By Lillian Arp
When Leonie’s husband joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1965, she had little interest in the faith. Years later, her view of her husband’s church began to soften, and Leonie accepted lessons from faithful sister missionaries in Rockhampton, Queensland.
In 1968, although she still didn’t have much of a testimony, she decided to be baptised on her husband’s birthday, as a gift to him. It was probably not a great reason to take up a new religion, but Leonie said that joining the Church was one of the best decisions she ever made.
When she passed away in 2012, Leonie had been a diligent member of the Church for over 40 years. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren share precious memories of Leonie as they continue to be blessed by her legacy of faith.
She was born Leonie Schenck in Melbourne, Victoria in 1926. With a successful businessman as a father, Leonie and her two brothers had a comfortable, privileged childhood. She had many friends, was great at sports, enjoyed dancing and going out to ‘the pictures’ every Saturday night, but Leonie loved family time the most. “Her family was everything to her,” says her daughter Lisa, “and this love of family would continue throughout her life.”
Leonie adored her parents. They were kind and doting, and instilled fundamental values in their children, which would serve Leonie well in difficult days ahead.
She met Frank Bennallack in school. He shared Leonie’s love of ballroom dancing and became her debutante partner when she was 18. Before long, the two were planning a future together.
Their married life got off to a great start. Leonie and Frank saved up to buy land and build a house, which they completed soon after their honeymoon. The newlyweds enjoyed taking long walks together, playing cards with friends and going to balls, and when they eventually welcomed five beautiful children into their family, Leonie cherished being a mother. “Throughout our childhood and our lives, we always felt loved,” says Lisa.
After some time, the family’s fortunes changed. They lost their home and had to move several times as Frank sought reliable work. Times were hard, but Leonie never complained. “Mum always demonstrated incredible patience,” said Lisa. She was an excellent cook who would brighten her children’s days with great food and fun activities. “I knew we weren’t all that well off, but thanks to Mum, I had no idea how poor we really were.”
It was around this time that Leonie joined the Church. Her growing faith and love of the gospel sustained her through even greater difficulties.
Only a few years after her baptism, she found herself a single parent with four children still at home and a mother-in-law in her care. For the first time since her wedding almost 30 years earlier, Leonie needed to find work.
All the while Leonie’s testimony of Heavenly Father and the Saviour increased. She was a dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel; and had faith in priesthood power and the wonderful blessings it brought to her and her family.
In 1976, Leonie moved her family to Adelaide to be near her oldest (married) daughter, where Lisa said, “we were supported by a wonderful ward, a loving bishop and great home teachers.” Leonie accepted a calling there as the Relief Society president, which initially intimidated her. But “she exercised her faith and did a wonderful job,” recalled Lisa. Leonie’s testimony of the gospel was continually strengthened as she served many other callings in the ward before she was called as a temple worker at the Adelaide Australia Temple. Through the faith she had, Leonie was able to remember all she needed to remember for that sacred role. “She loved her years of working at the temple,” says Lisa, and Mum especially enjoyed when family members attended while she was serving.
Some of Leonie’s greatest successes were at home with her family. She set a wonderful example of daily prayer and scripture reading, and she kept a journal since 1981. Leonie delighted in witnessing her children and grandchildren serve missions, get sealed to their spouses in the temple, have their own children, and participate in the work of the Lord through various leadership callings. This reflected her favourite scripture, found in 3 John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
In her 50s she moved in with her daughter’s family, and Leonie faithfully continued to serve and to love. As one grandson remembers, “There was never a Christmas, an Easter or a birthday when all of the grandchildren [didn’t] received something from Nana. She never forgot . . . we all knew through her kindness and actions that she loved each and every one of us.”
In a final act of motherly devotion, just before she died, Leonie wrote special, personal letters to each of her five children and their families. The discovery of these letters after Leonie passed away was a wonderful and profound surprise that touched their hearts at a very tender time.
She was known by many names throughout her life: Leonie, Mum, Nana, Sister Bennallack . . . but perhaps her greatest triumph as a mother is that “her children [continue to] rise up and call her blessed.” (Proverbs 31:28)