feb. 3, 1949, the same day her father, Carl Kessler, started working as a lawyer in Dayton, Ohio. As a young girl she enjoyed attending social events with her father — a superior court judge at the time — writing poems and short stories and, as she put it, “flying down the highest hill in the neighborhood on my fun, cheap bike.”

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“There were sad times, too,” she recalled. “My parents divorced and my step-father committed suicide when I was 15 years old.”

Kessler was editor of the campus newspaper at Dayton’s Wilbur Wright High School, where she graduated in 1967. She attended the University of Chicago for three years, and in 1970 got married. “We split up a year later,” she said.

In 1972, Kessler and a friend hit the highway west. Her life would never be the same.

They ended up in San Diego, where Kessler rented an apartment and started taking yoga classes led by John Heston, an Owens Valley resident and student of comparative religion and the writings of Manly Palmer Hall, founder of the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles.

In 1975 Kessler moved to the hacienda-style compound that Heston designed, built and shared with his loving companion, Kenny Scruggs, on the northern edge of the Owens Valley community of Independence off of Highway 395. The shady retreat of fountains, orchards and reflecting pools was the hub of Kessler’s life for the next 39 years.

Heston, a colorful jack-of-all-trades, also had a nose for news. In 1976 he created Eastern Sierra News Service, which he operated with Kessler out of his home. Their motto: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

One night in the spring of 1976, someone tossed a pipe bomb at their newsroom. No one was injured in the blast. Kessler always assumed it was in response to their DWP reporting, which aired on Lone Pine radio station KINC.

Soon after, one of that radio station’s owners said that the DWP threatened to cancel their tower lease if Heston and Kessler were not let go. Their news show was cancelled on March 17, 1977.

Heston and Kessler responded with sharp-worded flyers they tacked to bulletin boards and telephone poles from Mammoth to Olancha. Their dispute with Los Angeles was chronicled by premier news outlets including the Los Angeles Times.

The same year they began publishing the Inyo County Newsletter: Heston did the writing, layout and photography; Kessler reported the news and ran the printing press and darkroom.

“Almost immediately, we were swamped with advertising,” Kessler recalled. “The ambience was electric.”

In 1982, with the backing of local investors, Heston and Kessler formed Sierra East Television, Inc., and leased cable channel 12 in Bishop to launch the Owens Valley’s first local television station.

In 1996, again with funds from local investors, Heston and Kessler obtained a federal license to establish KDAY-FM radio. Four years later, they founded a television station and the radio and TV operations had grown into Mammoth Lakes and Mono County. Those radio and television stations are now known as the Sierra Wave.

Heston, who had been a politically active presence in Owens Valley since the 1960s, died in 2007. Scruggs, a Bishop attorney and civic activist who became a voice in court for children trapped in their parents’ custody battles, died in 2012.

In a recent interview, Kessler said she hoped that her beloved hacienda and Sierra Wave Media, which includes KSRW-FM, KSRW-TV and sierrawave.net, would “remain in operation as they are.”

Kessler is survived by her mother, Carolyn Husco.

 

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Dick Dahlgren
Dick Dahlgren
5 years ago

Oh my! Bennett’s death is a shock to me. I had no idea she was gone. We shared information about DWP shenanigans from Rush Creek to Lone Pine. She was journalism’s brightest light in the Eastern Sierra. I moved from Mammoth 28 years ago…to Sun Valley, Idaho…after living in Mammoth… Read more »

mongo
mongo
7 years ago

The greatest legacies I have ever seen have been those left in the souls of friends and acquaintances.

Linda
Linda
7 years ago

I am so glad I found this page. I knew Anne Benett Kessler when we were students at the University of Chicago. I am saddened to hear she has died. My condolences to all of her friends and her surviving mother. I admire her and what she accomplished. She became… Read more »

Linda
Linda
7 years ago
Reply to  Linda

And what a wonderful tribute all your comments are to her! Wow. She did well in her life! Hugs to you Anne.

Elizabeth Glazner
Elizabeth Glazner
7 years ago

I had huge respect for Benett Kessler, and regret I never got to meet her during the few years I got to live in Bishop (some of which I spent as a newsgatherer). Her reporting was The Record. The Eastern Sierra needed her and is no doubt better for all… Read more »

Curious
Curious
7 years ago

I often wondered what it would be like to get the final word in one our verbal judo exchanges.

The best I can come up with is, your words will live in my mind just as long as mine do.

Thank You Bennet on many levels!

Jack Pound
Jack Pound
7 years ago

BK – Be Knowing Knowing you – knowing why, Searching for the many secrets. Always hidden behind the veil, Truths are hard to find. Rise up, O ye people, Cherish the truth you know. Be knowing sublime grace, Empowered balance within. Mystery surrounds us all On the journey of truth.… Read more »

Phil Tevlin
Phil Tevlin
7 years ago

The world is a better place since Benett Kessler trod its paths, and I’m a better person for knowing her. She was a good friend to me. Rest in peace, Ms. Benett, you’ve earned it.

