The House That Benny Built

by Missy Hargraves Photographed by Richard Lewin
Wednesday, June 6, 2018



Benny and Bonnie Krupinski, and their grandson, Willie



At East Hampton Airport, on Sunday, June 3,  less than 24 hours after the fatal crash that took the lives of Benny and Bonnie Krupinski, their grandson, Willie, and pilot Jon Dollard, the atmosphere is as heavy as the weather conditions were on their last night. Their plane crashed in a brief thunderstorm off the coast of Amagansett, minutes from their East Hampton home.

I learned of the tragedy while at a BBQ a few miles away. I have done plenty of time on this tarmac, often as a guest of Benny’s on the same Piper Navajo that is now in a watery grave near Ditch Plains. “They didn’t stand a chance in that storm,” a pilot said. “It’s like Mother Nature versus a mosquito.  Mother Nature’s always gonna win.”

Everyone who has spent any time in East Hampton has had a Benny moment.

And let’s be clear: Not everyone liked Benny.

I didn’t.

I loved him.

Benny built my house.

Anyone will tell you that Benny was generous. Benny was also gregarious. And he was hardheaded. Yet he was elegant. But above all else, Benny cared!

My then husband and I met Benny in 2000 at his newly completed East Hampton Golf Course. It was then a far cry from the swanky club that would later occupy the site:  We had lunch in one of Benny’s construction trailers–sandwiches for them, crudité for me! Benny could make even plastic chairs, paper napkins, and a trailer classy.

We shared many more meals together over the years. We ate in his restaurants and he welcomed me into his home on numerous occasions even though I was not one of his many rich and famous friends and clients.  But Benny treated everyone with the same quiet graciousness.

The first time I went to 1770 House, one of the restaurants he owned in East Hampton, he made a point of introducing me to a man named Kevin. I didn’t know Benny well at this point and he spoke so proudly and intimately of him that I assumed Kevin was his son or nephew.  Kevin was in fact the chef, but in Benny’s world that meant he was a bona fide member of The Krupinski Klan. Benny cared about making people feel included.

Ours was one of the smaller homes that Benny constructed. And it was a near teardown. Just before marrying, we’d purchased an aluminum-sided ranch house in Watermill. We somehow convinced Benny to take on our gut renovation. I was very lucky to have had him as my builder. Not only was his taste impeccable, his attention to detail was remarkable. His devotion was evident in all aspects of his work. Benny cared.

Moving is hard for anyone, but especially for me. I’m an Army Brat and my life has  been a constant state of motion. Even though he’d spent his life on The East End, Benny assured me that he understood my uneasiness about the move and that he would do his best to make it as pain-free as possible.

His staff, “Benny’s Guys,” as we affectionately referred to them, packed up our belongings in Watermill and transported them to an East Hampton house that he loaned us for the duration of our construction. I remember walking into our temporary bedroom to find my personal belongings placed exactly as they had been at the old house. Everything was the same: every book, every pillow, every tchotchke! That simple caring touch made the transition so much smoother.

The Blizzard of 2006 left us completely snowed in. There was no getting out of our driveway of our newly renovated home; it was utterly impassable!  I called around but even the snow plows were stranded. I reached out to Benny.

“I’ll send someone over immediately!”

Not an hour later, a huge truck came and freed us. I trudged out to thank the brave soul who’d come out in the brutal cold to rescue us. The plow driver rolled down his window.

It was Benny.


A memorial service for Ben Krupinksi will be held on Friday in East Hampton.


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