Crusader Staff Report
A memorial service will be held Saturday, December 5 for Gary’s teenage celebrity chef Ben Watkins, who died November 16 after a long battle with cancer.
The service will be at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s of the Lake, 6060 Miller Avenue. The family’s attorney, Trent McCain, said in-person attendance is very limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. He said the service will be streamed live, but had not yet finalized plans by Crusader press time Wednesday for its print edition.
Watkins was diagnosed with a rare illness, angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a soft tissue tumor of the upper extremities in adolescents and young adults, shortly after his thirteenth birthday. Watkins was reportedly undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
The cancer reportedly caused aggressive tumors that affected his spine, shoulder, and lung. The teenager struggled to recover after his second round of chemotherapy and had been on a ventilator, according to Watkins’ uncle and legal guardian, Anthony Edwards.
To date, $208,120 has been raised on his GoFundMe fundraising page that includes a goal of $300,000. In August, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay donated $50,000 to Ben’s cancer treatments.
Ben gained fame and millions of fans on Fox’s “MasterChef Junior.” Young and ambitious, Ben persevered after he lost both parents in a murder-suicide in 2017.
Watkins was 11 when he made his debut on the sixth season of the hit culinary competition. The show had 40 contestants between the ages of 8 and 13. In that episode, Ben made peach cobbler with whipped cream and caramel sauce, but his signature dish was fried chicken with mashed potatoes. The 40 contestants competed for 24 slots and a chance to win $100,000 in the finale. Ben placed in the top 18 in the show.
Ben was born in Chicago but raised in Gary. A year after he was born his parents, Michael and Leila Edwards, moved from Chicago in 2001 to escape the crime and gun violence in the city.
According to McCain, Ben attended Discovery Charter School in Porter, Indiana from kindergarten to 8th grade. He helped in his family’s restaurant that had been named after him — Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue, Bakery & Deli, in the Miller Beach neighborhood. He ran the cash register there and sold his own homemade cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls, and banana bread. He attributed his baking skills to his mother.
Not long after his thirteenth birthday, doctors diagnosed Ben with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma. The rare disease usually affects children and young adults.
The diagnosis came two years after Ben’s parents died in a murder suicide. In their Miller home, Michael Watkins, 46, shot and killed Leila Edwards before taking his own life. The murders stunned relatives, who said they did not see any warning signs of problems before the shootings, but there was reportedly talk of the couple getting a divorce.
After that tragedy in 2017, Miller residents and Ben’s school created an educational fund for his future.