Mike Bennett documented Notre Dame sports for 40 years. And he was 'always smiling.'
SOUTH BEND — For nearly four decades, Mike Bennett worked behind a camera lens, capturing many of the biggest moments in Notre Dame sports history. You could often spot him on the sidelines, in a bright dress shirt and tie. His images adorn athletic buildings across the university's campus.
But Bennett was equally revered for the positive attitude and kindness he displayed while shooting photos of Notre Dame athletic events here and across the country. He passed away Monday at 69 after a battle with cancer.
"Every memory of a great moment at Notre Dame, he's in it," said women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw. "I feel like he's part of our family. It's not going to be the same without him."
When the women's team won the national championship in 2018, Bennett produced a collage of season highlights that was shaped like the number 1 for each of the players and those associated with the program.
"He was always giving, always smiling," said McGraw, who was able to visit Bennett a couple of times in the hospital after he became ill.
Men's basketball coach Mike Brey shared a similar story of receiving a treasured collage of his mother's participation in the 1956 Olympics as a swimmer, including the warm-up top she wore. Bennett refused to take payment for his work.
In fact, he generally refused any payment for his side projects.
"He was an amazingly pleasant man," Brey said. "He was the total professional at what he did, and he always had this huge smile."
Bennett's positive nature, as well as his work, made him stand out at the university, where he served as a freelance photographer for decades.
“Mike’s smile and his willingness to help both were ever-present," Jack Swarbrick, vice president and director of athletics, said in a Notre Dame release. "He will be dearly missed by all who knew him, but his memory, his impact and the images he captured will remain part of the fabric of Notre Dame Athletics for years to come.”
A native of South Bend, Bennett grew up a Notre Dame fan and got his first chance to shoot a football game as a freelancer in 1982 while also operating Lighthouse Imaging, which offers professional photographic services.
Former athletes, coaches and colleagues took to social media to comment on Bennett's influence.
"Yesterday, a good friend of mine, packed his bags and on board the express train to heaven," said former football coach Charlie Weis. "A great man. He will be missed!"
John Heisler, the long-time associate athletic director at Notre Dame who is now serving in a similar capacity at the University of Central Florida, agreed that Bennett's positive demeanor and giving nature set him apart. And Bennett was especially proud of the honorary monogram jacket he received in 2003.
"He always dressed up and he always wore the monogram jacket once the weather got cooler," Heisler said. "I never saw him in a bad mood. Whatever trials and tribulations he was going through, you would never know it."
Tribune photographer Robert Franklin said photographers who shoot Notre Dame events for various outlets are planning to dress up for the first home football game, and perhaps even don a tie, in honor of Bennett.
"He was a spectacle on the sidelines at games because he would be shooting even when there wasn't any action on the field," Franklin said. "I asked him why he was doing that once, and he told me that he knows how important it is to just play one second for Notre Dame. His goal was to get every single player that ever made it into a game."
Bennett married his wife, Sue, in 1975, and they had three daughters — Buffy Gerndt, Jaime Fedder and Michelle Szajko. Arrangements are pending.