Allen Berrey
Allen Berrey
7 years ago

My heart is heavy. We have lost a great friend and champion. For decades, Benett was the best, truest, and most dependable “public servant” around. I could write pages and still not fully express my admiration, respect, and affection for her. To sum it all up, though, I would simply… Read more »

Shelby Schneider
Shelby Schneider
7 years ago

I join those so saddened and shocked by this news. Benett was such a strong, kind, forceful supportive person! She frequented Java Jive and Juice; and I got to know her through my husbands work with her station. I had the feeling and desire to contact her this past year… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
7 years ago

R.I.P.

Wondering
Wondering
7 years ago

In reading the above, I swear I heard her “laugh” when I read “she added with a laugh”…..made me smile, and cry…love you my dear friend..until we meet again I will keep you close in my thoughts daily, with a smile and a quick laugh. <3 <3 <3

Erich W
Erich W
7 years ago

It is sad to hear that Benett has passed away. She is the definition of a hero in every sense of the word. Condolences to all her family and friends.

Brenda Burt
Brenda Burt
7 years ago

Benett was such a joy to work with. She always took care of business and was so nice to me whenever I called. I wish I had known her better – she seems like a kindred soul. May she be dancing in the sky and know now how much she… Read more »

The Aggressive Progressive
The Aggressive Progressive
7 years ago

How fortunate the valley has been to have Benett Kessler speaking truth to power, the heart, the courage, the drive and determination, the trials and tribulations that had taken place to allow us to have a platform such as this website to connect and share.. I can’t find the words… Read more »

William Kahrl
William Kahrl
7 years ago

Benett was enormously helpful while I was writing Water and Power. I wonder if the book could have been completed without her insights and, more important, her example. To me she has always been a model of what journalism at its best can achieve. She was both an occasional scourge… Read more »

Eastern Sierra Local
Eastern Sierra Local
7 years ago

Bennett Kessler is a local legend, I’m still shocked and saddened by the loss. While we didn’t agree on issues all the time I always appreciated her insight and contrary views. She strived to make the Owens Valley a better place against huge obstacles; with the passing of John Heston,… Read more »

Marc Margulies
Marc Margulies
7 years ago

It was with deep sadness to hear of Benetts passing. We will miss her and until we see her again, in a better place. It was great to remember the times we visited for work or a story. Benett was always interested in what was going on in and around… Read more »

Sheryl Saari
Sheryl Saari
7 years ago

Benett was a woman of principle who never turned away from controversy. She was smart as a whip and she used her wit to remind many a bureaucrat of whom they served. Her voice and delivery brought the deeds of LADWP to light and I’m sure they were not pleased… Read more »

Dee Younger
Dee Younger
7 years ago

Most of you knew Benett much better than I did, So I will forego with the tributes. It should only be appropriate that this be the most commented on story in the history of Sierra Wave Media. Keep it going people.

Barbara Laughon
Barbara Laughon
7 years ago

I count myself lucky that two years ago I was able to tell Benett what she meant to me. She was one of a kind and will hold a warm spot in my heart for the remainder of my life. My condolences to her family, friends and all those at… Read more »

Jim Gustafson
Jim Gustafson
7 years ago

29 years ago Bennett interviewed me when I started working at the new MLPD. I still have a copy of the factual, humorous and informative article she wrote. Over the years I was in constant contact with her regarding PD news releases and she always got them right and spot… Read more »

Linda
Linda
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim Gustafson

I am not of your community, but do not understand how any dislike could be checked on a personal tribute that was so positive towards Anne Benett Kessler. To each their own though. Anne must know what this was about and is smiling.

David Baumwohl
David Baumwohl
7 years ago

Sad news for our community. Benett was one of the first people I met when I came to the Eastern Sierra in 1980 as a young attorney. She welcomed me, and we maintained an excellent professional relationship through all these years. She was most gracious and professional in contacting me… Read more »

Sue Hutson
Sue Hutson
7 years ago

A big thank you to Bob Todd for this morning’s moving musical tribute to this amazing lady already horribly missed by the community.

Chris Plakos
Chris Plakos
7 years ago

So sad. In the 35+ years I knew Benett, I had a deep respect for her intelligence and journalistic ability, and I always considered her a very good friend. We talked often and had many interesting and stimulating conversations, all of which I treasured greatly. Her service to the Eastern… Read more »

Rosie Dominguez
Rosie Dominguez
7 years ago

I am also truly saddened to hear about Benett’s passing. When ever we hear Bob say………, this is Bob Todd sitting in for Benett Kessler, I will smile and think maybe Bennet is too, from somewhere. RIP Bennet. You beautiful person. Rosie D.

stan eller
stan eller
7 years ago

I truly admired Benet’s tenacity, honesty and straight forward approach to reporting. I could always trust her. I will always miss her.

