Youngest Son of Bennett Family Dies1929 land-for-tuition trade benefitted ACU for years
for immediate release June 26, 1998DENVER CITY - Rancher and oilman Gene Bennett, 77, the youngest son of L.P. Bennett for whom Abilene Christian University's Bennett Gymnasium was named, died Thursday, June 25, in a Lubbock hospital.
He had suffered a stroke Sunday at his home in Denver City and then a heart attack Tuesday in the hospital. Services will be Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Denver City Church of Christ, where he had served as a deacon and a song leader.
Gene was born May 26, 1921, in Yoakum County to L.P. and Ruth Bennett. He was a 1939 graduate of Abilene High School and attended ACU from 1939-41 as a member of the class of 1943 and lettering in football and basketball. He was a B-24 bomber pilot in the Air Corps during World War II. He served as Yoakum County Judge from 1967-71 and member of ACU's Board of Trustees for several decades beginning in 1952.
The Bennett family was among the university's first large donors. Although he had no formal education, rancher L.P Bennett and his wife, Ruth, wanted to send the last of their four boys and four girls to Abilene Christian, but cash was not an option because the cattle business was poor in the late 1920s, even before the Great Depression. So, in 1929, the Bennetts made a trade. They gave the school two sections of land - 1,280 acres - in exchange for tuition. Six of the eight Bennett children attended Abilene Christian: Hugh, Ralph, Alla Ruth (Chennault), Katherine (Kirby), Margaret (Hamby) and Gene.
At the time, the gift was assigned a book value of $15,000, and the trustees showed their appreciation by naming the new gymnasium - described at the time as "the finest in West Texas" - for them. The gym is one of the original structures built when the school moved to its current location in northeast Abilene from North First Street in 1929.
Another half section of land was given in 1931, bringing the total Yoakum County holdings to 1,600 acres. During the Depression, the Bennetts nearly lost their ranch and everything on it because of a severe drought. Bennett borrowed large sums of money, and he put up the ranch as collateral. Finally, he signed a deed of trust conveying the ranch to the Livestock Finance Corp. of Lubbock.
They had only one hope: oil. A Fort Worth company had a drilling lease on the ranch, and it began drilling. The family's attorney persuaded the bankers to postpone the auction for 30 days. During that interval, the drilling produced a gusher. The ranch was saved. ACU's board chairman, J.E. McKinzie, and Bennett sat up all through the night before the oil strike talking and praying. Their prayers were answered. Eventually, drillers struck oil on the ACU acreage as well. The land added millions of dollars to the university's endowment. The land-for-tuition trade is likely the best exchange ACU has ever made.
Gene and his wife, Vera, a 1942 graduate, were married Dec. 21, 1941, in Wichita Falls. They have four children, all of whom attended ACU: Diane Bennett of Aubrey ('69); Chip Bennett of Plains ('70); Becki Schwarz of Germany ('72); and Bruce Bennett of Plains ('75).
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