A Stormtrooper with a Heart of Gold

As a child, Barry Benecke II had brain surgery, which left him weak on his right side, and at school, he felt left out and lonely. When he was 12, Star Wars was released in theaters.

Associate Barry Benecke II stands in a room filled with Star Wars merchandise and collectibles wearing a Storm Trooper costume.

“I immediately fell in love with the movie and started collecting merchandise,” he said. The movie gave Barry a chance to escape to another world, and he “liked the story of good triumphing over evil.”

Barry, an assembler at a Walmart supercenter in Villa Park, Illinois, does quite a lot of good himself: For one thing, he helped save the life of a fellow fan. Barry’s love of Star Wars and its merchandise led him to an online toy forum, where he found out a fellow fan was in need of a kidney. 

“When I found out a guy I met on a Star Wars Toy Forum needed a kidney, I offered to donate mine,” Barry said. “He turned me down because we didn’t know each other’s real names. He thought I was just making a nice gesture.”

But when none of the man’s friends were compatible matches, Barry was tested. He was a match, and he quickly agreed to the donation, saving the man’s life. 
Barry and the man he saved remained friends, and in 2015 he paid for Barry and his wife to fly to Anaheim, California, to attend Star Wars Celebration VII. There, Barry had his picture taken with the Luke Skywalker (actor Mark Hamill) and the Emperor (actor Ian McDiarmid). 

“It makes me feel good that I can do some good,” Barry said of the kidney donation. “My mom passed away in 2005 from cancer, and I wasn’t able to help her. But I could do something for my friend.” 

In addition to his kidney donation, Barry finds lots of other ways to help people. Clad in the uniform of the villainous Stormtroopers (which he assembled from a kit he purchased), Barry spends his time off raising money for Relay for Life, either outside his store or walking with a group of friends called the Imperial Walkers. He also frequently donates blood, and is a member of the 501st Legion, a nationwide organization of costumed fans who take part in charitable and community events.

“I get a little teary when I see kids’ faces glow when they meet a Stormtrooper,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.