In memoriam: Students, faculty remember Professor Benson
Associate News Editor
On April 6, Professor Eric Benson of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences passed away unexpectedly.
Benson was best known for his Emergency Animal Management and Animals and Human Culture classes.
Annie Renzetti, an instructor in veterinary medicine in Benson’s department, guest lectured in his Animals and Human Culture class. Renzetti first met Benson when she taught her first class in 2014.
“He was great,” Renzetti said. “He was always very positive and upbeat about things. He was a very can-do sort of fella, and being a sort of junior faculty, it was nice having him to bounce things off of because he had been doing it for a while and was really good at it.”
While Renzetti did not know Benson well outside of work, she described his death as “shocking.”
“He seemed like a genuinely caring human being who really took the time with his students and cared about what he was teaching about and what he was researching,” Renzetti said. “I think it’s a tragic loss to not only our department, but the school as a whole.”
Renzetti talked about Benson’s appearances at new student orientations dressed in a full hazmat suit.
“Here, the rest of us are in normal clothing, and he’d walk in fully dressed for a disease outbreak kind of thing,” Renzetti said. “He was just a really neat guy.”
Brianna Ames, a senior agriculture and natural resources management major, and Emma Redman, a junior pre-veterinary and animal bioscience major, were both in Benson’s Animals in Human Cultures class.
Ames also took his Emergency Animal Management class.
“In everything that he teaches he’s super passionate,” Ames said. “He loves teaching; he loves helping others learn, so he brought a lot of humor and a lot of activities into his lectures. He was always just really excited about his lecture material and an amazing lecturer.”
Both Ames and Redman did research with Benson after taking his Animals and Human Culture class. Last summer, they were Emergency Poultry Disease interns and worked with Benson to stop vehicles from spreading viruses that could harm both people and farm animals. These viruses had often spread as the tires of vehicles picked them up.
Ames talked about outreach programs that Benson organized. In these two week-long programs, Benson brought in international professionals to discuss the tribulations of agriculture in different parts of the world.
After the internship, Benson hired Ames and Redman to continue research with him.
Ames said that she appreciated Benson’s efforts to include her in his research despite her status as an undergraduate student.
“He was always looking for the next idea, but also including me in the conversation,” Ames said. “He did a really good job at bouncing ideas back and forth off of me and letting me have input in the meetings, and he was also just a really good mentor. I could ask him about everything.”
Benson also allowed Ames to take his class in an online format during a semester he was not offering it so she could graduate early.
“We had a lot of meetings about [the class], but he also helped me with my future because I really enjoy biosecurity and emergency management, so he gave me lots of recommendations of things I could do,” Ames said. “We really just had a lot of in-depth conversations about science and it was just a lot of fun.”
Ames and Redman also emphasized Benson’s relationship with his family.
“He always made sure his family was number one,” Redman said.
Ames recalled one day that she was doing a trial for her research and Benson was there with his son, who is in elementary school. She said that Benson enjoyed having his son around and teaching him about the farm.
“He really loved his family, and I think that was a really important part of who he was,” Ames said. “He was passionate about us, his students and also about his kids.”
Benson also had a reputation for waking up early in the morning to train his sled dogs before coming into work. He had a picture of his dogs on his office door and often brought the dogs into his classes.
“He loved his dogs, loved everything about mushing and racing and he was really passionate about that,” Ames said.
Renzetti also acknowledged Benson’s passion for sled-dog racing.
“I think it’s kind of neat that he had something outside his research and his teaching that lit his fire, you know, or made him really happy,” Renzetti said.
Both Ames and Redman plan to continue the research they started under Benson in the fall under Dr. Brian Ladman, a senior scientist in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. However, Redman is uncertain about the feasibility of resuming research in the fall because of the present concerns with coronavirus.
Renzetti said she believes that coronavirus has made Benson’s death more difficult to cope with.
“It’s hard to deal with, being that we weren’t on campus and able to sort of rally around each other and, you know, take solace with each other, that sort of thing,” Renzetti said. “As far as the department, he definitely is going to leave a big hole.”