Rick O'Brien
Rick O'Brien
7 years ago

I JUST returned home from spending New years at Topaz and couldn’t believe it, and am so truly saddened. Without Benett’s tireless reporting, A LOT of issues in the Eastern Sierra would have never been brought to light. The good residents of Mono and Inyo counties owe her a great… Read more »

Jarod W.
Jarod W.
7 years ago

Benett led the charge to speak the truth and ask the hard questions. It’s our responsibility now to honor her by stepping up and carrying on her fearless!, and open discussions. The powers that be are all more aware because of her; the powers that aren’t are grateful. Thank you… Read more »

MK
MK
7 years ago

It was always a pleasure to speak with Bennett. I was fortunate to chat with her in person. She always seemed to try to get it right. She looked out for community. You will be missed and your legacy will live on.

Tom O
Tom O
7 years ago

RIP friend.

Darla H.
Darla H.
7 years ago

Sad news. My condolences to Bennett’s loved ones, both family & friends. She will be greatly missed.

Charles O. Jones
Charles O. Jones
7 years ago

I hope she’s reading this and sees how many lives she’s touched.

John H.
John H.
7 years ago

As a frequent visitor to the Eastern Sierra I often read the Sierra Wave news and appreciated Benett’s independent style of journalism. She will truly be missed. Prayers for her friends and family. May she rest in peace. Hopefully her journalistic spirit and activism will be continued by others.

Steve Taylor
Steve Taylor
7 years ago

RIP…. Thanks for giving me a chance to work with your News Team in the past. Seeing my videos and reports on your stations kept me going all these years. Thanks again and we will continue to be a voice of truth here in Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra!

Jenifer Castaneda
Jenifer Castaneda
7 years ago

Bennet, You were my hero!

Michael B
Michael B
7 years ago

RIP Benett Kessler.

Riccardo
Riccardo
7 years ago

I am a fanatic of the Owens Valley, and go up as much as I can, while back in Southern California I check everyday with the Sierra Wave Media, never met her, but reading all the articles and comments about her, I have nothing but respect for her sadness for… Read more »

Rodney
Rodney
7 years ago

Thank you to Benett Kessler.
As a regular visitor to the Owens Valley each fall for more than 30 years, I have always looked forward to hearing her ‘Bureaucrat Beat’ reports on the local radio. They were truly unique – unforgettable.

Kyleanne
Kyleanne
7 years ago

Benett you were one of a kind, so true & honest so blessed to know such a good soul. Truly the Real Deal and Truth in this Community.
Namaste
Kyleanne

upthecreek
upthecreek
7 years ago

RIP Benett

” There’ll be two dates on your tombstone
everyone will read them..but the only thing that matters
is the little [ dash between them ]”
and you truly made it matter.

Thank You my friend

Jon Levin
Jon Levin
7 years ago

I worked with Benett and John from 1978 to 1982 when I was Sales Manager at the old KIOQ-FM. There were time when we really went head to head because we disagreed with each other but the respect I had for Benett Kessler was immeasurable. She was a passionate fighter… Read more »

Jim Ellis
Jim Ellis
7 years ago

In my 4 years on the Bishop City Council, Benett was always fair and respectful towards me. I truly appreciated that, and she was always easy to speak to during interviews. Even when she wanted to push, she also knew the lines I couldn’t cross and was respectful of those.… Read more »

Thom Heller
Thom Heller
7 years ago

Bennett, you will be sorely missed. A woman with class and what a impact you had on this land that we call home. Your seat at the front of every Town Council meeting has never been filled and fearfully may never be. You were a leader in your profession and… Read more »

Trouble
Trouble
7 years ago

I’ll miss ya, rest in peace!

Hans Laetz
Hans Laetz
7 years ago

Benett was a journalist with a capital J. I cannot tell you how well-respected she was here in the world of Los Angeles journalism. You folks in the Eastern Sierra clearly know what I mean. She entered the world of news to report, to make things clear, to shadow and… Read more »

Karen Ferrell-Ingram
Karen Ferrell-Ingram
7 years ago

Thank you, Bennett, for your long-time coverage and quest for understanding of the real Eastern Sierra. I always appreciated your thoughtful reporting on the wildlife, open spaces, waterways, and rural aspects of this beautiful place where we live. We were lucky to have your voice in our lives.

Tom Woods
Tom Woods
7 years ago

Benett was one of a kind. It takes a lot of willpower to run a TV and Radio station in a small community like ours. I have always been in awe of her determination to do so. How do you report the news without eventually alienating everybody in the Eastern… Read more »

Wayne Deja
Wayne Deja
7 years ago

I never met Benett,but felt like I knew her well….RIP…She will be missed.

Dan Watson
Dan Watson
7 years ago

Bennett’s passing creates a huge void in the Eastern Sierra that will never be filled. I enjoyed getting to know her over the past few years. I admired her journalistic integrity and efforts to keep the public informed of what was going on behind the scenes. She always tried to… Read more »

chris
chris
7 years ago

Such sad news. Benett’s passing leaves a huge hole in the Owens Valley. Reading the article made me realize that she is who I would have liked to have become. She was my hero. May she rest in peace and keep watch of us, and LADWP, from above,