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What I’ve Learned: Edna Benna (Trustee Emerita)

Benna


I came to Reno from Los Angeles in 1948 when I was 18 to temporarily help care for my ill cousin and her children. I had recently enrolled in Los Angeles City College and had no intention of staying in Reno, as I was just getting established in my modeling career. I arrived in Reno on a Greyhound bus with barely any money to my name.
I had been at my cousin’s for some time when her husband said, “You haven’t been anywhere.” So he said, “I’m going to take you to the football game and then I’m going to take you down to the Phi Sigma Kappa house to meet this nice guy.” The nice guy was Bruno Benna ’53 (physical education).


Unbeknownst to me, that night turned out to be Homecoming and Bruno had a date. Instead, I joined Bruno’s roommate, Ted Klimaszewski ’51 (political science). I found this all quite exotic as I had never met anyone who was Polish. Throughout our married life, Bruno and I always considered Homecoming our anniversary, and never missed one until they stopped having the dances.


Bruno called me the following Wednesday and asked me to the movies. I wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend, but I’ll tell you this: The best thing in my life was going with Bruno to the movies that Wednesday.


Interestingly, we had nothing in common. Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Both of his parents were born in Italy and lived in New Jersey. My family’s American roots date back to the mid-18th century. He grew up in a small town in rural New Jersey, and I in downtown Los Angeles.


One thing we did have in common, other than that we really liked each other, was that we both listened to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays on the radio. Of course, I listened to the Grand Ole Opry at night and he didn’t know what to make of that, but he eventually grew to like country music. Growing up in racially mixed L.A., I was fond of straight-ahead jazz, blues and Mexican Rancheras, something Bruno also grew to appreciate. Another thing we found we did have in common was that our favorite vegetables were eggplant and spinach!


Like me, Bruno arrived in Reno on a Greyhound bus. As he told the story, he had $50 in his pocket but he had a basketball scholarship, which meant he got his tuition and books paid for by the University. Unfortunately, his parents were never able to help him financially. Bruno washed dishes at the Phi Sig house to pay for his room and board, and worked construction when he was not playing basketball. He worked construction digging ditches and whatever needed to be done. I went to work in the plant department at the phone company.


We married in July of 1950, two years after we had met. I don’t remember how he proposed. It just evolved, like everything in my life. We had very humble beginnings, but together we built a full and memorable life.


We were married at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral. There were about 40 people there. Our reception was finger sandwiches and a small wedding cake at my cousin’s house and that was that. I was not about to go into debt for a wedding.


Let me tell you about our honeymoon. I always wanted to travel and Bruno wanted me to meet his family in New Jersey. With no money, this was not easy. Now when people tell me they are afraid to travel because they can’t afford it I say, “Don’t wait!” Just do what you can. If you have to stay in some cheap motel or just go camping, just do it. If you really want to travel, go travel.


We got into our ’38 Ford coupe, drove to Winnemucca and spent our first night in the Winnemucca Inn, which was then the Sonoma Inn.


We drove to Elko, stopped to visit my cousins and then we drove to Salt Lake City in the wee hours of the morning. We had to get across the salt flats in July, which was challenging in a ’38 Ford coupe with no air conditioning. We got into the outskirts of Salt Lake at 3 a.m. We had enough money to stay in hotels for three nights only. We found one motel down by the train tracks and it was horrible, and there we were, spending our precious hotel money on our honeymoon next to the train tracks on skid row.


The plan was to go to New Jersey where Bruno would work for the summer in order to earn enough money to get back to Reno. We stayed at his grandmother’s house in a room she used for laundry and making wine and grappa. I converted part of the room into a little suite. So we had our own little place and it was fine.


So started our travel adventures that would eventually take us through most of the world.


For the first six years we were married, we lived in Dr. (James) Church’s stable house. We soon got to know Dr. Church, who was the most fascinating person. He always had time to visit even though he was very busy and quite elderly at the time.
The rent was a bit out of our reach, $50, but we loved that house so much we made it work. As I tell people, it had every inconvenience known to man, inconveniences you couldn’t imagine. It was darling, though. The fireplace was made of rock that Dr. Church had collected himself. On the hearth there were a couple of grinding stones he had found.


