Family of Accent Signage victim Jacob Beneke speaks about loss

For the first time since the mass shooting at Accent Signage, the family of victim Jacob “Jake” Beneke is speaking publicly about their loss.

Beneke, 34, was a graphics designer at the company, and an accomplished artist and sculptor.

Some of his work is being auctioned off at a fundraiser Sunday, at the Maple Grove Arts Center, to help support his family. Jake was a member of the center’s board.

On Saturday, Jake’s mother Deb and his widow Iliyana showed off some of the work on display.

“He just looked at the world differently than other people did,” Deb said.

If they could, they’d let Jake’s artwork do the talking. In a way, it tells the story of his life

“Its very passionate,” said Iliyana, “and he loved his abstract paintings a lot. Usually you have to look twice at what he meant, what he really wanted you to know. And whenever we moved to a different place I saw his art changing. When we were in Italy it was a lot of water colors and kind of just to reflect the beautiful nature of Italy.”

Jake was also a mixed media sculptor. He incorporated many “found” items into his work, from antique pieces to farm equipment parts that took the shape of robots, deer antlers, flowers, and many other forms.

Jake grew up in New Albin, Iowa. “And he spent a lot of time with his friends, good friends, on the Mississippi,” said Deb.

In 2001, Iliyana met him at a resort in Lutsen. “He was a cook and I was a hostess,” she said. “We started going out right away. We were neighbors in employee housing and it was clear that we were meant for each other.”

He proposed six months later. “It was on my birthday so it was a complete surprise,” Iliyana said.

When her work visa expired and she had to return to her native Bulgaria, “the next day he started to cry,” remembered Deb, “and he told me ‘I can’t live without her’.”

The couple eventually married and had one son, Rodo–now six. “He misses his father,” Iliyana said.

“A really good father,” Deb added.

Jake had worked for seven years at Accent Signage, heading up its digital imaging department. “He loved it,” Iliyana said.

But recently his own work was getting noticed–people were commissioning his art. “He was really close to getting there,” Iliyana said.

“He was just feeling so good about life and his job and his family,” Deb said.

But then, on September 27, it all ended, unimaginably.

“The morning Jake died, that we found out he was gone, Iliyana took my hand and she said, ‘how am I going to live without him?’ Deb said, crying. “Our family is never going to be the same. You have to try to find a way to live in that different world.”