Ben Arkes was born in Chicago in 1922. His father, Pinches, was a Ukrainian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1910 with no resources and limited English proficiency. Ben was one of five children, and though his father was an incredibly hard-working man, the family struggled with poverty, often going without meals. His upbringing had a profound impact on Ben’s altruism later in life.
An excellent basketball player in high school, Ben was the captain and starting point guard on the Chicago City Champion Crane Tech team. He was offered a scholarship to play basketball at Loyola University, but declined because his family’s circumstances required him to work. It was after an AZA basketball tournament that Ben met his future wife, Maxine. After three years of dating, they married. A fearless and respected woman, Maxine would go on to do exceptional charity work in the city. She volunteered at the Michael Reese Abortion Clinic for 15 years and tutored children living in Cabrini Green through WITS, a movement of educators, volunteers and investors who provide literacy programming to Chicago Public Schools elementary students. The couple celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2018 before Maxine’s passing a year later.
After serving in World War II as an aerial photographer, Ben returned home in 1946 and he used that experience to become the first independent photographic sales representative in the Midwest. In 1970, Ben and his brother, Nathan, went on to open a distribution business selling merchandise to corporations to use as business gifts. They named it the Hinda Incentives after Ben’s late mother, who died unexpectedly at the age of 38. In 2012 when Hinda was sold its revenues had grown to $115 million.
Today, at the age of 97, Ben is a great believer in giving back. He remembers the financial struggles his family faced and does everything he can to ensure that others don’t have to experience similar challenges. “I knew there were a lot of poor Jewish people and they needed help. I knew that because I lived through this. I didn’t have half a dollar for Hebrew school or a dollar for the dentist,” he says.
While Ben has many philanthropic interests, he is particularly passionate about JCFS Chicago’s HIAS Immigration & Citizenship. HIAS supported his father when he first came to America, and Ben believes deeply that all immigrants deserve stability, safety and self-sufficiency. It is not just through giving that the Arkes family embodies this belief: Ben’s son, Michael, and his wife, Helen are active within HIAS’ Chicago Jewish Coalition for Refugees, and his grandson, Daniel, has interned at four immigrant service organizations including HIAS and is now pursuing a career in immigration law.
JCFS Chicago and HIAS Immigration & Citizenship are grateful to Ben and the Arkes family for their generous support.