Don Benning was the first black faculty member at the University of Omaha. He was a groundbreaker in academics as well as sports.
Benning was the youngest of five children to Mary and Erdie Benning. He grew up in Omaha where he attended Omaha North High and wrestled on the school’s team. He also played baseball and football.
After graduating from high school in 1954, Iowa State University wanted him for their wrestling team but his family could not afford to send him, so he attended Dana College in Blair, Nebraska for a year. He later transferred to Omaha University.
Benning saw many firsts throughout his life and career, he was the first black head coach at a predominantly white university in the United States and the first to lead a team to a national championship, UNO’s 1970 NAIA wrestling team won the state’s first national title in a college sport. He was also the first black doctorate recipient in the NU College of Education and the first black athletic director at an Omaha Public Schools high school, Central, and the first recipient of the state Athletic Director of the Year Award. Benning also was the first African American to serve on the U.S. Olympic wrestling committee. Don Benning died in 2017 at the age of 81.