Notre Dame Athletics Remembers Mike Bennett
Longtime athletics photographer Mike Bennett never wanted to be the center of attention.
Perhaps that’s why Bennett preferred his perspective from behind the lens. But with nearly 40 years of experience capturing some of the biggest moments in Notre Dame athletics history, Bennett couldn’t escape recognition of his own, especially among those with whom he worked so closely over the years.
Bennett died Monday, August 5, after a short battle with cancer. He was 69.
Bennett was hard to miss around Irish athletic facilities. Often armed with multiple cameras and brightly colored shirt-and-tie combinations, Bennett had a warm smile and positive demeanor that made him a beloved figure among student-athletes, coaches and anyone who spent enough time around the Irish program.
“Mike Bennett made everything and everyone he touched better — the natural consequence of his uncompromising professionalism and unfailingly positive personality,” Vice President and James E. Rohr Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said. “Mike’s smile and his willingness to help both were ever-present. 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.”
The South Bend-raised son of Irish fans Jack and Virginia Bennett, Mike grew up knowing he wanted to photograph the Fighting Irish. In 1966, at the age of 16, he began working as an usher at Notre Dame Stadium and, after completing a four-year tool and die apprenticeship, began his photography career in 1974. Eight years later, after managing a commercial photography studio, Bennett began work as a freelancer and shot his first Notre Dame football game at Pittsburgh in 1982.
“I got set up for a game in Pittsburgh, who at the time was No. 1. Alan Pinkett broke a long run, I got multiple photographs of him running and scoring,” Bennett told ABC57 in 2016. “Those photos ended up in the South Bend Tribune a week later and that’s how I got my break.”
Bennett opened Professional Photographic Services (now Lighthouse Imaging) in 1986 and has since furnished a large majority of Notre Dame athletics’ photography needs. From game photography to headshots, ceremony coverage to team photos, Bennett captured the seminal moments in the lives of thousands of student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans.
He learned early on, however, just how supportive the Notre Dame athletic department could be as he embarked on his business. Former Irish head coach Gerry Faust even pulled him aside at practice one day to let him know he would be of help if Bennett ever needed it.
“He says, ‘I hear you’re starting a business, I know that can be tough. If you’re ever in a situation where you can’t make payroll or anything else, give me a call and I’ll help you out,’” Bennett recalled in that ABC57 interview. “People say, ‘Oh, Notre Dame this, Notre Dame that.’ It’s not the university, it’s the people that make it special.”
A regular on the team plane with the Irish football and men’s and women’s basketball programs, Bennett preserved such moments as the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, which clinched the 1988 national championship for the Irish; women’s basketball national championships in 2001 and 2018; baseball’s College World Series berth in 2002; national titles in women’s (2010) and men’s (2013) soccer; and hockey Frozen Four appearances in 2008, 2011, 2017 and 2018.
Bennett married his wife, Sue, in 1975, and they had three daughters — Buffy Gerndt, Jaime Fedder and Michelle Szajko. Sue and Michelle have long helped in the operation of the family business.
In 2003, the Notre Dame Monogram Club presented Bennett with an honorary monogram, accompanied by the traditional monogram jacket. In the years since, he was rarely seen without the jacket during the cooler months.
The experience so thrilled him he could scarcely believe it had actually happened. The day following the ceremony, Bennett penned a note to Bill Scholl, then executive director of the Monogram Club, expressing his disbelief and his need to check the closet to ensure the jacket was still there.
In the note — worried that he hadn’t properly expressed his thoughts the night before — Bennett beautifully summed up his career behind the lens:
“A Moment Frozen In Time – that’s what a photograph can be. It can bring back memories and emotions long forgotten. It can be the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. It can make us want to do something, change something or be something.
“When someone’s home is threatened by disaster, what is one of the first things they want to save? It’s their photographs.
“I have had the honor and privilege to capture many Notre Dame moments over the past 20 years. … But Notre Dame has done so much more for me than I could ever do for Her — the roar of the football stadium, the quietness of the Grotto and the friendships. It’s amazing, only at Notre Dame!
“So if I can capture a moment in time to bring back a memory or stir up an emotion, then I hope I am contributing a very small part to the Notre Dame Spirit, past, present and future. This is such a great honor and I know the photograph that I am going to cherish the rest of my life is the one where I’m being presented a monogram jacket.
“Thanks for my moment in time.”
No, Mike. Thank you for ours.
Arrangements for a Celebration of Life are pending and will be made available as they are finalized.
Reflections on the Life of Mike Bennett
“Mike’s impact on people went beyond Notre Dame and our football program. He was always willing to lend a hand to the Kelly Cares Foundation and so many other organizations over the years, asking for nothing in return. He was always there to tell a story, which he did through pictures. Paqui and I will miss him greatly, as will the Notre Dame family.”
