Dr. James Joseph Benning, 88, died unexpectedly May 13, 2017, at the Fine Arts Center at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
He was born in Buffalo County (Township of Canton), WI, on October 24, 1928, to Joseph Benning and Mayme (Olson) Benning.
Jim grew up in Mondovi, WI, where he attended public schools and graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1946. He then attended Eau Claire State Teachers College, graduating with a B.S. Degree in Education and English on January 27, 1950. He then taught high school in Algoma, WI, and Mosinee, WI.
He was inducted into the U.S. Army in November, 1950. His military journey took him to what was then Camp McCoy where he was assigned to duty at the psychiatric hospital because of the psychology classes he took in college. His assignment eventually led him to his passion for psychology. He was honorably discharged November 27, 1952.
Jim attended Colorado State College, Greeley, CO, where he earned his master’s degree and EED (Doctorate of Education) in 1959. These degrees took him back to Wisconsin State University at Eau Claire (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire) where he began his long teaching career. He was Dean of Students from 1961 to 1963 when he met his wife to be, Carol Schute. They were married June 30, 1962, and would have celebrated their 55th anniversary this June.
Jim discovered that his love for teaching surpassed being in administration. He then taught in the Psychology Department for 40 years. After retiring in 1997, he missed teaching so much that he taught an honors psychology class gratis for ten more years. Jim was very proud that he knew almost all the chancellors and faculty for whom the university buildings were named. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 1971.
Jim was a marvelous cook and baker. He treated his students to homemade bread several times each year.
Another one of his many talents was making teddy bears. Jim delighted in giving “teddy talks” to various grade schools — including his niece, Jamie Gruber’s, Kindergarten classes in Mondovi, WI, his daughter, Mary Turner’s, classes in Gurnee, IL, and his wife, Carol’s, preschool classes in Eau Claire. Jim and Carol’s house on Lake Altoona was “home” to many teddy bears and home to five English bulldogs starting with one their first year of marriage.
Jim loved his family and was very proud of their accomplishments. He was very outgoing and loved conversations with family and friends and perfect strangers! He enjoyed telling stories and jokes and was always game for a friendly debate.
His community activities included being on the boards of Children’s Service Society, Eau Claire County Guidance Clinic, Friends of the Library, and TRY Resolution. He co-authored the Eau Claire County Youth Study with Dr. John R. Thurston and Dr. John Feldhausen.
Jim is survived by his wife Carol; sons Colonel James J. (Sarah) Benning II of Duluth, MN, and Geoffrey Benning of Eau Claire, WI; daughter Mary (Derek) Turner of Chicago, IL;, grandson 1st Lieutenant Joseph (Maeggie) Benning of Watertown, NY; granddaughter Maggie Benning of Duluth, MN; brothers Jack (Joanne) Benning of Sparta, WI and George (Julie) Benning of Mondovi, WI; and honorary “son”, Joshua (Ashley) Reed and their daughter, Sequoia, of Eau Claire, WI. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Mayme Benning, and several aunts and uncles.
Jim loved gardening, mentoring students, and the beauty of nature and spirituality. He was a voracious reader and especially enjoyed reading philosophy books and cookbooks. No day was complete for Jim without doing at least one crossword puzzle.
It was appropriate that Jim passed away at the University where he spent so many years of his life. His favorite quote was Kurt Vonnegut’s: “And so it goes!”
A visitation will be at the Lenmark Gomsrud Linn Funeral Home, 814 First Avenue, Eau Claire, WI, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on May 24, 2017. A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. with visitation an hour before on May 25, 2017, at First Congregational UCC, 310 Broadway St., Eau Claire, with the Rev. Dr. Mark Pirazzini officiating. Private committal will take place at Forest Hill Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the University Foundation, 105 Garfield Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54701, for the Blugold Emergency Fund; or to Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release, Inc., E9356 830th Ave, Colfax, WI 54703.