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EDITORIAL: He left N. Idaho far better than he found it

| February 7, 2024 1:00 AM

The quilt in the photo is comprised of 20 squares, each one a piece of a T-shirt taken from the tapestry of Al Williams’ life.

Southside Chicago. Beloved Bulls, Bears and White Sox. Idaho Vandals. North Idaho College.

Holding up the photo on the right is a beaming Williams, and on the left, former NIC President Bob Bennett. The quilt was made by one of Bennett’s sisters. The photo was taken last October in Coeur d’Alene, when Bob came back for a visit.

On Jan. 21, Dr. Carl Robert Bennett died peacefully in his hometown of Burlington, Iowa. He was 86. Bob leaves behind three children, four grandchildren and enough lifelong friends to stretch hand-in-hand from Coeur d’Alene to Burlington.

In case you missed it, here’s Bob’s obituary from the Jan. 25 issue of The Press: https://shorturl.at/lwY79

It documents Dr. Bennett’s almost half-century in education, including the presidency of three community colleges. Of note, the obit concludes by asking that memorial gifts be made to the C. Robert and Donna Bennett Scholarship through North Idaho College Foundation. Even though Bob moved back to Iowa several years ago, his heart clearly remained in North Idaho.

Those of you who didn’t know Bob will get a good sense of the man through reading his obit, but as we bid farewell to one of the kindest, wisest and most positive people to ever grace our community, we feel compelled to confront a shadow from Bob’s past.

Dr. Bennett was ousted from the NIC presidency by the college’s board of trustees in late spring 1997. No reason was ever publicly given. Bennett had been at the NIC helm for a decade when he was forced out in the middle of a two-year contract. 

Even as students protested and two trustees resigned after the ouster, Bennett never sued, nor did he bear an apparent grudge of any kind. His ebullient smile was as permanent a facial feature as the sophomoric smirk is on Todd Banducci.

One of the trustees who promptly resigned in June 1997 was Steve Widmyer, who would go on to become one of Coeur d’Alene’s most outstanding citizens, including serving two terms as mayor. In an Oct. 18, 2013, Press article, Widmyer lamented his long-ago vote to oust Bennett as NIC president. He called it a mistake based on his belief that information he’d received was accurate. 

“…It turned out the information was not trustworthy,” Widmyer told the newspaper, saying he resigned from the board of trustees because he'd lost confidence in them.

Trustworthy is one of the many words that would accurately describe Bob Bennett, who leaves us after extracting almost as much joy from life as he imparted.