— Brian Kelly, Dick Corbett Head Football Coach
“I can’t think of a celebration that we have had at Notre Dame in which Mike Bennett wasn’t a part of. He was there for every big moment, from the start of our season with the team photo, all the way to the Final Four. He was always so much more than a photographer to us — he was a part of our women’s basketball family. Whenever I think of him it brings a smile to my face. He will always be a part of us and we will treasure his memory every time we see one of his iconic photos.”
— Muffet McGraw, Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach
“Mike was a total pro who always had a smile for you. I cannot think of a signature moment since I have been at Notre Dame that Mike was not on the sidelines or in our locker room to record the memory. After games or at athletic department events, there can be a number of different photographers taking photos, but I always knew to look for Mike and his lens. He was such a class act.”
— Mike Brey, Glenn and Stacey Murphy Head Men’s Basketball Coach
“All of us from Irish hockey have Mike’s family and friends in our thoughts and prayers. It’s hard to know how little or how much to say when something like this happens to someone you care about. Mike was quietly a big part of our program and its growth since my arrival. We appreciate all he did for us and the entire Notre Dame community.”
— Jeff Jackson, Notre Dame hockey head coach
“Mike is part of our Notre Dame softball family. He had a gift for making everyone around him feel special. He always gave his time and his talents to our program. I can’t imagine this world without him.”
— Deanna Gumpf, Notre Dame softball head coach
“Few people are as synonymous with Notre Dame athletics than Mike Bennett. He was a fixture at every major sporting event and function. Far beyond the incredible work that he did capturing milestone memories, Mike will always be remembered for his kindness, patience and positive demeanor. He was a great man who will certainly be missed.”
— Ryan Sachire (men’s tennis ‘00), Callaghan Family Head Men’s Tennis Coach
“Whenever Mike was assigned our team and individual photos on Media Day, I saw firsthand his professionalism and endless good cheer. No problem was too tough to solve – always with a smile, a twinkle in his eyes, and just the right words. After one of our events, all you had to do was scroll through his photos to realize his artistry. He captured big moments and small, all with a great eye toward composition and a greater love for his subject matter. Then I’d catch myself thinking, ‘Did I even see Mike?’ Maybe for a brief moment or two. He was so unobtrusive, yet he saw everything and was able to share it with everyone through his amazing photos. Whenever I look at them, I not only remember the happy times depicted, but the wonderful person who captured them via the camera.”
— Gia Kvaratskhelia, Notre Dame fencing head coach
“I always appreciated Mike’s professionalism — you never saw him without a tie — and his quick smile. His photos remind me of the amazing feats that people are able to achieve. We will be forever grateful for the dedication he showed our program and the University.”
— Martin Stone, Notre Dame rowing head coach
“Mike was always where the action was. Whenever I was at an event and he was there, I always told him I must be at the happening place! He was a good man and will be missed. As part of our Notre Dame family, he will be thought of every year moving forward on team picture day. Rest in peace, Mike!”
— Susan Holt, Notre Dame women’s golf head coach
“Mike was the consummate professional. He had a passion for his work that was infectious to everyone around him. Mike’s gift to us was not simply the works of art he captured. Mike’s gift was the way he made us feel while he did it. His warmth ultimately shown through in his pictures as the image itself reflected his own kindness and grace. When I think of what Mike embodied, I think of what Notre Dame stands for. Mike reached the highest level of excellence through his service of others and did so with integrity and love. We will certainly miss him.”
— Mike Johnson, Notre Dame volleyball head coach
“Mike Bennett was someone who quietly went about his business and, whether it was the annual team photo, catching everyone coming in at O.S.C.A.R.S., photos for our offices or locker room, he always seemed the same. He was immaculately dressed and always had a smile. He was a tremendous example to all of us how to go about your business in a very quiet, calm manner. He never seemed to be flustered and that came from a beautiful, serene humility and a quiet confidence that comes from someone who knows his job and lives his life well. Thanks, Mike, for being a good friend to men’s soccer over my years at Notre Dame!”
— Bobby Clark, Notre Dame men’s soccer head coach (2001-2017)
“The two people that always stand out to me when I think of my experience at Notre Dame are Chuck Lennon and Mike Bennett. For me, Mike represents everything good about humanity. He had a heart of gold and was one of the most generous men I have ever met. He was always there when I needed him and just thinking of him brings a smile to my face. I will think of him often because my house and office are filled with works that he did for me. I will never forget Mike and will always be grateful for having him in my life.”
— Paul Mainieri, LSU Head Baseball Coach; Notre Dame baseball head coach (1995-2006)
“No one embodied the spirit of Notre Dame and what it meant to represent our great University more so than Mike Bennett. Every time he entered the room, he did so with a bright smile on his face, a friendly attitude and he was always willing to help — all the while doing his job in a way no one else can. He captured some of Notre Dame‘s most memorable moments — and meaningful interactions — for all of us to enjoy for years to come. He served the University with incredible passion and dignity. We are proud to have him as an honorary member of the Monogram Club, and forever grateful for his contributions to everything within Notre Dame and Notre Dame Athletics.”