The stable house had a pitched roof and the bedroom was upstairs. Since Bruno and I were both tall,—I was 5-foot-9 and Bruno was 6-foot-3—we couldn’t stand up straight on the sides of the room. Once you were in bed it was OK, though. The house was heated with coal and the furnace was in the cellar and so huge it could have heated the Mapes Hotel, I’m not kidding.


In October 1952, I had Steve, our first son. We were scared that I was pregnant. We went to Dr. Ross, who was everyone’s favorite obstetrician in those days, and we cried to him, “But we can’t afford it!” And he said, “You can afford it. You will make it, everyone does.”


In the bedroom upstairs, I placed a chest of drawers to divide our part of the bedroom from the baby’s and put Steve’s crib on the other side. Two years later we had Cathy, and we were still at Dr. Church’s, so in went another chest of drawers and another crib.


I had never been around babies; I had no idea what to do with them and I had no friends who could help me. Bruno was working nights as a bartender at the Little Waldorf and going to school during the day. It was really difficult. Really, the first few years of marriage we didn’t see much of each other. I was able to help him with his English classes, that’s for sure. I had already read most of the books he had to read for his university classes, and I had already written reports on them.


I have to relate a funny story. The third winter we were there, I hung the diapers out to dry. Coming from Southern California, I had no clue. I went out to get them and they were frozen stiff. It had never occurred to me that they would break if I took them off the line. So I took them off the line and broke about four of them. I just cried because we had no money. I think you had to buy a dozen at a time, so it was a big deal. And I didn’t just break one, I broke four because I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening.


Almost 10 years after our daughter was born, we had our third child, Alex, and then another, Chris. At one time the kids were in four different schools.


One of Bruno’s teammates, Ingvart Christensen, owned a concrete business with his family. I used to type his bills on my typewriter to earn a bit of money. Ingvart and Bruno played for Coach Jake Lawlor. Ingvart later offered Bruno a job at his company, Ready Mix Concrete Co. Shortly after, he asked Bruno to partner with him in a new company, which became known as C.B. Concrete.


Bruno and I borrowed $10,000 from Ingvart to pay for Bruno’s share. We paid him back that same year. That was one of the things Bruno and I had in common; both of us had a real aversion to being in debt. We never bought anything if we couldn’t pay for it, except for a house.


Bruno was a natural at business and it did very well. Bruno worked very hard and made a lot of friends.
We got involved in fundraising for the University through the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation. It’s a funny story how I got onto the foundation board. The foundation had just started and Bruno was appointed to be on the board. He was very busy at the time running his business. I happened to mention to Dick Dankworth, who was in charge of fundraising for the University, that Bruno was very busy and that I could take his place in the meetings. I can’t remember what he said, but not too long after I was on the Foundation.


I enjoyed being on the foundation board a lot. We were part of the first fundraising effort for Church Fine Arts. I found that I could do fundraising well as long as I truly believed in the purpose, and I really believed that the Church Fine Arts Building was a wonderful purpose.


I’m grateful to be a part of gifting the Edna B. and Bruno Benna Foundation Atrium as part of the latest renovation of the School of the Arts. There are so many people who don’t know there’s a theater there. With the atrium, I think it’s much more obvious, and you can tell people the theater is at the glass atrium on Virginia Street.


Bruno and I always donated to Catholic Charities, the arts and education. It’s amazing how far money goes in the arts. It’s amazing the wonderful people the School of the Arts has been able to bring in with a relatively small amount of money.
I’m very lucky. I have a wonderful, caring family and extended family, and a lot of friends all of whom have helped me cope with loosing Bruno. Both Bruno and I believed in keeping in touch with friends and not forgetting them. So now I just try to enjoy the sunsets. I would enjoy the sunrise but I’m not awake!


From a conversation with Senior Writer Roseann Keegan. A longtime supporter of the University, Edna is the widow of Bruno Benna ’53 (physical education), the founder, president, CEO and chairman of C.B. Concrete. The Bennas were named Distinguished Nevadans in 1991 and are listed as Gold Benefactors in the University’s Honor Court. Together they have four children: Cathleen Trachok ’76 (speech pathology) and Stephen ’75 (managerial sciences), Alexander and Christopher Benna. Through the Edna B. and Bruno Benna Foundation, the Bennas have supported a variety of projects at the University. Most recently, they pledged $300,000 in 2012 to the Act I campaign at the School of the Arts. Edna’s Foundation trustee terms include 1985-86, 1986-89, 1990-91, 1995-96, 1997-98 and 1999-2000.

 

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