A pioneer was laid to rest on Monday. Dr. Don Benning leaves a full legacy, becoming the first African-American faculty member at the University of Omaha, now called UNO; and leading a group of wresters to the 1970 national championship.
His accolades span from his military career as a Marine to being a leader in Omaha’s education landscape.
Benning died of kidney failure on July 14.
One of his biggest accomplishments was winning the wresting championship at UNO, where he was the first black head coach in a predominately white university.
“He took me under his wing, and he had a bunch of guys we weren't very good at all when I first got there,” said Curlee Alexander a wrester for Benning and a part of the 1970 team, “recruited athletes from black and white and he just knew how to pick the talent and he knew how to develop that talent.”
Talent like Melvin Washington, who says he wanted to wrestle for a black coach.
“In all my years in wrestling, I had never wrestled for a black coach. And that's the reason why I came to Omaha: because of Dr. Benning being black,” Washington said.
But Benning's accomplishments are colorblind. He went on to Omaha Public Schools serving as an assistant principal and athletic director at Central High School teaching generations of students and his children.
“He made it a point to be home for dinner every night that was one of his rules,” said Benning’s daughter, Victoria Benning.
“I would always say that my dad I say best friend, and he is; there is no question about that. He was the sounding board-the pillar of strength,” added son Damon Benning.
Benning leaves behind his wife, five children and numerous grandchildren.