— Terri Vitale (women’s tennis, ‘94, ‘95), Monogram Club president
“The Notre Dame athletics department was blessed to have a friend like Mike Bennett. Mike and his family have been fixtures on the Notre Dame campus and at Fighting Irish athletic events for decades. It wasn’t a Notre Dame sporting event without seeing Mike down on the sidelines with his camera. He was as generous, unselfish and kind a man as you will ever meet. His love of Notre Dame was reflected in the pride, care and effort he took in his work, from the smallest to the largest projects. I fondly remember the night Mike was awarded an honorary monogram at Notre Dame and what a great surprise it was for him. The smile and absolute joy on his face that evening was something that I will never forget. No one deserved the honor more and no one has worn his Notre Dame monogram jacket with greater pride than Mike. Whenever you see Mike, you are always greeted with a smile and that is what I remember most about him. I marvel that the man never seems to have a bad day. I am grateful for the friendship I enjoyed with him and Sue while I worked at Notre Dame. I always enjoyed my visits to the Lighthouse Imaging office and looked forward to talking with both of them. They always made time for me. Notre Dame is fortunate to have had Mike and Sue Bennett as part of its team.”
— Bernadette M. Cafarelli, American Athletic Conference Associate Commissioner Communications External Relations; Notre Dame Athletics (2003-15)
“Through his images, Mike Bennett connected many eras of Notre Dame athletics, both externally for countless fans as well as internally for much of our staff and all our teams. Always so generous with his time, Mike’s passion for the University and his gentle, smiling demeanor will be impossible to replace and our hearts go out to the Bennett family.”
— Dan Colleran, Notre Dame Director of Athletics Communications
“Mike was a special person who always put others first. He was the consummate professional, but he was an even better human being. He captured a generation of Notre Dame athletics through his lens, played a key role in telling the story of the Fighting Irish and had a profound impact on the experience of so many student-athletes. We had the opportunity to share Mike’s work with several members of the military by capturing their time at West Point. His legacy will live on. Our deepest sympathy to his wife Sue and his daughters. Be thou at peace.”
— Boo Corrigan (‘90), NC State Director of Athletics; Army West Point Director of Athletics (2011-19)
“Mike and Sue Bennett are two of the kindest people I have ever met, and I was heartbroken to learn he entered hospice care. He memorialized games, events and moments for fans, alumni and friends for generations, and the memories he documented will forever be his legacy. I particularly cherish the on-field photos with my dad and the pictures of family reunions at Moose Krause Field that Mike took over the years. My prayers are with his family.”
— Bubba Cunningham (men’s golf, ‘84, ‘88), North Carolina Director of Athletics; Notre Dame Athletics (1988-2002)
“My heart breaks for the Notre Dame family. For nearly 40 years, Mike seemingly captured every memorable moment for Notre Dame athletics. Simply put, he was everywhere with his warm smile and gentle soul. He lit it up the room in every sense and will be greatly missed.”
— Allen Greene (‘00), Auburn University Director of Athletics; Notre Dame Athletics (2003-07, Irish baseball player 1996-98)
“‘We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.’
“I wish I could lay claim to that quote, but it is not mine. In reviewing that statement, it is so very true and it makes me think of the countless return tickets that Mike created for countless people to relive a moment in their lives. I had the pleasure of working with him for seven years and few people in Notre Dame football history have had a bigger impact on telling the story of that fabled program. Beyond his professional role, though, the way he interacted on a personal level with so many people are what we all treasure from our time with him. I’m so grateful for all the return tickets to moments he created. These photos will always be part of his professional legacy, but it’s the personal legacy of how he was an amazing person to be friends with that will always live on.”
— Brian Hardin, Drake University Director of Athletics; Notre Dame Athletics (2006-12)
“In the process of photographing virtually every Notre Dame football event since the early 1980s, Mike might have been the most humble, selfless and dependable individual I’ve met. His camera, necktie and smile were omnipresent. If there was an important moment to be recorded in Notre Dame athletics over the last four decades, Mike was there.”
— John Heisler, Central Florida Senior Associate Athletic Director Strategic Communications; Notre Dame Athletics (1978-2019)
“For those of us who worked around Notre Dame athletics, Mike was one of the faces of our programs in many ways. He was everywhere. I’m not sure when he slept. He was an incredibly gifted photographer and an even better person. Mike will be greatly missed by so many, but through his work his impact will be felt forever.”
— Bill Scholl (‘79), Vice President & Director of Athletics at Marquette University; Notre Dame Athletics (1989-2012)
“Mike Bennett was the lens into the most significant events at Notre Dame — both on the field of competition and within the university experiences of every student-athlete and coach. His love and passion for capturing the journeys of so many was only matched by his service to Notre Dame.”
— Brant Ust (‘00), Associate Athletics Director for Administration at Auburn; Notre Dame Athletics (2014-18; Irish baseball player 1997-99)